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SJU Student's Poetry Flavors Mayoral Inauguration

Ramya Ramana ’17C reciting her poem “New York City” at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration on January 1, 2014. Photo by: Photo courtesy of Ruth Fremson/The New York Times/Redux
Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A St. John’s philosophy major helped usher in Bill de Blasio’s term as mayor of New York City at the formal inauguration ceremony held January 1 on the steps of City Hall. Appearing on the dais in the company of dignitaries and celebrities including former President Bill Clinton and Harry Belafonte, Ramya Ramana ’17C read her poem, “New York City,” dedicating it to the newly elected mayor.    

“At first I was very nervous about appearing in front of thousands of New Yorkers and being broadcast on television and other media,” she said. “But I looked out at all the faces from so many backgrounds and realized I was speaking for everyone and this was not just about me.”

Last fall Ramana was named 2014 New York City Youth Poet Laureate, an achievement that ultimately led to the invitation for her to take part in the swearing-in ceremony.  The NYC Youth Poet Laureate Program is dedicated to promoting civic engagement through poetry, a concept Ramana appreciates. “It’s wonderful that something as important to me as writing poetry could bring me this far,” she said.

Growing up in Queens and on Long Island, the daughter of parents who were born in India, Ramana noted that poetry has always provided her with “a friend, a comfort, and an escape.” As a high school senior, she joined Urban Word NYC, an organization that provides creative writing workshops and other literary education programs for New York City teens, and decided to use her gift as a vehicle for helping the underserved. She began to give readings of her work at public venues throughout the city and gained a level of comfort performing before audiences.

She also took part in—and won—the Knicks Poetry Slam. The contest, which is sponsored by the New York Knicks in partnership with St. John’s and four other institutions, awards full-tuition scholarships to students from the tri-state area who demonstrate leadership qualities, community engagement, and artistic originality.

“I was super-excited when I learned I had won,” Ramana said, “and I knew I wanted to go to St. John’s.”  Impressed by the University’s commitment to the needy and marginalized, she credits Rev. Robert E. Lauder, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, with helping link her social activism with her commitment to the church.

Ramana plans to continue using her artistry to advance social justice and energize fellow students to get involved in the community and exercise their right to vote. “Young poets in the city,” she said, “can serve as a voice for the voiceless.”

View Ramana’s inaugural day recitation of her poem.