(Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz is Associate Professor of English Education at Teachers College. The following is an original poem that she composed and delivered at the inauguration of TC President Thomas Bailey.)
CO-WRITING THIS STORY Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz (M.A.’95), Associate Professor of English Education, composed and delivered “Creating Pathways Where There Were None Before,” a poem in honor of the new president.
on this day
at this very hour
a new moment in your story —
one you have been writing
for over a century — is written.
We are worthy witnesses
of this new chapter
from which all present will read and learn.
You have written yourself into the sky — standing erect, you are a
floating across the white clouds that hover over this dark place —
a place so rich in history and struggle;
you’ve shown generosity to many, yet most who surround you
may never come to know your grace
even though they are mere footsteps away.
But they are not nameless, faceless beings —
their experiences are yours
interwoven histories and herstories and theirstories
marked as testimonies of the possible
if only given the chance.
They, too, can be your legacy.
It is your beauty that attracts — it pulls us in.
your promise that makes us believe.
From the poor and the modest to those with incredible wealth,
each come before you — entering one way and leaving another.
You instruct all of us to pave it forward —
destroy barriers, not create them;
clear paths using the plows of privilege
you have provided.
You have a story to tell.
You have lived — one hundred and thirty-one years to be exact.
And in that time, you have seen your country at its best and at its worst.
You have heard prayers and praises, manifestos crying out for
voices demanding more — for themselves and their world —
voices speaking love instead of hate,
hope instead of despair,
peace instead of war,
shouting that their lives matter — as we all know they do —
your voice says, “Here, come this way, there is a path for you.”
You have seen the hands
listened to the hearts
and sharpened many minds —
Shirley Chisholm was just one of yours.
For many you are the hope —
as they travel this Siddhartha-like journey of life,
waiting for Godot,
meeting and greeting
her, the ancestors, and those who have not yet arrived.
For many you are the dream
of days where race, class, religion, gender, ability and who we
choose to love does not determine how
far we go.
You promise: We can all travel the road of infinite possibilities.
These paths, you promise, are ours for the taking.
For many you are the sight,
searching for new worlds to inhabit
worlds created with passion and purpose.
You are the way forward for us who seek new memories
with every waking moment.
You implore us to examine, interrupt, and promote liberation,
watching and waiting for it to manifest in a world not yet known,
a world we long to experience, a world many died trying to realize.
You invite us to envision a you yet to be
bridging the gaps and making space for
all to thrive, to overcome and flourish —
to finally be what someone wished for them to become.
My own pathway, not a straight one — laden with rocks,
and dirt formed in clumps, started in the south . . . the South Bronx,
that is. . . .
That path has somehow led me here today. With all of you, my
My path said to me and others like me — this is the road. Journey it
Travel it as though your life depends on it — because it does.
My ancestors bent their backs
and beckoned me forward,
they wiped their sweaty brows, tasted my victory and smiled.
My grandmother folded her calloused hands and softly prayed for me.
But today, yes today, you are seen anew
through the eyes and heart of a man
who knows you and has experienced your power.
A man who has spent decades creating a
pathway for many,
while coming to recognize his own.
In all that he does, he desires you to be a productive,
respectful, supportive space for anyone who comes through you —
a place where barriers are struck down
and promises built up —
We are the builders. We construct bright futures and turn from
practices that break spirits.
His vision breathes new life into you —
so that you can become what you were meant to be:
a beacon. A foundation for civic, social
and economic flourishing — for all.
This new teller of your story
carries forward your promise.
Know that we support you, Mr. President,
in your vision.
We lift the pen to co-write this story you seek to tell.
Let this investiture be the investment that pushes TC forward
Let your past meet your present at a place
where the future comes first.
Your vision will show that
long after we leave this place,
long after this festive moment has passed,
TC — you will be here
creating pathways where there were none before.
Clearing the way for those who have entrusted their lives to you
you will make a road for them to walk,
even when they cannot see the road for themselves.
You are Teachers College, steadfast in your
unwavering commitment to excellence,
equity and integrity of scholarship.
You are Teachers College, and here. You will. Remain.
© Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, 2018