At the Tony Awards two weeks ago, Lin-Manuel Miranda won best score for In The Heights. The show is moving and funny, and the score is an exciting blend of hip hop, Latin, and Broadway music. Miranda’s acceptance “speech” shows the inspiration and spirit behind the talent:
With such a big hit in his first foray onto Broadway, Miranda is a fast-rising star in his world right now, so it’s great to see him remembering and thanking those who helped him in his earlier years. In a shout-out I appreciate personally, at 1:30 in the video he thanks “Dr. Herbert for telling me, ‘You’re a writer.'” I know what he’s talking about. I, too, could thank Dr. Herbert for helping me, since I also learned from Dr. Herbert at Hunter.
For those of you who weren’t there with me, Hunter College High School is a selective public school in Manhattan. It’s run by Hunter College and is therefore administered through the City University of New York system, rather than directly by the City, as other public schools are. When I try to explain my high school to people who don’t know it, I find no explanation is satisfactory. It is truly public in ways financial: students and their families pay nothing to attend, and the school operates on a threadbare budget year after year. We had a safe building, but classrooms had half-painted walls and desks with years of graffiti. Our books were even older: many were published in the 1970s and 1980s. But Hunter had the human and intellectual resources of any school in the country, including the best private schools. Hunter was and is an incredible world of creativity and intelligence, most of which came from its 1200 students in grades seven through twelve. The school admits students based on a single test in sixth grade, which seems like an easy way to build a school of little nerds. Yet Hunter students formed the most interesting, smart, and intellectually diverse community I have known.
I’ll surely write more on my high school in the future, but Miranda’s Tony wins (In The Heights also won best musical) and his acceptance speech moved me to share the event, as well as the feeling of pride it gave me. I’m only two years out of high school, but that’s enough time to move on, and to move the experience firmly into the realm of memory. Since leaving, however, I’ve clung to Hunter, keeping strong friendships from high school and going back to visit my teachers when I can. During my last visit in May, I only caught Dr. Herbert for a minute, but I spent four hours with other teachers in the English, Social Studies, and Science department offices. And my pride in the school has only grown since graduation. I went to school with an amazing group of people. Miranda was eight years ahead of me, but I’m proud of his early achievements. Many other accomplished alums strengthen my pride in those who shaped the school before me. And I look forward to the coming years, when I will get to be proud of my classmates, those who shaped the school while I was there and, as much as anyone else, made me who I am.
Update 7/1/08: Earlier today a Hunter friend sent me this audio link, in which, about a quarter in, Max Kellerman, Hunter ’91 and sports broadcaster, talks with Jon Daniels, Hunter ’95 and general manager of the Texas Rangers. Not a great clip, but worth a listen for Hunter alums. They both claim to have been “king of the nerds.”