Maya Eashwaran reads her poetry at White House
Maya Eashwaran of Milton High School, GA, represented the Southeast, and Gopal Raman of Dallas, TX, the Southwest, two of five National Student Poets of the Year reading their poetry at the invitation of Michelle Obama at the White House on September 8, 2016. She and Gopal are the first Indian-Americans selected for the National Student Poets Program.
The Obamas began the program in 2011 “to inspire our young people to dream,” said Mrs. Obama, and to promote the arts, which often have budgets cut in schools but which are critical to children’s success.
Maya was quoted in the First Lady’s speech: “You put it best. … ‘On the stage, there is no way to leave unnoticed.’”—True, honorees will have speaking engagements to support the arts.
Maya was born in the US to Tamil parents and writes poems about heritage and being an immigrant. She read her poem “Linguistics” on how painful it was to lose her mother tongue. “Ma, I haven’t spoken in three years,” her poem began, concluding “I have started shedding ethnicity like hair: Mother, I fear I’ll go bald.”
Besides writing, Maya enjoys violin, reading, calligraphy, and doodling.
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9/8/16 14 min
Remarks by the First Lady Honoring the 2016 Class of the National Student Poets Program our fifth class of National Student Poets.
Guest = Q-Tip
Mrs Obama said it has been a joy to welcome these young poets to the White House:
“reflect on how we got started and why we're so committed to lifting up young people through the arts.
Back when Barack and I first got to the White House, we knew that we wanted to use this incredible platform of the White House to inspire our young people to dream really big for themselves, to think about what their lives could look like beyond what their everyday existence is like. We wanted to ignite their ambition and also celebrate their talent, because there are so many talented young people all over this country. It just blows my mind.
We also knew that schools across the country, and so many of them art and music classes, were being cut back or eliminated completely.
And what we knew is that loss was pretty devastating, because we all know what the evidence shows is that when kids are involved in arts, they do better in school and in life. They have higher grades. They have fewer behavioral problems. We talk about this at almost every event. They're more likely to go to college, to graduate, and go on and do wonderful things. So we know that the arts are critical. Barack and I also happen to be pretty huge poetry fans ourselves. …
And since we started the program, we've received over 70,000 submissions from applicants -- … And we've named 20 national poets. And these talented young people have done so much over these years. They've traveled the country, many of them the world, and they've been sharing the magic of poetry with others.
And this year, we were proud to double the size of this program by naming the first class of five National Youth Spoken Word Ambassadors, who are here with us today… Together, these talented students are what we call living, breathing proof of the power of poetry to transform young people's lives.
We all know that being a kid today can be a little hard. It can be tough, especially when you're a teenager and you're dealing with emotions and experiences that can be overwhelming, to say the least. It's tempting at this age to just close down and shut out the rest of the world, especially when the world can feel so ugly at times. But for so many people, writing poetry helps them open up, even in the face of all kinds of challenges and obstacles in their lives.
And as Q-Tip once put it, he said, "The world is kinda cold and the rhythm is my blanket." And you don't have to be a renowned artist like Q-Tip to try your hand at poetry. You don't need any special equipment -- that's the beauty of it. You don’t have to have any advanced qualifications. All you need to be is willing to work hard and have a whole lot of courage -- because it is never easy to expose your inner thoughts and rawest emotions, let alone in front of a lot of cameras at the White House…
Maya … You put it best. These are your words, I'm told: "On the stage, there is no way to leave unnoticed." Did you say that?
MAYA EASHWARAN: Yes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: … if you can summon that courage and go through draft after draft of writing -- which is painful, I know -- and then finally stand up on this stage and speak your truth -- well, here is what we know: After all of that, you are ready for anything. That's the beauty of it. You're ready to graduate from high school and go to college, and chase after whatever dream you have. If you can be here, you can do anything, right? Small steps. And I believe that every young person in this country deserves those kinds of opportunities.
So I have one request that I make of all of our student poets, and I'm going to make that of you all here today. I want you to go out there and share your gifts with others. That's your job now, all right? After all the fun -- there was a reception, right? We fed you a little bit.
Maybe there will be cookies. In exchange -- (laughter) -- I want you to show other young people the power of taking risks and opening themselves up to the world. Talk to your teachers about bringing poetry into the classroom if they're not doing it. Make sure that folks in your communities understand why it's so vitally important to have the arts in our schools.
And that might be asking a lot, because you guys are going to have busy years ahead. This year is going to be busy. You're going to be juggling your schoolwork and your writing with the speaking engagements that I know you're going to have all across the country. So it's going to be a busy time. But we chose you because we know you can handle this. And if you don't believe me, just listen to the stories of some of the alums of this program, many of whom are here with us today. …We've got alums representing all four prior years of the National Student Poets initiative.
One of these young people used poetry -- which she refers to as "power-tree" -- to help heal her community in the aftermath of a devastating school shooting. Another National Student Poet conducted poetry workshops at veterans' centers, and he helped one veteran fulfill her dream of putting her poetry to music. He even accompanied her on piano while she sang. Other student poets designed classes for military kids, taught workshops to incarcerated women, and brought poetry to senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease.
… if you follow their lead and keep on following your passion for poetry wherever it may take you -- well, you never know where you might end up.
And that was certainly true for a spoken word poet that I know -- someone who's not that much older than many of these guys. I'm older than him. But this young man performed at the first-ever White House poetry jam that my husband and I hosted back here in 2009 in the East Room. And this kid got up on stage and started rapping about Alexander Hamilton. And he blew us away. That guy's name is Lin-Manuel Miranda. And he expanded that song into one of the most extraordinary pieces of art that I -- and probably so many others -- have ever seen. …
And I'm excited to see where you all end up and what you achieve in the years ahead. I want you all to have fun today. This is your day. Being in the White House at this moment, doing what you're about to do, is something you should treasure. So I want you all to breathe deep and just enjoy it. We all love you. We support you. You all are winners. This is your stage, your house.”
First lady honors Dallas student poet in White House ceremony
By Jamie Lovegrove
Afterwards Raman mused, “When you think of somebody that important, you’d think they’d be distant and kind of removed. But to see that one of the main leaders of our country cares so much for kids and the arts and our future, it was really inspiring.”
At the White House, Raman read from his original poem, “August 23, 2005,” a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Most of his poems focus on nature, he said, but he has increasingly experimented with commentary on social issues.
rapper Q-Tip, a former member of hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest who is currently serving as the Kennedy Center’s first artistic director for hip hop culture.
As the event came to a close, the first lady held back tears as she offered one final thank you to the students — a poignant moment that stuck with Raman.
“It really shows us that the first lady and the president really do care about the arts,” Raman said. “They’re honest, real people, they’re not just saying it. It was an awesome experience.”
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