At the 183rd Commencement ceremony on May 24, 2015, graduates, their families, and other members of the Wesleyan community were treated to some life advice in the form of rap, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, this year’s Commencement speaker and the composer, lyricist, and star of the award-winning Broadway hip-hop musical Hamilton.
Miranda drew upon the stories of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr to discuss two different approaches to life: charging forward in the spirit of Hamilton—“I’m not throwing away my shot”—versus holding out for just the right moment to take action—“Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it.”
Miranda spoke of falling in love with the “instant gratification” of theater at Wesleyan. “You’re telling me I can write something in the fall, apply to Second Stage, get a budget and put it up in the spring? I am not throwing away my shot!” He was “keenly aware” of the hard work and sacrifices his parents made to put him through college, increasing the pressure he felt to make his mark.
It was during his sophomore year that Miranda wrote In the Heights in three weeks. “I was bursting with ideas, inspired by my housemates at La Casa, and I couldn’t set them to music fast enough,” he said.
“I wish I could tell you that the key to life beyond Wesleyan was as simple as saying to yourself, I am not throwing away my shot. To be like Hamilton, to charge forward and chase what you want,” said Miranda. “But in reality, it took eight years of hard work to take that 80-minute one-act from Second Stage into the version that opened on Broadway.” That production went on to win four Tony Awards.
At the ceremony, Wesleyan conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters upon Miranda; Beverly Daniel Tatum ’75, now president emerita of Spelman College and an expert on race relations; and Michael P. Price, who served as executive director of Goodspeed Musicals for 46 years.
In addition, Alan Dachs ’70, Hon. ’07, P’98 was awarded the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal. Dachs, president, chief executive officer, and director of the Fremont Group investment firm, has a remarkable record of service to Wesleyan, including leadership of the presidential search committee that resulted in the selection of Douglas Bennet as the university’s 15th president, and 14 years as a trustee, including eight as chair of the Board.
In his address to the graduating class President Michael Roth remarked on Wesleyan students’ activism in speaking out against injustice they see in the world, and on campus.
“I know that my colleagues and I have been inspired by student demands that we make this campus a place free from sexual assault, a place where it is clear that black lives matter because all students, faculty, and staff feel they are treated with respect, a place where we recognize our responsibility for the environment that will sustain us only if we stop poisoning the earth,” he said.
Roth added, “We must not protect ourselves from disagreement; we must be ready to be offended for the sake of learning, and we must be ready to give offense for the sake of disrupting ideas unworthy of preservation. Education worthy of the name is risky—not safe. Education worthy of the name does not hide behind a veneer of civility or political correctness, but instead calls into question our beliefs.” To watch Miranda’s full Commencement address, visit wesleyan.edu/video