Long before Lin-Manuel Miranda was an award-winning performer, composer and playwright, he was a student here in Connecticut at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
He made a big impression on his fellow students and even the professors there.
Professor Emeritus John Carr was the Wesleyan Theatre Department Chair when Miranda was a student there in the early 2000s. He said Miranda's fellow students may have recognized his exceptional talent before most of the faculty did.
"They just recognized that one of their peers is really good," he said.
Carr said students create their own work in the program, which was the perfect fit for the now Broadway star.
"You've got to cast it and you want the best people. And Lin always had the best people, where other students canceled their show," Carr said. "Being a composer, writer, director, he needed actors and designers. People flocked to him," Carr added.
For those who have seen Hamilton, it's Miranda's boundless energy that stands out as much as the show's creativity, which is something Carr said the young New York native had in spades, but he did have a lot to learn.
"He was so ambitious to just create, create, and one of the things students have to learn is patience and he didn't have that back then," Carr said.
Being planted on a campus in a relatively quiet place like Middletown, away from the distractions of the city, may have been the perfect launching pad for Miranda. While the school has always had a reputation for theatre, it's now even bigger.
"The number of people wanting to be theatre majors has grown since then because Lin is such a household name. Everybody, you know, if you know theatre, you know Hamilton," Carr said.
Miranda wrote, produced and staged "In The Heights" when he was a student at Wesleyan. It went on to win four Tony Awards on Broadway.
In all of his success, the Broadway star has not forgotten his alma mater and the next generation of creators and performing artists.
Wesleyan sophomore Brianna Johnson has used her voice to accomplish a lot and she plans to do a lot more.
"One of the things that is really inspiring to me is just seeing how you can use your experience and use your talent to create something impactful," Johnson said.
It was impactful enough to catch the eyes and ears of Miranda and the director of Hamilton Thomas Kail. Both are graduates of Wesleyan University and awarded Johnson with the 2020 Hamilton Prize for Creativity, which includes a full-tuition four-year scholarship to the school.
"I can definitely tell you the day that I won, it just felt like the most unimaginable blessing that I could ever experience in my life," Johnson said.
Miranda, Kail and other panel members chose Johnson for writing songs about the struggles she went through to acclimate to a predominately white school.
She said she learned from Hamilton that music can be used to tell any story and bring forth something beautiful.
"Seeing a majority people of color cast on a Broadway show, that was something I remember was really big when Hamilton first came out and I think that is the reason that everyone was raving about it so much," Johnson said.
"And I think in my own life, just having that representation across multiple fields, whether it's in the classroom or just in a social setting at the university itself, it just feels good to see people who look like yourself doing amazing and incredible things," she added.
Johnson said Miranda continues to inspire creativity and confidence at Wesleyan University. Even though she's already had success writing and recording music, Johnson said she may want to go into education with the goal of fixing her native New York City public school system.
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