Hamilton — the hit Broadway show that blends hip-hop, pop, R&B and history to tell a diverse new generation the story of the country’s founding — is bringing together incoming students as the heart of this year’s On the Same Page program at UC Berkeley.
“To see the entire cast be people of color, it just makes my day,” says a transfer student who is pursuing a major in English and history. “The way the story is told opens up a door to questions and ideas that lead you to the right part of history, the accurate part of history.”
In its 12th year, On the Same Page, which is hosted by the College of Letters and Science, typically asks new students to read the same book over the summer before they arrive, one by an author who illuminates current cultural issues that reflect the values of the campus. That way, they all have something in common to talk about — socially, in courses and at events specially designed to explore the book’s themes. This summer, instead of a book, incoming freshmen and transfer students were asked to listen to the soundtrack of Hamilton.
“There are so many themes that are really politically relevant right now,” says Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning in the College of Letters and Science. “It was written in a very different time, but it’s still relevant today in a different way.”
“It focuses on standing up for your rights and standing up for yourself and others,” says freshman Jonah Gercke, who plans to major in global studies. “And taking a stand on moral issues in a positive and constructive way, which I think is one of the tenets of Berkeley.”
On Sunday, just before fall semester began, new students attended an On the Same Page performance and lecture in Haas Pavilion. Students from campus groups including the UC Women’s Chorale and BareStage performed a medley of songs from Hamilton. Jeremy McCarter, the co-author of Hamilton: The Revolution, a behind-the-scenes book about the creation of the Tony award-winning show, took the audience to the play’s beginnings — how it was created, and how the show and its multicultural cast have changed the sound of Broadway.
“Hip-hop is a fiercely powerful way of telling stories,” he told the audience. “Rhyming over a beat is closer to what the great plays of the past do — the Greeks and Shakespeare — than a lot of modern, naturalistic dramas…. Verse gets into your brain in some sneaky, powerful way. And because hip-hop is verse over a beat, it gets in your bones, it gets in your muscles.”
Students attended the event as part of Golden Bear Orientation, an eight-day welcome for all new students that’s loaded with activities, tours, academic programming and training sessions.
Other Hamilton events and activities will take place throughout the fall semester, including several freshman seminars; regular classes that feature ideas or topics related to the book; Berkeley Revolution Mixtape, a contest inspired by last year’s The Hamilton Mixtape album; and Hack Hamilton, where fans of the musical can create short videos of their own parodies for a $1,000 cash prize.
Learn more about On the Same Page, and stay up to date on this year’s events at http://onthesamepage.berkeley.edu/.