Photograph by Allyn Suzuki
When Daveed Diggs is on stage, whether that be at the Community Theatre or performing at the acclaimed Richard Rodgers Theatre, he knows how to connect with the audience in a singularly engaging and authentic way. Only a true Berkeley High School (BHS) alumnus would open an all school assembly by saying that he’ll try not to make it boring because he has experience sitting through some very boring assemblies.
Behind the bright smile, charisma, and head of curls (which took eight years to grow), is the actor who played Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in the groundbreaking Broadway show Hamilton. He has also acted in Wonder, The Get Down, and his upcoming movie, Blindspotting; and who is a proud BHS alumnus.
Daveed Diggs is up there with Ursula Le Guin, G-Eazy, and Andy Samberg, all famous BHS alumni, but he is differentiated by his passion and loyalty to BHS.
On April 17, Diggs returned to Berkeley to participate in a Berkeley High School Development Group (BHSDG) fundraiser, a school-wide assembly, and an intimate sit-down with current Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS) juniors and seniors. His participation in the BHSDG annual luncheon helped the organization raise about $60,000. 110 percent of its initial goal of $50,000 in its mission to support student success at BHS.
The idea of Diggs’ visit to BHS began with Deborah Durant, the coordinator of the event, when she was brainstorming alumni to help the BHSDG. Durant laughed as she recalled reaching out to Diggs, she said, “Daveed Diggs was the number one, clear, only, [and] he was my true north, so I said I’m going to get Daveed Diggs.” Durant was set on Diggs, so she wrote a page long letter, which took her eight hours to edit and rewrite.
The letter was sent through twelve various channels and eventually, Durant woke up and found at the top of her inbox an email from Diggs stating that he would be happy to come and support BHS.
Diggs graduated in 2000 and during his time at BHS, Diggs was part of the CAS community, ran track and field (and still holds the school record for the 110 meter high hurdles), contributed to poetry slams, and played in the Jazz band. But some of Diggs’ favorite and special memories are the most relatable to current BHS students. Diggs remembers always bringing his own lunch to school but going off campus to the park across the street and Lox Stock & Bagel, and when Diggs skipped class with his friend for days to get “terrible coffee and pastries” because the two were proctoring for a “very understanding teacher.”
Last month, BHS’s walkout for gun control reached many different, influential people, which included Diggs; he tweeted a photo of BHS’s walkout for gun control with an empowering message to young people.
“I think you guys are way more aware — realistically aware — politically than we were,” he said. “I think because of your access to technology … you guys know a lot more about how it actually works and stand to be a little less disillusioned than we were when we got out into the world.” Diggs said that he is proud that he posted the photo of BHS’s protest because, “it is gratifying to see you guys using the voice and the actual political power that you know you have.”
Even though all generations eventually have the opportunity to try their hand at fixing global issues, Diggs said that he “selfishly” asks BHS students to persist and keep working to mobilize early. He said to understand that it takes demonstration, vocalization, and public and political action “if you want things to change even in a broken system.”
Throughout his experience at BHS, Diggs said he witnessed a lot of occurrences such as distinct segregated communities on campus, the creation and graduation of the first CAS community, and he learned from teachers that were “soul-giving.” However, he said the most helpful teaching he’s taken from BHS and used in his current life is an understanding that he is capable of doing anything if he works for it and does not expect it to come easy.
Diggs said that the business he’s in draws a lot of people who believe that opportunities will simply come to them, but Diggs knows that “you have to actualize” your dreams. “You have to keep doing, keep making things, and not waiting for somebody to let you make things,” he explained.
As an artist, Diggs encourages all student artists to “keep being and identifying as an artist,” and enjoying the process, not solely focusing on the endgame because Diggs said he still can’t tell you his endgame.
From singing, to rapping, to acting, to directing, Diggs can say that he loves what he does all the time and “it’s worth it to figure it out,” whatever it might be.
Bringing Diggs to BHS was a one of a kind, special experience, specifically to Durant because students were able to connect and look up to a famous alumnus.
Durant explained, “I mean, how great it is to have someone from your school in the room who you look at and say, ‘Hey, that guy graduated from here, I can do what he’s doing.’ I love that, that was the whole point of inviting him — I think he represented well.”