Lin-Manuel Miranda's commencement speech: 'Your stories are essential'

Broadway star said narratives bring people together

Our stories are important because they define who we are, "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda told the audience at University of Pennsylvania's commencement ceremony Monday.

Miranda discussed a pivotal moment in his life that forced him to decide whether his own story was worth telling.

At 23 years old, Miranda and his friend Tommy Kail—director of "In the Heights" and "Hamilton"—met with an influential producer who had watched a reading of "In the Heights." The producer suggested changing the plot of the play to make the character Nina Rosario grapple with some higher-stakes issue than losing her scholarship to Stanford University. Miranda wanted to reach a compromise because the producer was interested in putting on the show, but Kail didn't let Miranda waiver on his principles.

See also: Smart financial aid can keep kids like Nina in college

"If I could get a time machine and watch any point in my life, it would be this moment," Miranda said. "The moment that Tommy Kail looked at uncertain, frazzled me, desperate for a production and a life in this business, tempted, and said no for us."

Miranda and Kail moved forward and "In the Heights" made its Broadway debut five years later. People have thanked Miranda for telling Nina's fictional story because they shared her experience.  

"Your stories are essential," Miranda said. "Don't believe me? In a year when politicians traffic in anti-immigrant rhetoric, there is a Broadway musical reminding us that a broke, orphan immigrant from the West Indies built our financial system."

Our own stories have meaning, and they have the power to connect us with others, Miranda said.

"There will be blind allies and one-night wonders, and soul crushing jobs, and wake up calls, and crises 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" (Bridges, Forbes, 5/16).

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