Penn’s 2016 Commencement Ceremony- Commencement Speaker Lin-Manuel Miranda


(loud applause) – Yeah! (applause) Someone call for
the extra po-pos, I’m running down
for your Provost. (audience laughs and cheers) Bars, bars on bars on bars. (laughter) Thank you, President
Guttmann, MC Provost. (laughter) Ha! Board of Trustees, faculty, family, Mr. Vice-President, undergrads of the four
penned schools of Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Ravenwood,
and Gryffindor (laughter) and dear, exhausted,
exhillerated,
terrified graduates of the class of the 2016. (applause) I begin with an apology. I am the writer of “Hamilton:
An American Musical”. Every word in the show, and there are over
22,000 words in the show, were chosen and put in a
really specific order by me, so I am painfully aware
that neither Philly nor the great state
of Pennsylvania is mentioned in Hamilton, with the exception
of one couplet, in the song “Hurricane”, where Hamilton sings- (rapping) ♪ I wrote my way out of hell, ♪ I wrote my way to revolution, ♪ I was louder than the
crackin’ the bell. ♪ That’s it. (laughter) One blink and you miss it. Liberty bell reference. I’m also painfully aware that
this commencement address is being live-streamed
and disseminated all over the world instantly. In fact, painfully aware is
pretty much my default state. Oh yeah, that’s Lin,
he’s painfully aware. (laughter) So, with the eyes of the world
on the history of us all, I’d like to correct the record and point out that
a few parts in “Hamilton”, the musical, actually took place
in Pennsylvania. (cheers) The Battle of Monmouth,
herein General Charles Lee, in our show effed the bed, and retreated against
Washington’s orders. According to Lafayette,
this was the only time he ever heard George
Washington curse out loud. That’s right. The father of our
country dropped his choicest profanity and
f-bombs in Pennsylvania. (cheers) The Constitutional Convention,
wherein Alexander Hamilton spoke extemporaneously for
six hours in what is surely the most untweetable
freestyle of all time, happened right here in Philly. (cheers) That’s right. In fact, Alexander Hamilton
lived at 79 South 3rd Street when he began his extramarital
affair with Mariah Reynolds (laughter) creating the time
honored precedent of political sex
scandals and mea culpas. You guys, “The Good
Wife” wouldn’t even exist if Hamilton hadn’t
gotten the ball rolling on this dubious
American tradition, right on South Third
Street, right near the Cosi. (laughter) Finally, I need to
apologize on behalf of the historical
Alexander Hamilton, because if he hadn’t
sat down to dinner with James Madison
and Thomas Jefferson, desperate for support
of his financial plan, Philedelphia might well
still be the US capital. Hamilton traded Philly away in the most significant backroom
deal in American history. As the guy who plays
Hamilton every night, let me get into character
for a moment and say my bad, Philadelphia. (laughter) Thank you. But take the long
view, Motown Philly, who really won that
deal in the end? Look at DC. It’s synonymous with
institutional dysfunction, partisan infighting,
and political grid lock. You are known as
the birthplace of Louisa May Alcott, Rocky Balboa, Boys II Men, Betsy
Ross, Will Smith, Isaac Asimov, Tina
Fay, cheese steaks, and you can have Scrabble, soft pretzels, and Wawa
hoagies whenever you want. You win, Philly. You win every time. (audience cheering) What a race. The simple truth is this- every story you choose
to tell by necessity omits others from
the larger narrative. One could write five
totally different musicals from Hamilton’s eventful,
singular American life without ever
overlapping incidents. For every detail I
chose to dramatize, there are ten I left out. I dramatize- I include King George at
the expense of Ben Franklin. I dramatize Angelica Skylar’s
intelligence and heart at the expense of Benedict
Arnold’s betrayal. James Madison and
Hamilton were friends and political allies, but their personal and
political fallout occurs right on our act break,
during intermission. My goal is to give you
as much of an evening as musical entertainment
can provide, and have you on your way at home slightly before “Les
Mis” lets out next door. (audience laughing) This act of choosing
the stories we tell versus the stories we leave out will reverberate across
the rest of your life. Don’t believe me? Think about how you
celebrated this Senior week, and contrast that with
the version you shared with the parents and
grandparents sitting behind you. Penn, don’t front. You’re a Playboy Magazine
ranked party school. You know you did
things this week that you’re never
mentioning again. I know what you did this summer. (laughter) I’m going to tell you a
story from my twenties today, a story I’ve never
told in public before. I’ll tell you two
stories, actually. It’s my hope that it
will be of use to you as you stare down the
quarter-life marker. I am twenty years old, finishing my Sophomore
year at Wesleyan, and my girlfriend of
four and a half years is home from her
semester abroad. I can not wait to see her again. She is my first love. I dread seeing her again. I’ve grown into my
life without her. In her absence with
time and angst to spare, I have developed the first draft of my first full-length musical, an 80 minute one act
called “In The Heights”. I have also developed a blinding
pain in my right shoulder, which I can’t seem
to stop cracking. My girlfriend comes home. I am so happy to see her, even as my shoulder worsens. My mother takes me
to a back specialist, ranked in New York magazines, so you know he’s good. He examines me, looks
me dead in the eyes, and says, “There’s nothing
wrong with your back.” “There will be if
you keep cracking it, “but what you have
is a nervous tic. “Is there anything in your life
that’s causing you stress?” I burst into tears
in his office. He looks at me for a
long time as I’m crying and get this, you’ll appreciate this, Renee, he tells me the story
of Giuseppe Verdi, a 19th century Italian
composer of some note who, in the space of
a few short years, lost his wife and two
young children to disease. He tells me that
Verdi’s greatest works, “Rigoletto” and “La
traviata” came not before but after this season of Job, the darkest moments of his life. He looks me in the
eyes and tells me, “You’re trying to avoid
going through pain, “or causing pain. “I’m here to tell you that
