Penn Commencement 2016
May 24, 2016, Volume 62, No. 35
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Related: The Stories We Tell, given by Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, writer and performing artist; Pulitizer, Grammy, Tony and MacArthur award recipient.
Making Ideas Truly Come Alive
As Provost, I have the honor of introducing our speaker.
Now, unlike him, I don’t rhyme a lot.
But distinguished guests, like it or not, now’s the time for me to take my shot—
to show these graduates what I’ve got and to explain, Mr. Miranda,
why you’re about to take my spot.
He grew up in the Bronx neighborhood of Inwood.
An immigrant’s son, whose father had come
from Puerto Rico to the Big Apple.
He came north to grapple;
to seek a better life for himself, and for his people; advising Mayor Koch on making things equal.
Mr. Miranda knows the founding fathers,
but he never bothered with Benjamin Franklin.
You see, Quakers, he didn’t go to Penn.
His alma mater? That great school, Wesleyan.
When he got there, he picked up a pen,
and out of nowhere the show tunes came to him.
He founded a group—a comedy troupe:
the Freestyle Love Supreme.
He wrote and directed, unaffected by rejection,
and after four years elected to follow his dream.
That dream was to write and create
stories to demonstrate both love and hate:
People who tried to advocate
for those society dominates,
and how our fate can fluctuate,
forcing us to recalibrate
the people who make this country great.
Now, our honored guest knows that Broadway shows
can open then close if the critics oppose.
The audience slows. You see empty rows,
and soon the petal falls off that particular rose.
But he took flight with In the Heights.
The ticket lines snaked out of sight.
And by all rights those Broadway lights
burned so bright each and every night.
Then, Mr. Miranda got a call from a Ms. Tony
saying something about some big ceremony.
Ms. Tony said you should make room on a shelf.
Four gold trophies: three for your show, and one for yourself.
A rapid ascent: this was not his intent.
But why lament? It paid the rent.
Yet, Mr. Miranda was still not content.
A quick look at a book and then he was hooked.
An incredible life that had been overlooked.
It was Ron Chernow’s story of guts and glory:
a man with a quill, whose grill is still on the ten dollar bill!
This was a fatherless man from the lowest station
who went from poverty to help found a nation.
An immigrant and striver, a man with drive.
A founder’s tale that had to be told
in a way that spoke to both young and old.
This was a hero of the American sort:
a Caribbean import, a life that was cut short;
a man who wrote, and spoke, and dueled by the gun.
A man who went by Hamilton.
Well, that show is still on the rise, let me emphasize;
and allow me to publicize: Hello Mr. Pulitzer Prize!
You know the rest, and you know our guest.
He is truly blessed with what educators try to do best:
They open our eyes;
they help us realize;
make ideas truly come alive.
Graduates and guests, that’s enough propaganda.
Put your hands together for Lin-Manuel Miranda.