BLOOMINGTON — The award-winning “Hamilton: An American Musical” is not just about the American Revolution. It is a revolution, the co-author of the best-seller “Hamilton: The Revolution” said Wednesday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Founders' Day celebration.
“What we've seen so far is the tip of the iceberg,” said keynote speaker Jeremy McCarter, who co-wrote the book with his friend Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created the musical.
“Hamilton” has created a crossroads where people of different backgrounds can come together, said McCarter, speaking in Presser Hall's Westbrook Auditorium on the Bloomington campus.
With a cast of African-Americans and Hispanics portraying the Founding Fathers, Miranda has described his musical as “a story about America then told by America now.”
McCarter said there is an impact from “using people who had to fight harder than most to capture their piece of the American dream.”
People of all backgrounds have said “it changed the way they looked at American history,” said McCarter.
“Imagine down the road when it's licensed and amateurs can do it and schools can do it,” said McCarter. “Instead of five Washingtons and instead of five Angelicas, imagine there are 800 Washingtons, imagine there are 800 Angelicas and they're 17 years old.”
Teenagers who have seen the musical, with hip-hop verse and a diverse cast, have said the play “makes me feel like I belong here. It inspires me. It makes me feel like an American, too,” he said.
McCarter said, like many others, he thought Miranda's idea of telling the story of the Founding Fathers through hip-hop, was crazy — until he saw it in action.
“Nobody anticipated this phenomenon,” he said.
McCarter has watched the ripple effect from what he called "the perspective of the rock causing the ripples.”
When he says “the story's not over,” McCarter is not just referring to the “Hamilton” phenomenon, he is referring to the evolution of the United States.
“The Founders created our political system, but they did not create our character,” said McCarter, who studied history at Harvard. “They laid the foundation. Now it's up to us.”
Founders' Day honors founders of another sort: the 30 civic and religious leaders who established IWU in 1850.
President Eric Jensen said the university has had a commitment to inclusion and diversity since its founding, but he said during Wednesday's ceremonies, “This commitment must be demonstrated beyond aspirational language.”
Jensen announced the President's Leadership Initiative on Inclusive Excellence.
The initiative will build on several efforts in which IWU has been involved, such as a pre-orientation program called “Engaging in Diversity” and participation in The Posse Foundation, bringing high-achieving students from the New Orleans area to IWU. But he said, “We know that work remains.”
Jensen said there are three pillars: students, experiences in the classroom and campus-wide advocacy.
The initiative will include course development grants, ongoing professional development, awards for diversity excellence and continued efforts to increase the diversity of faculty and staff.
“We, together, will make our founders proud,” said Jensen.