you’ll have to survive it “to be any kind of artist.” I break up with my
girlfriend that night. I spend the summer in therapy. I tell a lot of stories
I’ve never told before. My father asks my mother, “What the hell kind
of back doctor- “Verdi? Really?” (laughter) I stop cracking my shoulder. The story I had
been telling myself, happy guy in a
long-distance relationship with his highschool sweetheart, was being physically
rejected by my body via my shoulder. I’d never broken up
with anyone before. In my head, I was a good guy, and good guys don’t break up
with their significant others when one of them goes
off to study abroad. I was trying to fit my life into a romantic narrative
that was increasingly at odds with how I really felt. In retrospect, we both were. What about her story? Well, it’s not mine to tell, but I can share this much. She began dating one
of her good friends the following year of college. Fast forward to present day. She is happily married
to that same good friend with two beautiful kids. In her story, I
am not the angsty, shoulder-cracking
tortured artist. I’m the obstacle in the
way of the real love story. For you Office fans,
they’re Jim and Pam, and I’m Roy. (laughter) Story number two- I am out of college. I’m 23 years old, and Tommy Kail and I are meeting with a veteran theater producer. To pay rent, I am a
professional substitute teacher at my old high school. Tommy is Audra
McDonald’s assistant. Tommy is directing
in “The Heights”, and with his genius
brain in my corner, my 80 minute one
act is now two acts. This big deal theater
producer has seen a reading we put on in the basement of the drama bookshop
in midtown Manhattan, and he is giving
us his thoughts. We hang on his every word. This is a big deal
theater producer, and we are kids desperate
to get our show on. We are discussing the
character of Nina Rosario home from her first
year at Stanford, the first in her family
to go to college. The big deal theater
producer says, “Now I know in your version, “Nina’s coming home with
a secret from her parents. “She’s lost her scholarship. “The song is great,
the actress is great. “What I’m bumping
up against, fellas, “is that this doesn’t
feel high-stakes enough. “Scholarship? Big deal. “What if she’s pregnant? “What if her boyfriend
at school hit her? “What if she got
caught with drugs? “It doesn’t have to be
any of those things. “You’re the writer,
but do you see “what I’m getting at, guys, a way to ramp up the
stakes of your story?” I resist the urge to
crack my shoulder. We get through the
meeting and Tommy and I, again, alone, look
at each other, and he knows what I’m going
to say before I say it. Pregnant? I know. Nina on drugs? I was there. But he wants to put our show up. Tommy looks at me. That’s not the story
you want to tell. That’s not the show
I want to direct. There are ways to raise the
stakes that are not that. We’ll just keep working. If I could get in
a time machine, and watch any point in my life, it would be this moment, the moment where Tommy
Cale looked at uncertain, frazzled me, desperate
for a production and a life in this business, tempted and said no for us. I keep subbing, he continues working for Audra. We keep working on in “The
Heights” for five years until we find the right
producers in Jill Ferman and Kevin McCullin
and Jeffery Seller, until Philly native
Quiara Alegría Hudes becomes by co-writer
and reframes our show around a community instead
of a love triangle. Until Alex Lacamoire and
Bill Sherman take my songs and make them come to life
through their orchestrations. It will be another five years before “Heights”
reaches Broadway exactly as we intended it. And then the good part. Nina’s story that
we fought to tell keeps coming back
around in my life. It comes around in letters or in the countless
young men and women who find me on the subway
or on college campuses and take my hand and say, “You don’t understand. “I was the first in my
family to go to college. “When I felt out of place,
like I was drowning, “I listened to
Breathe, Nina’s song, “and it got me through.” And I think to myself, as
these strangers tell me their Nina stories, I do understand. That sounds pretty
high-stakes to me. (applause) I know that many of you
made miracles happen to get to this day. I know that parents
and grandparents and aunts and and uncles
and family behind you made miracles happen to be here. I know, because my family
made miracles happen for me to be standing here talking
to you telling stories. Your stories are essential. Don’t believe me? In a year when
politicians traffic it in anti-immigrant rhetoric, there is also a Broadway
musical reminding us that a broke, orphan
immigrant from the West Indies built
our financial system, a story that reminds
us that since the beginning of the
great unfinished symphony that is our American experiment time and time again, immigrants get the job done. (applause) My dear, terrified graduates, you are about to enter
the most uncertain and thrilling period
of your lives. The stories you
are about to live are the ones you will
be telling your children and grandchildren
and therapists. They are the temp
gigs and internships before you find your passion. They are the cities you live in before the opportunity
of a lifetime pops up halfway across the world. They are the
relationships in which you hang on for dear life, even as your shoulder
cracks in protest. They are the times you say
no to the good opportunities, so you can say yes to
the best opportunities. They are what Verdi survived
to bring us “La traviata”. They are the stories in which you figure out who you are. There will be
moments you remember and whole years you forget. There will be times
when you are Roy, and there will be times
when you are Jim and Pam. There will be blind allies
one one-night wonders and soul-crushing
jobs and wake-up calls and crisis of confidence
and moments of transcendence when you are walking
down the street, and someone will thank you
for telling your story, because it resonated
with their own. I feel so honored
to be a detail, a minor character in the
story of your graduation day. I feel so honored
to hear witness to the beginning of
your next chapter. I’m painfully aware
of what’s at stake. I can’t wait to see
how it turns out. Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2016. (cheering) (applause)

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