Monday marked the final meeting of our Hamilton class, so we all did some reflection about what we had learned.
The students agreed that they thoroughly enjoyed the history that they learned, and they liked digging into the show and the lyrics and finding all the gems of references and details that were there to be discovered. The annotations were a bit challenging at the start, but the students rapidly got the hang of what to look for and where to make comments on the show’s lyrics.
For my part, I learned that no matter how much research I did, my students could still come up with details that I hadn’t found. I also enjoyed discovering how my students’ brains worked and that I was deluding myself to think that I could predict their reaction to a given topic. (They will still never be fans of Jefferson.) Individually and collectively, I appreciated the students who were always brimming over with things to say in class and the students whose insights were shared with me through their writing or outstanding annotations. I was given quiet gifts of service from the students who always showed up to class early and rearranged the chairs so we could sit in a circle. I was gifted with amazing stories, honesty, and courage from each person.
This seminar class also represents personal growth for me. Three years ago, I taught my first seminar course, and I was consistently petrified that the students wouldn’t have anything to say and the class would fail. As a scientist, I am trained to lecture, not lead a seminar, but by the time I taught Hamilton, I had grown comfortable and competent with facilitating discussion. I also developed the knack of surveying the quiet students for responses at the beginning of class to make sure that they had a chance to get a word in before the group as a whole got the bit in their teeth and took off at a gallop. I successfully attacked a huge topic that was outside my academic training and demonstrated the power of an inquisitive mind and a broad educational background.
Last Friday, all of the first year students in the College of Arts and Sciences gathered to present and share their first year seminar collaborative projects. The next time the entire group will be assembled again will be at graduation. Although my students did not win any of the presentation awards, I believe if there had been an award for class spirit, my students would have won it hands done. While the judges were away tallying their scores, my students entertained themselves by having an a cappella sing-along of “Non Stop” followed by “The Schuyler Sisters.” I may have begun the semester with a group of which half were already fans and half had no experience with the musical, but they were all fans by the end.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote that a legacy is, “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” For most of my students, this is the only class they will have with me in their college careers, so indeed, I may not ever know what fruit my seeds will bear. I did leave each student with a memento of our time together in the form of a button that read, “There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.” I do hope that they learned some lessons in class about themselves that will give them all a shot at success.
We finished our semester appropriately with a last rousing karaoke rendition of “Non Stop.” In the end, they were the ones to teach me how to say goodbye. Although I am scheduled for a reprise of the course next fall, there is always a special relationship with the people who help you through a first project. Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.