CPS students and ‘Hamilton’ on the stage where it happens

Talk about your next-level field trips. On November 29th, students from 15 CPS high schools got to be in in the spotlight at the CIBC Theatre, where the wildly popular Hamilton has been playing in Chicago to downright frenzied acclaim.

1,900 students and teachers from 25 CPS schools were in attendance for the day celebrating the Hamilton Education Program, now in its second year, and proved to be a captive and supportive audience for their brave, creative, and vocal peers. Inspired by Hamilton and through studies in their own classrooms, the performers came up with spoken word, rap, poetry, dance and more. And these kids were so, so good.

Hamilton Education Program

Noble Street College Prep’s Sophia Diaz and Cecilia Delgado performed a piece entitled ‘Lucy Knox,’ about a patriot- and lesser sung hero- during the Revolutionary War. Of the experience, Delgado said, “I was nervous, but it was mostly exciting, because I got to say my poem in front of so many people.” She was inspired by the story of Lucy Knox, who “wrote love letters to her husband Henry Knox- they went back and forth- and the poem was basically a letter to her parents, because [they] opposed the relationship.”

Diaz, a dancer who began her training with Lozano Elementary’s Joffrey Ballet program, liked her fellow student’s idea. “We’re both poets,” Diaz told me. “At first she brought up the idea of this poem, and introduced me to the background of Lucy Knox. It was pretty cool, and she had a few ideas for the poem and I had a few ideas for the poem. We collaborated and I was like- I can dance this story. When we actually did it, was pretty cool. We were like- this is great!”

Emceeing the event- and doing a good bit of cheering on from the sidelines- was Hamilton star Montego Glover, who plays Angelica, the eldest Schuyler sister. So, how impressed was Glover by the words and feelings that these students brought to the stage?

“I was most struck by the complexity and depth of their perception and feeling. The expressions around freedom, liberty, equality were so fiery and informed,” Glover explained. “It was hard to believe that some of these kids were 14, 15, 16 years old. And the depth of connectedness to the words (words they’d written by the way) was so engaging. I was astonished.”

After the student performances, the audience was treated to a Q&A with some of Hamilton’s actors themselves, among them Miguel Cervantes, who plays the titular “young, scrappy and hungry” Hamilton. Among the gems these seasoned pros had to impart to the next generation of would-be scribes and performers was good advice about perseverance.

“Opportunity does not come on a schedule,” Cervantes told them. Hard work is just that, he went on to say. Cervantes, whose high school job was that of a supermarket bag boy and whose winding route led to Hamilton right as he was about to give up, talked about how there isn’t a linear path to success. “Despite hard work, sometimes people still say no…if you did your best, and they still say no, it was not your time, this was not your job, right now in this moment.”

(Another great Q&A tidbit came when Cervantes was asked how much knowledge of Alexander Hamilton’s history he had before signing on to the show. “I thought he was a president,” Cervantes laughingly admitted. “He was on the $10 so I thought he was a president.”)

After the morning’s events, the biggest prize for the attending schools- and for 20,000 students in 2017 alone- was a ticket to Hamilton’s matinee that afternoon. Were they the quietest audience in the show’s history? Not by a long shot. But in terms of impact, audible reactions, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, it would definitely be hard to beat.

Some might even say a few worlds were turned upside down.


For more information on The Hamilton Education Program and Chicago’s local funders and partners, please visit the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

For show information (because they Hamilton just opened up a new block of tickets for sale, friends!) head to Broadway in Chicago.



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