2018-11-08 / Around Town

Student Essay Contest Winners to See 'Hamilton' in New York

By Amy Martin

Lexi Lawson as Eliza Hamilton and Javier Mun~oz as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton. (Photo by Joan Marcus) Lexi Lawson as Eliza Hamilton and Javier Mun~oz as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton. (Photo by Joan Marcus) The Newport Historical Society is sponsoring its third annual “Big Ideas for a Changing World: Write Your Way to Hamilton Essay Contest.” Tenth-grade Rhode Island students have the opportunity to win a trip to New York City to see the award-winning Broadway show “Hamilton, An American Musical.”

Rhode Island’s historical actions have influenced and changed the world, and the Newport Historical Society is challenging students to think about how modern Rhode Island can continue this pattern of impactful change.

The competition asks essay writers to answer the question, “What is happening now in your community, or what could be happening, that has the power to change the future in Rhode Island and potentially the world?”

Rhode Island has been a front-runner of change throughout our country’s history. The principal of religious freedom was first applied in our state’s governing documents. Roger Williams’ advocacy of separation of church and state in Colonial America in the 17th century inspired the founders of the U.S., who incorporated this principal of religious freedom into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The principal was also applied in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Rhode Island is also known for beginning the Industrial Revolution in America when in 1793 Samuel Slater, known as the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution,” built the first textile mill in Pawtucket, called Slater Mill. Recognized as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Slater Mill used machines to spin cotton yarn using water power.

“Big things happen here in Rhode Island and they can again. And we want to encourage young people to understand that,” said Ruth Taylor, executive director of the Newport Historical Society.

The contest donors, Dwight and Susan Sipprelle (NHS board members, respectively), felt strongly about the relationship that existed between the nation’s historical principals and the struggles presented in “Hamilton,” and our modern-day ideals and trials.

Taylor agreed with that sentiment after seeing the Broadway production. “The bridge that was built that night between the 18th century and the 21st was multifaceted and rich,” she wrote in her director’s notes on the website. “I will not soon forget it or stop thinking about it.”

The contest was devised as a method to help young adults appreciate aspirations and actions of the past and apply these principals to modern times and local concerns. The point was to help students think beyond just what they heard, and cultivate independent thought and inspiration.

“Give us your answer,” Taylor tells students, “even if it’s something that might not work. Show us you're thinking about it, not just that you’re reading the newspaper.”

Past essay contest winners wrote about topics that included water safety and swim lessons being a mandatory part of our educational system, tuition-free programs for higher education, automation, government education in schools that create a more informed next-generation community, leading the country in solar power usage and making performing arts careers accessible to a larger audience, citing Brown University’s tuition free fine arts program, among several others.

Winners will be chosen from each Rhode Island county. Teachers who sponsor the competition and have an essay winner in their class are also included in the trip to New York. The essay winners and accompanying teachers will travel to New York on May 11 to watch the matinee performance of the Broadway phenomenon at the famed Richard Rogers Theatre.

Tickets, lunch and chartered bus transportation to and from New York are included. Newport Historical Society staff will chaperone the trip. Tickets and the trip are nontransferable.

The writing contest is open to all Rhode Island 10th-grade students for the 2018-19 school year in public and other tuition-free schools. Students may enter individually or teachers can present the opportunity to their classes. Information for individual student entries and interested teachers, including submission guidelines, forms, past winning essays and judging criteria can be found on newporthistory.org under the Collections and Resources tab. Then click on Teacher Resources. Entries must be emailed or postmarked by March 15. Winning essays will be announced by April 5.

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