c/o Sam Hilton, News Editor

c/o Sam Hilton, News Editor

The University has discontinued the Hamilton Prize for Creativity, making Fall 2022 the first semester in five years without the full-ride scholarship. The University decided to discontinue the award because it did not reflect its ethos of only providing need-based financial aid and because it wants to prioritize artistic funding for current students.

Inspired by the success of University alumnus Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, writer of the Tony award winning musical “Hamilton: An American Musical,” the Hamilton Prize sought to support students interested in the arts by offering one incoming first year a scholarship covering four years of full tuition and two runner-ups a $5,000 stipend each. President Michael Roth ’78 explained that, though the University was excited to reward creativity after the fame that “Hamilton” achieved, having this merit-based scholarship did not fit with the way the University does financial aid.

“The Hamilton Prize was a kind of outlier from the beginning,” Roth said. “It came out of our enthusiasm for Hamilton and Lin and the people working with him…. But, we want to make it something that fits more into our approach to prizes and scholarships. And we don’t do merit scholarships. People get scholarships because of a financial need, not because they wrote a great poem.”

However, Roth emphasized that the end of the Hamilton Prize does not signify a lack of dedication to artistic thinkers at the University. He reiterated that the University wants to focus on meeting the financial needs of its current students and find new ways to celebrate creativity in the student body.

“There are schools that do merit scholarships…to get people that they wouldn’t get otherwise, and we don’t like that approach, especially since we can’t fund all the financial need we would like to,” Roth said. “[With] the Hamilton Prize, we made an exception because we were so enthusiastic about ‘Hamilton’ and getting our creative writers together. And now we are trying to find another way to do that.”

Manager of Media and Public Relations Steve Scarpa illuminated one such way to provide an additional resource for artistic students. He stated that the University is in the process of developing a grant program that will support these students.

“The University is always seeking to recognize and support student creativity and achievement,” Scarpa wrote in an email to The Argus. “To that end, we are developing a new program to mentor and support the artistic practice of juniors and seniors who seek to pursue a creative career. From theatre to the visual arts, Wesleyan students are known to make impacts in their field. We are in the midst of developing a grant program to support those students, both financially and through connections with Wesleyan’s vast alumni network.”

The next steps in bringing this grant program to fruition have not been determined yet, so specific details are unknown. According to Roth, it is unlikely that the new grant will offer four years of full tuition. Additionally, it is unclear how the University will select grant recipients, although Scarpa expressed a desire to keep working with those on the Hamilton Prize Selection Committee.

“We are grateful for the partnership of the Hamilton Prize Selection Committee and plan to continue working with members of that committee in this new project,” Scarpa wrote.

2021 Hamilton Prize runner-up Nolan Lewis ’25 expressed mixed feelings about the scholarship’s discontinuation. Though he found it validating to receive acknowledgment of the strength of his work, he also acknowledged the competitive nature of the application process and how this seems to contrast with the University’s spirit, which is largely not cut-throat. 

“It makes sense that they want to stop merit-based scholarships,” Lewis said. “That is totally understandable. But I think the Hamilton Prize is something that feels validating…. And I think the winning prize, having the full ride…[is] really huge. That is now something that future generations won’t have the chance for. But, then again, that does kind of create an unnecessary spirit of competitiveness.”

2021 Hamilton Prize winner Audrey Nelson ’25 similarly found that winning affirmed the merit of her writing, and expressed disappointment at the prize’s discontinuation.

“Before I won the Hamilton Prize, I didn’t trust that my writing was any good or that someone else would find it any good,” Nelson said. “And to have someone really well known and…a group of people that I respected…tell me that my writing was good enough for this prize was unimaginable and really, really cool. And it made me want to keep pursuing writing.”

2019 Hamilton Prize winner Anna Tjeltveit ’23 described the complicated experience she had after winning the Hamilton Prize. Though she was grateful to have won, and—similarly to Lewis and Nelson—felt validated in the value of her writing, she found it hard to accept that she had received such a generous award when some of her friends were struggling financially. 

“When I did win, which was mind-blowing…it was difficult in a lot of ways because at the exact same time one of my closest friends was freaking out because she needed $10,000 in loans and her dad’s credit score was too bad for him to co-sign it, and so she was questioning if she was gonna be able to go to college at all,” Tjeltveit said.

Tjeltveit also discussed how she went to an underfunded high school with no creative writing courses offered, in comparison to other high schools—especially wealthier ones—that offer more instruction in this field. However, she was able to attend three creative writing programs, which she acknowledged was a privilege not everyone has.

“It made me think about the fact that I had done three creative writing programs over the summers,” Tjeltveit said. “Those were expensive programs and I learned so much about writing there, especially about literary writing and writing in such a way that it would be palatable towards a group of judges with the background at Wesleyan. But it was something that other people wouldn’t have access to.”

Furthermore, Tjeltveit noted that, in the American higher education system, it is impossible to talk about creativity without talking about meritocracy. She pointed to the disadvantages that those who cannot afford creative writing programs or mentoring face, making a creative writing scholarship—and all merit-based scholarships—unfair. 

“There are things that…money can give you access to,” Tjeltveit said. “It’s not an even playing field. So I always felt really weird about the fact that there was a merit-based full scholarship.”

Ultimately, Tjeltveit acknowledged mixed feelings about the discontinuation of the Hamilton Prize.

“I think it’s actually really tragic that [the Hamilton Prize] doesn’t exist anymore because it really did show that Wesleyan places value on creativity,” Tjeltveit said. “I think it’s sad that that doesn’t exist anymore because it was something kind of special I think too…[but] it’s complicated.”

Anna Tjeltveit is a former Assistant Head Copy Editor.

Kat Struhar can be reached at kstruhar@wesleyan.edu.

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