New students, administrators reflect on ‘Hamilton’ experience


Mariana Alfaro/Daily Senior Staffer

The University sent the class of 2021 and transfers to see “Hamilton” as part of One Book One Northwestern’s program. Bienen junior Ben Smelser said the performance was “something I won’t forget.”

Lauren Bell, Reporter

When Alex Li first listened to the “Hamilton” soundtrack in high school, he never thought he would get the chance to see the musical live.

This fall, the McCormick freshman was one of more than 2,000 freshmen and transfer students given the opportunity to see “Hamilton” in Chicago for free on Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 as part of the One Book One Northwestern program. The award-winning musical depicts the life of one of the United States’ founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.

“Being in an environment where I knew that I’d be able to go back and share it with my friends and discuss it made it a lot more enjoyable,” Li said. “It’s an interesting discussion to have especially because … we all come from very different backgrounds, so it’s just nice to be able to have an open discussion about our political history.”

Nancy Cunniff, director of One Book, said she saw the show last March prior to organizing the event.

“I was just blown away by the whole production, so when the thought of taking all the first-year (and transfer) students to go see the show, I just thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for them,” Cunniff said.

Cunniff said sending students to the show was a University-wide effort.

Sodexo provided lunch for students before the show, and the New Student Family Programs staff and the Wildcat Welcome board of directors helped load the 24 buses that shuttled students to and from the event, Cunniff said. She added that upperclassmen had an opportunity to wait in a standby line in case any registered students were absent, so no tickets went to waste.

Additionally, the Office of the Registrar helped coordinate which matinee students attended to ensure they would miss the fewest classes possible, she said.

One Book creates programming around a book sent to freshmen and transfers for free each year, Cunniff said.

This year, students received “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.” The author, Danielle Allen, will give a keynote address Thursday on campus.

“This year’s book is all about the writing of the Declaration of Independence and a look at equality and freedom and founding documents, and it’s a close read on how the structure of a sentence even can change the meaning and how people interpret things,” Cunniff said.

Cunniff said she hopes the book, as well as the trip to “Hamilton,” spark interest among students to explore other programming offered through One Book this year. She said she hopes the experience of seeing “Hamilton” live is something the students will remember forever.

Future One Book programming probably will not include a trip to “Hamilton,” Cunniff said, but she hopes to continue creating “vibrant” programs to get people excited about the books and continue conversation around their themes.

Ben Smelser, a Bienen transfer from the Cleveland Institute of Music, said he had never heard the “Hamilton” soundtrack prior to going to the show this year, but thought it was amazing that the University gave students an opportunity to see the show for free.

“It was a lot of fun to go through such an emotional show with other friends by your side,” the junior said. “That’s something I won’t forget.”

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