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Experiential Learning Commons Blog

"I am not throwing away my shot!"

by Marie Jones on 2018-09-03T15:57:32-04:00 | Comments

Scott Sheffield, Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, offered a rousing talk at Convocation this year, quoting the groundbreaking musical Hamilton (1). We wanted to revisit the talk in its entirety, and thought that other members of the campus community would, also. Below, you will find the complete text of his speech.


How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?(2)

With this question, the Broadway musical Hamilton begins the story of one of the founders of the United States of America, Alexander Hamilton. It’s an improbable story, a story of a talented, cocky to the point of being obnoxious, angry, eager young man, an immigrant with an incredibly challenging background, looking for purpose in his life, arriving at just the right time in history to be swept up in revolution. In a determined voice, we hear the main character announce himself in the middle of the first song:

Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there's a million things I haven't done
But just you wait, just you wait... (3)

Hamilton is a story of youth, of recklessness, of love, and of tragic death. It’s a glorious, epic story of the birth of our nation played out in the modern lyrical rhyme of rap, but mostly it’s a story of opportunity and the determination of a young, flawed man and his friends and companions, male and female, who found themselves in a colonial world they saw as unjust and their determination to change it.

"And there’s a million things I haven’t done / But just you wait, just you wait…" (4)

Youthful determination and exuberance, two of the most important aspects of some of the most tumultuous events in modern human history, played out in the modern, youthful parlance of rap. Is it any wonder that even folks of the older persuasion, like myself, find ourselves mesmerized by this retelling of the story? The power of the musical, indeed the power of youthful determination and exuberance, resonates in all of us, but I think it is especially resonates today because it seems that youthful voices screaming against injustice are getting louder and louder every day.  When we hear the hopefulness and determination of Alexander Hamilton and his comrades as they fight against colonial injustice in the musical, we hear echoes of the powerful rap voices of the underprivileged in urban America, highlighting economic and racial injustice; we hear the multitude of youthful voices that are a part of the environmental movement, fighting for environmental justice; we hear the incredibly strong voices of the students at Parkland High School, determined that no more high school students should die. Youthful exuberance and determination are all around us, and, if we are to tackle all of the injustice in the world, we will need plenty of that youthful energy.

I hope that many of you students sitting here today are full of just such youthful exuberance and determination.  I hope that you sit here today full of energy and excitement about the possibilities that are ahead of you here at Brevard College and the full life that you are only just beginning. I hope that you have a sense of determination that you will succeed here at Brevard College and you are equally determined to use what you will learn here to transform the world, to fight against injustice in the world. Please know that it is not just my hope for you, but that the hope for the future of the world is indeed in your hands. 

Now, that’s a lot to hang on you, I get that, and maybe you’re just sitting there thinking, “What’s he talking about? I just came here to get an education and, hopefully, to get a job.” Yes, that’s true, but I am here to tell you that that is not enough. The world needs more from you; here at Brevard College we expect more of you. And here is something else you need to know. My colleagues and I, all of the faculty and staff here at the College, believe you can do it. You may not believe that about yourself yet. You may feel unsure of yourself and of your mission in life, and that’s OK. But we believe in you, and we are here to help you to learn how to believe in yourself. That is our mission, “to encourage personal growth and inspire artistic, intellectual, and social action.” (5)

So, I say again, we believe that you can change the world and fight for justice in the world, and we expect that you will.

This may seem shocking to you to hear someone say so bluntly that you need to use your education to fight for a more just society, because it seems that lately it is out of fashion for our leaders to talk about the need to make the world a more just place, but it is not out of fashion here, not at BC. At BC, you must and will learn in order to understand the nature of the world and where there is injustice, and we will help you do that. You must learn in order to act so that you can make the world a better, more just place, and we will help you do that, and finally, you must learn in order to serve others in your pursuit of knowledge and justice, and we will help you do that. That is our promise.

Today you begin your journey at BC. As you do, follow the advice of another song from the musical Hamilton, “Look around, look around to see how lucky [you] are, to be alive right now.” (6) Look around. You are surrounded by lots of new acquaintances and, I guarantee it, some future friends for the rest of your life. As you navigate these first days, weeks, and months of your College life, you are going to have many new experiences and will face many challenges, along with the people around you. I urge you to see how lucky you are and see it all as an opportunity of a lifetime.

Early on in the musical Hamilton, Alexander meets with his friends, most of whom are new acquaintances of differing backgrounds and abilities. It’s much the same situation that you are in right now. Here is what he is what he and they say, and here is the message of action and determination and hope I want you to take with you today:

I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot
I’m ‘a get a scholarship to King’s College
I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish
The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish
I gotta holler just to be heard
With every word, I drop knowledge
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal
Tryin’ to reach my goal my power of speech, unimpeachable
Only nineteen but my mind is older
These New York City streets get colder, I shoulder
Every burden, every disadvantage
I have learned to manage, I don’t have a gun to brandish
I walk these streets famished
The plan is to fan this spark into a flame
But damn, it’s getting dark, so let me spell out the name
I am the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R we are meant to be
And I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot

Come on, let’s go 
Rise up
When you’re living on your knees, you rise up
Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up
Tell your sister that she's gotta rise up
Rise up 
It's time to take a shot
Rise up, rise up, it's time to take a shot
Rise up, it's time to take a shot
Rise up, take a shot, shot, shot
It's time to take a shot, time to take a shot
And I am not throwing away my shot
Not throwing away my shot. (7)


Say it with me students, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”

 

(1) Hamilton, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, was inspired by the book "Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It made its off-Broadway debut in February 2015, and transferred to Broadway in August 2015. Since that time, international and national touring productions of the show have continued to draw large audiences.

(2) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton in Alexander Hamilton, 2015, Quoted in Genius Lyrics, accessed Sept 3, 2018, https://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-alexander-hamilton-lyrics 

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Brevard College. 2018-2019 Catalog (Brevard, NC: Brevard College, 2018), 4.

(6) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Take a Break  in Alexander Hamilton, 2015, Quoted in Genius Lyrics, accessed Sept 3, 2018, https://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-take-a-break-lyrics 

(7) Lin-Manuel Miranda, My Shot  in Alexander Hamilton, 2015, Quoted in Genius Lyrics, accessed Sept 3, 2018, https://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-my-shot-lyrics

 


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