I am a little obsessed with Hamilton, the Broadway musical. I listen to the cast recording constantly and when that’s not on I’m listening to the audiobook version of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton (which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical). I saw the show back in January and I have tickets for one more show in June. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation musical. If you aren’t familiar with it you should check out the recording of the cast performing at The White House today. Jump to the 40-minute mark to watch.
But it’s not just the musical that I love. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the musical, is pretty inspiring to this teacher. See, LMM went to a high school very similar to mine. (I’m an alum of the school I teach at). Both specialized high schools attract a phenomenal student body which is amazing and terrifying. As a student, I remember looking around and wondering, “Where on earth do I fit in? I do not have a 100 average in math. I love science but I also love reading and writing.” Thankfully, I realized I could (and should) combine my loves. I’ve also managed to leave math behind (for the most part). And it’s worked out pretty well for me. I figured out what I was good at and I pursued it.
While watching the 60 Minutes special about Hamilton earlier this year I was struck by something Lin-Manuel Miranda said about his time in high school. I ended up copying the quote and sharing it online. And lucky for me, one of my colleagues surprised me by blowing it up so that I could hang the poster in my classroom. Miranda’s quote is one that I think all of my students need to hear on a regular basis:
Lin-Manuel Miranda: You know, I went to a school where everyone was smarter than me. And I’m not blowin’ smoke, I, my, I was surrounded by genius, genius kids. What’s interesting about growing up in a culture like that is you go, “All right, I gotta figure out what my thing is. Because I’m not smarter than these kids. I’m not funnier than half of them, so I better figure out what it is I wanna do and work really hard at that.” And because intellectually I’m treading water to, to be here….I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. So I, that’s the honest answer. It was like, I was like, “All right THIS.”
So simple, yet so important. We can’t be everything to everyone. We don’t need to be everything to everyone. Sometimes we suck at things. Sometimes we are amazing and blow everyone else away (shout-out to Philip Hamilton there!). But most of the time we are all average. Except for that one special trait. That one special thing we love. That’s what makes us who we are and that’s what we should pursue.
Today I’m a high school English teacher pursuing a graduate degree in biology/wildlife conservation. I also write. And blog. And use a lot of social media. And take my therapy dogs on visits. And help teach therapy dog training classes. Those are the things I love, the things that make me who I am, the things that are in my lane.
I want my students to realize they have a lane, too. And that pursuing whatever is in that lane is more important than building a resume just for the sake of a resume. Because colleges see right through that stuff and you have your whole life to do what everyone expects you to do. Take the time now to figure out what you love, what you enjoy, and what makes you happy. Then do those things. Do them for yourself and then find a way to do them for other people.
A coalition of colleges and universities recently released “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions”. This document lays out a plan to change the way college admissions are handled in the next two years. Instead of encouraging applicants to fill up their resumes with mindless activities that are only meant to help them stand out in the applicant pool, colleges are hoping to encourage students to become involved in more activities for the common good. Service for service’s sake. Community service that helps others rather than builds up your resume.
One of the best ways we can help with this endeavor, as teachers, is to share success stories with students. Share Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words of wisdom and his story with students. Tell them about people like Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai. Help them find their lane and be happy in it!
I’m thrilled to see colleges moving away from the rat race that is current admissions policies and towards something that will encourage more students to be involved with their communities while also finding their own areas of expertise. In the words of Alexander Hamilton/Lin-Manuel Miranda, “This is not a moment, it’s a movement”. And we are in the driver’s seat.