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Inauguration poem: 'XX' by Kevin Young

Poet and scholar Kevin Young read his poem "XX," written for Claire E. Sterk as Emory's 20th president, during Wednesday's inauguration ceremony. Emory Photo/Video


for Claire E. Sterk, 20th president of Emory University

To begin is to believe.
Think of how the leaf
Decides it is spring, 

Crouched & royal in its skin
That isn't yet—the green
That awaits, brown then bud then 

Blossom. Or the bright wings
Of the chopper sailing
Its angel cargo over the buildings 

To alight upon the hospital
Where the world grows small,
Heads bowed or raised by the bent bed

To drink and to wake. To walk. To beg
The sun shine its light, again, warm
The feet & face for the slow pace

Of campus, past the statue, 
Cigared, bronze; the Rose; the No
Smoking signs; the twos

And threes of juniors laughing,
Those in love who don't 
Yet know. Here are those

Who believe, who rub their temples
And ring these grounds, who find themselves
among the trees, the birds unseen

But singing, looking
Up, the green
Above a belief, just beginning. 

Editor's note: Poet and scholar Kevin Young was appointed by Sterk in January to serve a three-year term as University Distinguished Professor, a position held by President Jimmy Carter and previously by Sir Salman Rushdie.

Young, who became the new director for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City this year, will remain involved with Emory through his roles as University Distinguished Professor and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing and English, enhancing teaching and outreach at Emory in literature and the arts. An exhibition he curated on the Beat Generation will open in Emory’s Woodruff Library in fall 2017. 

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