I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. I’ve just returned from a conference in Atlanta put on by the National Association of Independent Schools. It is a wonderful conference for many reasons. First, there are several interesting sessions to attend to learn about innovations in schools and best practices. Also it is a chance to connect with other independent school folks from around the country. It is always interesting to hear from my colleagues at other schools what they are up to.
One of my colleagues, who is the head of a school in the Northeast, made a fantastic snow day video last year that was based on the musical Hamilton. As you likely know, I have been obsessed with Hamilton since I first learned about it a couple of years ago, so I loved this. I shared with him the video that we made at the end of the year last year for the eighth graders as well. And, I shared with them that I actually had the chance to see Hamilton just last week in Denver! This was definitely a huge highlight for me and was everything I had hoped it would be.
In earlier speeches over the last couple of years, I have brought up Hamilton and the lessons I think it can teach us. And after seeing it live, I am more convinced than ever at the value of the musical. Alexander Hamilton is certainly an inspiration for us all. Living through a severe illness and then a hurricane, he somehow managed to impress the other people on his island enough to pay for him to go to New York and attend school. Against all odds, he took that trip, and the rest is history. In the musical, he sings, ”I am not throwing away my shot!”, and this ends up being a theme throughout the musical. Unlike his counterpart, Aaron Burr, who likes to wait and see “which way the wind will blow,” Hamilton jumps in and takes action.
I have been listening to a podcast about Hamilton, and the hosts always ask their guests if they think they are more of a Hamilton or a Burr. Most people seem to think they are a little bit of both, and I would imagine that’s true for most of us. Certainly the take-action attitude of Hamilton is more effective and also more romantic, but it does get him into trouble now and then as well! That being said, I think it is our job as teachers to help students take their own shots and jump on opportunities when they arise.
In middle school, it is often the easier path to take a step back and wait to see what our peers are up to before making a decision about what we want to do. However, this choice, the Aaron Burr choice, does not allow us to figure out who our best selves are and to blossom fully into the individuals that we are meant to be.
Another aspect of Hamilton that I find interesting is the sheer amount of writing that he did. In the musical, his wife Eliza asks him, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” When he partnered with James Madison and John Jay to write the Federalist papers, they were only planning on writing 25. They ended up writing 85, and Hamilton himself wrote 51 of them. I have been thinking about this because in this day and age of smart phones and computers, it is easy for our kids to be only consumers of information rather than producers. While technology can be an amazing tool for both, we need to sure that there is a balance. While I’m not sure I expect our kids to write 51 essays on the value of the Constitution, I do you think it’s important for us to help our kids find their voices and use them to make a difference in the world. Whether this means having deeper conversations at dinner or when we put our kids to bed or, frankly, whenever we can find a free moment with them, the more we show our kids that their opinions matter, the more they will be willing to share.
Towards the end of Hamilton, his mentor, George Washington, tells him that you have no control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” It is true that we cannot control what our legacy is and what people will say about us when we are not around. However, we can live our lives to be the best people that we can be. At Moving Up Day, one of my favorite traditions is that as each student is called up to receive his or her certificate, I read an accolade about them that distinguishes who they are and what they have contributed to the middle school community. These accolades are written with the help of all of the teachers and advisors in the middle school, and they make clear just how well our teachers know their students. When our eighth graders finish middle school, they know with certainty that they are known and loved, and that they have made a difference.
Crazily enough, Moving Up Day will soon be upon us. As we enter the final quarter of the year, we will be working with students to not throw away their shot, to write like they’re running out of time, and to find their voices and discover their passions so that when they leave, they will have made their mark. Alexander Hamilton certainly did! Have a wonderful week!