Legacy, a poem by Professor January Gill O'Neil | Salem State University Skip to main content

Legacy, a poem by Professor January Gill O'Neil

For the Inauguration of John D. Keenan, JD, Fourteenth President of Salem State University

We were always the dream

and the sacrifice—all of us.


We are the early risers and

the late nighters, studying all hours

in the library during exams,

or working graveyard shifts

to be on campus for an 8 a.m. class.

A parking lot full of empty spaces

is our reward.


We grade never-ending

stacks of papers, repair computers,

counsel and console, we clear

snow-filled sidewalks on brisk grey mornings.

And when the equations are wiped

from the white board, we know

we are the sum of our parts.

We are the proof.


For we were always the dream,

the voices are distant but today

we call them back to Salem,

this harbor town, this Witch City,

to welcome a new president

and a new era. This school,

where Horace Mann believed every child

should have a basic education,

where Charlotte Forten graduated, class

of 1856, the first African American teacher

from the Salem Normal School,

where the unseen moved silently

across quads and corridors

to take their seats and be heard.


From Salem Normal School

to Salem Teachers College

to Salem State College

to Salem State University—


every word once spoken here is still here,

fine as chalk dusk.



And as we are called to the realities

of this world, which seems, at times,

like a globe cracked open,

let us be reminded

that we come from everywhere: 

Irish, Italian, Dominican, African, Chinese, Haitian,

Iraqi, Vietnamese, European, Korean, Mexican,

first generation, second generation—

the next generation—the doers, the seekers,

the lifelong learners. We stand here today

without walls or borders.


For we were—we are—always the dream

and the sacrifice of everyone

who has ever walked these halls

in search of truth,

in search of answers,

pursuing the promise of a better life.

Kimberly Burnett
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