Inspiration for Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’ & treasury secretary visit their Forest Hills alma mater

Photo by Angela Matua

Two prominent graduates of Forest Hills High School alumni who have gone on to extremely successful careers paid a visit to their alma mater on Monday.

U.S. Department Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew and writer and historian Ron Chernow, who wrote “Alexander Hamilton,” the biography that would inspire the hit Broadway show, both attended the event at the school, located at 67-01 110th St.

Lew and Chernow discussed their experience going to Forest Hills High School, the history of the Treasury Department and Alexander Hamilton’s legacy and answered questions from the audience. Maria Bartiromo, an anchor on Fox Business News Channel, moderated the discussion.

Lew, who graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1972, was a writer and editor of the school newspaper. He said being in a leadership position at a young age allowed him to realize the power one person can have.

He also remembers going to his principal’s office and telling her to end the Vietnam War. Though the discussion did not work out as planned, Lew said he took valuable lessons from that experience.

“If you care deeply about something and if you put your effort into it and you keep pursuing an idea that’s important to you, you actually can make a difference in the world, ” Lew said. “In addition to my academic experience, my time here gave me the sense that you can make a difference in the larger world.”

Lew went on to become the director of the office of management and business (OMB) under President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. He also served as Obama’s chief of staff before taking the secretary of treasury position in 2013.

Chernow, who graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1966, said he had teachers throughout his years in public school who encouraged his love of literature.

“Every single person that I’ve known in my life that has done very well at least has one person who believed in them implicitly,” he said. “I always had teachers who recognized my love of literature and always encouraged me to read at a much higher grade level than the assigned books at the time.”

Chernow discussed his meeting with Lin Manuel Miranda during a showing of “In the Heights,” Miranda’s musical about people living in Washington Heights. Miranda told Chernow that while he read the biography, he heard rap lyrics in his head. He asked Chernow to become the historical adviser for the musical.

“He said to me, ‘I was reading the book, hip hop songs started rising up off the page,'” Chernow said. “Well that’s not a typical reaction [I get from people who read the book].”

Chernow has written several biographies including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington: A Life” and “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance,” which won the National Book Award.

A student asked the alumni how they demonstrate civic virtue, Lew and Chernow both encouraged students to engage with people who may have differing political opinions in the wake of this election.

“In some ways the modern world pulls us apart and puts each of us into a very small place where we talk to people who agree with us, we hear news from people that agree with us, we don’t talk with cross groups as much as we used to.”

He added that finding ways to work within local communities to “share views” with people you may not agree with is a necessary but “pretty significant challenge in American life today.”

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