New UC Berkeley students introduced to campus by ‘Hamilton’ soundtrack

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Two years after opening to critical acclaim, the soundtrack of Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” is welcoming UC Berkeley students to campus.

Since 2012, incoming students often receive a book in the mail during the summer before they start school as part of a program called On the Same Page, or OTSP. Originally based in the College of Letters and Science, the 2006 program has since grown to include all new students and faculty in an effort to help encourage a sense of community for future UC Berkeley students.

“The premise of the program is so the incoming class has something intellectually in common,” said Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning for the undergraduate division of the College of Letters and Science.

Last year, students read “Just Mercy,” a compilation of short stories about the criminal justice system and race by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and the founder of Equal Justice Initiative. This year, the selection committee wanted to introduce an outlet it believed would be engaging to students — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” soundtrack.

According to Schwartz, the committee chose “Hamilton” because it felt the soundtrack could bring together students from various disciplines such as political science, ethnic studies and theater. Schwartz said she hoped students would be inspired to make a change and feel empowered to do something different, just like the Founding Fathers.

During Golden Bear Orientation, students met with their orientation leaders in small groups to discuss the soundtrack and its controversial topics, including race, gender and immigration. The campus also invited Jeremy McCarter, co-author of the behind-the-scenes book “Hamilton: The Revolution,” for the OTSP keynote address.

“I thought it was a phenomenal program,” said incoming campus freshman Luisa Guzman Gomez. “I was really able to connect with some of the points (McCarter) made (in his address) … that it’s okay to stand by your ideals and what you believe in is good.”

Orientation leader Peter Son, however, said he did not fully agree with the choice of “Hamilton” because he felt the play was not easily accessible to students. According to Son, the majority of the students in his GBO group were not interested in the soundtrack. Son said he believed that a film would be a better medium to bring students together, as it is more common for people to watch a movie than to see a musical.

Students may also attend OTSP support courses related to Hamilton, such as American Studies 24, a freshman seminar dedicated to Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Papers. According to Richard Hutson, professor emeritus of English and an instructor of American Studies 24, “Hamilton” has helped increase general interest in American history.

“Our experiences at Cal are made up of small moments and in a way focused on the destination,” said Mikayla Tran, an incoming campus freshman. “But the journey is where we grow and all those moments happen. … It is the same perspective as the musical.”

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.