An array of classes are offered each summer at Culver Woodcraft Camp. Students can choose from the traditional summer camp classics like archery and arts and crafts to more unconventional classes, including aviation and ice hockey.
Another unconventional class was offered this summer for just 10 Woodcrafters. They spent two weeks learning about the “ten dollar founding father.”
Offered for the first time last year, “The Hamilton Class” is offered during the second trimester. Campers learn the background of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” the 11-time Tony-winning show that follows the story of Alexander Hamilton surrounding the events of the Revolutionary War. The students also have the opportunity to see the production in Chicago, and spend class time reflecting on the musical and discussing the common themes present throughout.
The trip is made possible by Anne Cooper WC’84, SS’87, CGA’89 who donated the money for a few campers to see “Hamilton” during the summer. The class is a selective one, with campers being nominated by their unit directors, and just 10 being selected overall. The class met during the third class period each day, then saw “Hamilton” on the Sunday after the first week with their teacher and another chaperone.
Butterfly Wing One Maj. Moira Kelley SS’09, CGA’11, who teaches history, taught the two-week course. She was recommended by last year’s teacher, Jean Ahlenius, to Woodcraft Director Heike Spahn. Combining her love of history and teaching skills, Kelley was able to get the campers excited about Alexander Hamilton and prepare them to see the musical. She would often print out and project the song lyrics the campers were learning about, encouraging them to highlight words and contribute to the discussion.
After a week of “an in-depth about Hamilton,” the class traveled to the CIBC Theatre in Chicago to see the show in its full glory. For Kelley, this part was the highlight of the class.
“The best part, I think, is to see the musical. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “When the kids come to camp, I doubt any of them expected to see the musical, so a lot of them are surprised.”
Before the show, Kelley bought each camper a pin for their sashes and coats since the class does not have a patch. “They all were so excited to get that,” Kelley recalled.
Student Valeria Aguirre, Cardinal 3, also took note of moments before the show began:
“All of us were 10 kids and two teachers, we were just sitting there in the theater, watching the set, without any actors, just waiting for it to start, almost to tears because we were so happy and so excited,” she said. “You imagine something and then you see it, and then your mind completely blows a hundred percent.”
Aguirre, who is a fan of the show but had never seen it, described Hamilton:
“It’s the lighting, the characters. You would expect something serious, but you spend half of the play laughing. The characters are not what you’d expect of founding fathers, who were, like, such serious people. And it’s unbelievable. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. That’s the only word I can use. It’s awesome. I would highly recommend it if you have the chance to see it because it’s unbelievable, unforgettable and unimaginable.”
After seeing the show, the magic did not stop there. Cooper treated the class, Kelley and Maj. Megan Maes, unit director of Butterfly Wing Two and the second chaperone, to dinner at Italian Village to “do a debriefing.” That was an important moment within the trip, Kelley said, adding “that was really cool.”
The second week of class was the most challenging part, Kelley explained. The students started discussing the emerging themes and relatable topics within the musical, with Kelley showing videos of the original cast and asking the group discussion questions. One of the common discussion themes was the word “legacy” and how the students can connect it to multiple aspects of their lives.
“The musical surrounds Hamilton and his obsession with creating a long-lasting legacy and making change and making a story for himself, making a life for himself, and I think that we learn about leadership and the steps we can take to make your legacy a good one,” Kelley explained. She also mentioned the use of the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants,” which connects to the idea of “who goes before us and lays out the world, and what we do with what they have done” to the students.
“So, I think it enhances their experiences to just learn about legacy and leadership and what their role is in the world and their role in… at Culver, as a Gold C, or their role in their school at home, or their role in that classroom at the time or their role on that trip, so we can break it down any which way,” Kelley said.
When asked what she took away from the class, Aguirre mentioned her new knowledge of American history. And she also mentioned leaving a legacy.
“Alexander Hamilton was obsessed with his legacy and what your legacy is, what you leave for future generations, even though you may not be able to see it, what you want people to remember from you and I think that inspired me a lot to think about what I want my legacy to be.”