EduHAM program makes Hamilton play more meaningful for students
July 6, 2018

Anna Cereno and Amaris Delgado of DeVry University Advantage Academy High School sang a duet about the importance of immigrants.

By Gabriella Valentino

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has initiated a partnership with the play, Hamilton, and the Rockefeller Foundation to create the Hamilton Education Program (EduHAM).

Through this program, Title I schools are invited to incorporate Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era to their studies. They are encouraged to create an art piece in relation to the story of Hamilton. Students can compose a song, a rap, or a spoken word piece on the founding of America. The Federal government designates schools with high percentages of children from low income families as Title I.

Should the students be chosen by the institute for their exceptional creativity, they are invited to perform their piece before the matinee show in front of students from other Title I schools. Miguel Cervantes, who plays Hamilton in the Chicago production, moderated the performances and created an energetic and supportive environment for the students.

In addition to being chosen to perform their piece, the students are invited to stay for the matinee performance of Hamilton for just one “Hamilton” ($10 bill) per person. Hamilton, a hip-hop musical, tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who came to America as an immigrant from the Caribbean.

While both problematic yet legendary, Hamilton is an important public figure who played a fundamental role in the creation of America as George Washington’s right-hand man. Composed by the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is playing in Chicago at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., until January 2019. 

Miguel Cervantes, who portrays the title character, Alexander Hamilton, offers his insights to the youngsters in the EduHAM program.

Unique and educational

I was amazed at how articulate the students were at in creating art that was both unique and educational, and that integrated progressive politics and passion. Anna Cereno and Amaris Delgado of DeVry University Advantage Academy High School sang a duet about the importance of immigrants and Alexander Hamilton, who was both an orphan and immigrant. The students did a wonderful job of addressing the stark hypocrisy of the Trump Administration’s stance on immigrants today.

While talking to the students before the Hamilton show, I had the privilege of discussing their song writing process, artists that inspire them, and current issues in the political climate that are important to them.

Cereno and Delgado shared that this was their first duet and that usually perform in an orchestra. With the support of their school and peers, the students wrote the lyrics and ukulele accompaniment in three days before their performance. Additionally, they noted artists whom they look up, to which included street performers at Chicago el train stop platforms and actors such as Neil Patrick Harris and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Their favorite musicals include The Phantom of the Opera and Heathers.

I also had the pleasure of speaking to the students of Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. Myka Burage, Eileen Reilly, and Arlette Castillo performed a spoken word piece titled “Whiskey Rebellion.” I spoke with them about the importance of empowering adolescents, giving those with kind hearts big platforms, and seeing Chicago as more than just a city plagued by gun violence. I feel a strong sense of nostalgia when I speak to high school students. They help me dismiss my jaded outlook of society and make me feel like change is within arms’ reach.

Prior to the Hamilton performance, the actors participate in a Q&A session with questions that the performing students submitted. The actors shared stories about their time in Hamilton such as their favorite aspects of being a part of a cast and how they have built a community throughout the years. They also discussed the additional challenges that come with performing eight shows in a week, year round.

When asked about their progression as performers, Cervantes enlightened and challenged the students with his advice. He encouraged them to seek out change when their life is feeling static. “If you are in a great place, there is always a greater place to be,” he said. I could not think of more appropriate guidance for a coming-of-age group in 2018.

Students participating in the EduHAM program expressing their enthusiasm for their experience.

Political climate

Given the current political climate, I couldn’t help but reflect on the juxtaposition between current events of 2018 and the events that occurred in the late 1700s that created our country.

Listening to the performances of the students and watching Hamilton made me think about what Alexander Hamilton would think about our country today. How would Alexander Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers respond to the mess at the border of Mexico? What would they say about our government’s tactics of mass incarceration and the separation of children from their parents?

Miguel Cervantes, who plays Hamilton, addressed this conflict during the Hamilton cast Q&A. He reflected on how the dynamic of the cast changed when the Trump administration was elected into office. In the song, Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down), the ensemble sings, “We won! We won! We won! The world turned upside down!” Cervantes reflected that those lyrics had an entirely different meaning to the cast, as they knew our country would change under the Trump administration.

Hamilton’s and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s infamous lyrics, “There’s a million things I haven’t done but just you wait,” inspire us to address the injustice in the world today and propel us to fight for the marginalized and the oppressed. I am very grateful for young people and brilliant art that gives me the energy to better myself, Chicago, and this tiny place we call Earth.

To contact the CIBC Theatre about Hamilton, call (800) 775-2000. For more about EduHam, log on to www.gilderlehrman.org.