The following guest post was written by 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate Alexandra Huynh, who is nearing the end of her year-long laureateship.
It’s been six months since I’ve started college and nearly 10 months since I was named the National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. The title now feels familiar to me, but I still look back in awe at the experiences I’ve had. In July, I visited West Lafayette, Indiana, for a performance at Purdue University. In September, I visited New York City for a performance alongside the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate finalists at Little Island. And in October—halfway through my first quarter at Stanford—I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life. I was lucky enough to bring my family with me to many of these performances, which made the experience all the more special. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, it is an honor to uplift my family and community’s stories on a national stage. I never expected that poetry would give me the opportunity to connect with so many people—that speaking authentically about my life would be enough to hold attention.
I am still adjusting to the idea that I am a role model to young people. Whenever I get a message from a girl on Instagram who has read my poetry, and has been moved by it, it feels like a miracle. I feel so lucky to be in this position, and I often feel unqualified. I just turned 19 in November—I haven’t declared my major, I’m behind on a million things, and I’m not sure how I feel most of the time. I’m often unsure if I have the words at all to advocate for myself in academic and personal settings. In short, I’m still figuring out who I am, and by some stroke of magic, I have been granted the privilege of amplifying my voice in spite of this unsteadiness.
The pandemic revealed the fragility of our everyday lives, but being at college affirmed this for me. Outside of classes and work shifts, I have the choice to spend my time however I see fit. This freedom is a privilege, but it is also daunting—I’ve spent a number of hours chatting with friends when I “should” have been working on essays. I’ve stayed up past a reasonable time for nights on end so I’m chronically groggy. Still, I regret none of these things. Having the opportunity to design my schedule has helped me understand what balance looks like for me. In high school, I solely focused on my academics and extracurriculars. At college, I’m starting to cherish the fact that I have a life outside of school.
This realization has encouraged me to reframe how I think about my time as the National Youth Poet Laureate. I have four months left in my term before I transfer the title to another amazing poet. I’ve spent the past year trying to get used to this role, but now, I embrace its newness. Yes, I am the National Youth Poet Laureate. And yes, it’s unbelievable and overwhelming and an incredible privilege. I hope I never stop feeling that tinge of anxiety before speaking engagements because it means that I care. Like being at college, being the NYPL comes with a dizzying number of opportunities. I’m still trying to learn how to say yes to the things that ignite my passion, and to say no to things that I don’t have the capacity for. I can’t wait to see what happens.
All my best,