Written by Aditi Juneja
This summer I wrote Lin-Manuel Miranda a letter to thank him for his contribution to my legal education. I told him that his musical, Hamilton, taught me a lesson that is not taught in any law school classroom: we do not need to deny who we are to be excellent.
Hamilton is a musical that uses the music that Mr. Miranda (and many of us) grew up with, hip hop, to tell the story of the founding of the United States. It purposefully casts people of color as the Founding Fathers and Mothers. Mr. Miranda wrote a musical in his authentic voice and it has been deemed revolutionary.
Seeing his success, I started thinking about how I could draw from, rather than deny, my experiences in aspiring to legal excellence. For example, I realized that my thoughtfulness and concern about other people’s emotions can be an asset. I learned that my preference to acknowledge and address discomfort is useful. Aspiring to be a lawyer who has no feelings and is only logical and analytical is not only unrealistic, but that model of lawyering fails to consider all factors influencing the decision-making of others. There is value to being our authentic selves.
Even more powerful than Mr. Miranda’s artistic choices, is the way he speaks about his writing process. He has publicly discussed the moments of self-doubt and fear that he had while writing Hamilton. He unapologetically talks about the uncertainty that accompanies creating a new world from your imagination, particularly when there is no guarantee that other people will want to travel to that world with you.
The biographies I’ve read of great civil rights lawyers are filled with their humanity, but did not discuss the vulnerability necessary for greatness. I can only imagine that civil rights lawyers, who spend their days advocating for a world that does not yet exist, feel that same trepidation. As a law student, I’ve found comfort in the reminder that those insecurities are normal and to be expected.
Finally, the most important lesson I learned from Hamilton is that we can extol the virtues of the Founding Fathers while recognizing their imperfections. The appreciation and irreverence with which they’re portrayed makes me believe that, despite my flaws, I can and should try to change the world. After all, if someone who has all the opportunities afforded by an NYU legal education doesn’t work toward a more perfect union, then how can I expect that from anyone else?
Whenever I start to doubt my choice to spend my life in pursuit of that goal (loan repayment is only so comforting when you know you have a mountain of debt and a chronic illness), I am emboldened by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s University of Pennsylvania commencement speech. In it, he says, “Sometimes we say no to good opportunities, so that we can say yes to the best opportunities.”
I hope that in the coming school year, we keep that in mind. Welcome back!