St. Mark’s senior Gopal Raman took center stage Sept. 8 in a place normally reserved for heads of state and honored dignitaries. He and four other high schoolers were recognized in the White House state dining room as this year’s National Student Poets.
Raman read his poem “Aug. 23, 2005,” to First Lady Michelle Obama. The work was inspired by Hurricane Katrina, and begins with a quote from a newspaper’s reporting of the storm’s arrival.
“I never seriously thought I could win,” Raman said. “It was so affirming.”
The journey to Washington began last fall when Raman submitted four poems for consideration and won the Gold Key award at the regional competition of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. After earning a gold medal at the national level, he joined a group of 34 semifinalists who each submitted additional poems. In July, Raman learned that he was one of the five winners of the National Student Poets Program, the country’s highest honor for young poets.
Raman credits his seventh grade English teacher, Bob Rozelle, with helping him develop a passion for poetry.
“He pushed us to do good writing in a different way,” Raman said. “He showed me poetry and how I could create something really meaningful.”
Fantasy books such as Lord of the Rings influenced Raman’s early work. As he grew as a writer, he began to explore other topics. These days he is most inspired by nature, where he finds meaning in many of the things he observes. “Part of every poem stays with me forever,” Raman said.
The National Student Poets Program, open to tenth- and eleventh-graders, is part of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The first lady has overseen the program since it started five years ago.
“You could see the impact it left on Mrs. Obama,” Raman said. “She’s been really important getting the program off the ground.”
Along with meeting the first lady, Raman said he also enjoyed bonding with other writers with similar interests.
Raman is debating whether to study creative writing in college or something in math or science, but he plans to continue writing as much as possible.
National Student Poets are required to complete a year of service working to promote poetry and creative expression. Raman tutors at Gooch Elementary School and hopes he can inspire others to appreciate the power of the written word.
“I want to engage younger kids and show them it is not all about weird words and structure,” Raman said. “It’s more about connecting with readers in an intimate and personal way. Poetry can be about anything you want it to be.”