Stories and insights on excellent education.
In October, my classmates and I earned free tickets from our school to see the Broadway musical Hamilton, which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the other founders of American democracy.
Since then, the show’s producers and the Rockefeller Foundation have agreed to give tickets to high school students across the city. The show has been a hit with a lot of adults who think its modern take on history will speak to young people like me.
I have to confess that history is not as interesting to me as debate or chemistry, my two favorite subjects, and I don’t listen to hip hop. When I first heard that our school was taking us to see Hamilton, I expected to be bored, and I thought that combining the genres of Broadway music and rap would be weird. But after seeing Hamilton, my view changed completely.
The show really held my attention, and I thought the music, especially the rap battles, captured the spirit of revolution at the time. Some of the songs are now stuck in my head, mostly because almost every time I run into my debate coach, Mr. Wurzman, he is rapping one of the songs from the show—and it is very rare for a song to get stuck in my head!
I also appreciated that the show told the story not only of Alexander Hamilton, but of Eliza Hamilton, his wife. She was my favorite character. She was strong and independent. I liked seeing that women don’t have to be submissive and can have their voices heard. Her character showed me that I can do anything and be anyone I want — that I can one day make a name for myself.
Another thing that had a big impact on me was the decision to cast actors of color to play Alexander Hamilton and the other founding fathers. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is Hispanic and grew up in Washington Heights, plays Hamilton. (We got to meet him and ask him questions after the show!) As a Hispanic girl from Harlem, I was happy to see someone who shares my heritage on such a large stage. It proved to me that regardless of your race or ethnic background or where you come from, you can become successful.
As a Hispanic girl from Harlem, I was happy to see someone who shares my heritage on such a large stage. It proved to me that regardless of your race or ethnic background or where you come from, you can become successful.
Until I saw Hamilton, I did not fully understand why our school wanted us to go. The academic and personal connections were not crystal clear to me. But the show helped me and my classmates better appreciate the life of one of the most influential figures in American history. It also reminded us that no matter one’s circumstances, no matter one’s struggles, if you push through them and work hard for what you want, you will find success.
Few of us knew that Hamilton was a poor orphan from the Caribbean until our teachers had us write a research paper in preparation for seeing the show. Even so, this lesson didn’t really sink in until we saw the show and heard Mr. Miranda talk about what had inspired him to make a hip-hop musical about Hamilton. He told us Hamilton had turned tragedy and his personal challenges into inspiration, and had written a poem that earned him a scholarship to study abroad—in the United States.
“It was the ultimate hip-hop story,” he said.
I couldn’t agree more.