English major and honors student Rylee Thomas ‘24 (CLAS) delivered an original prose poem, “Leave the Door Open,” at the inauguration of UConn President Radenka Maric on September 29, 2023. Thomas spoke with the English Department about how the poem came to be and what it means to her.
Inspired by the works of Amanda Gorman and Mary Oliver, “Leave the Door Open” explores how college students overcome challenges and barriers, grow as individuals, and “leave the door open for the people who come after us, […] people who have the same ideals and values and objectives to make the world a better and more just place as we do,” Thomas said.
Thomas was working at her summer internship when she got an email from Professor Sean Frederick Forbes stating she had been chosen to write a poem for President Maric’s ceremony. Thomas said Forbes believed she would be a good fit.
About a week before the fall semester started, Thomas began drafting “Leave the Door Open.” She had been given a prompt with several key terms and phrases to work with, including hope, the challenges one must face in life, the times we’re living in, the voices of students, and the need for leaders.
President Maric is only the second woman in the university’s history to hold her position. “As a woman—as a woman in English and art who does a lot of feminist studies, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies—it was important to me to highlight that aspect of it,” Thomas said.
Thomas also wanted to write something relatable. “I’ve never written a poem for such a broad, university-wide audience,” she said, “and I wanted to touch upon experiences that made every student’s educational journey special and impactful.”
She and Forbes decided that the best way to widen their reach was to hone in on the specificity of the UConn experience—a major unifying force for her audience—“or else it could be a poem that you could hear anywhere,” Thomas explained.
“I really wanted to clarify why UConn was special as I wrote this poem—why UConn was a great place to overcome barriers and to learn and to, kind of, hold the door open for the next person,” she said.
Read “Leave the Door Open” below.
Leave the Door Open
Change is a garden; our roots resist hard earth. Every fresh perspective plants new flowers. We pluck the dead ones, roots and all, from the soil, because a guiding dream should have more than one revision, from the soul. And yet, there are feelings buried here we may never reach again. What new things should we plant, in a time like this?
Today, as a September morning closes, it is warm around our minds. Changing seasons squeeze our fingers like a loving friend, an intimacy like sweetness blooming through the cracks. The days grow shorter as we’re older, less afraid. Life will be wonderful because we will make it wonderful.
And even on the hard days, did everything betray us? No. Rain falls to water our flowers and umbrellas just the same. Snow covers the earth to make us practice keeping warm, and so we sled together on the hill. We paint rocks for awareness, we dance for healthcare, we rub noses for luck. We make a community for every unique voice, and our voices sing together. We stoke the fire, the dancing of the flames makes us forget what it was to be so cold. Words keep giving. Stories keep giving. What was poverty becomes a gift.
We remind ourselves, you did what you could with what you knew. You worked twice as hard to get half as far. You walk on, women walk on, sometimes in shadows, but we come back bringing the sun. You walk on, but not past the people who need you. You define the world by how you see it, not how it sees you. You learn. You learn. You learn. To heal bodies, machines, and ecosystems, to save humanity, reconstructing it in equity. To make art, and to make it deep and beautiful and true.
And when you are a whole person for the very first time, winter is over. We rejoice in what we have in one another in a world too big. Whenever you feel good, it won’t be the last time. Life will be wonderful because we will do it from love. We, the peacemakers, healers, restorers, and storytellers. We, the lovers of every kind.
I hope one day that when you break the cycle, you do it not only for the future but for you. I hope one day that you leave the door open behind you. I hope one day that you are what gives you hope.