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RJ Mitte speaks on USF campus


RJ Mitte, who plays the role of Walter White, Jr. in AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” could have spent Wednesday night talking about his life as a famous actor living in Los Angeles. 

Instead, he focused his University Lecture Series (ULS) event on inspiring a crowd of about 300 to reach their potential.

In the MSC Ballroom, Mitte began his speech with his childhood and the challenges of being initially undiagnosed with cerebral palsy. Mitte said his form of cerebral palsy is spastic cerebral palsy, which he described as his whole body feeling like a Charley horse. 

Eventually, his parents met a member of the Shriner’s organization, so he was able to get treatment at a hospital in Louisiana, about five hours from where he lived. After weekends of physical therapy from age 3 to 13, Mitte was able to start a successful acting career.

“I was able to learn a lot about what I can and can’t do. I never figured out what I can’t do. I’m still trying to figure out what I can’t do,” Mitte said. “I learned a lot about what people see of me, and how people see disability. I never knew that I had anything wrong with me, and I still don’t have anything wrong with me, if anyone asks.” 

He said that much of today is focused not on who you are, but how people see you.

“People can’t get past what they see,” he said. “People don’t get there’s so much more to someone than just their outward appearance or what you think they can do.”

The talk also focused on aspects of controlling fear, self-doubt and exceeding expectations.

“I don’t allow my fear to dictate who I am,” he said. “I don’t allow my fear to dictate what I do and where I want to go. 

“I might be afraid of doing it, but I’m not going to allow myself to run away from that fear. And we all have that fear, we all have this self-doubt. But I don’t allow myself to have it, and you should not either.”

Mitte also addressed issues such as bullying and social media, telling students to put more care into what they post online. 

“Keep in mind, these businesses are not just looking at you, they’re looking at what your message is,” he said. “What are you putting out there in this world? What are you doing to have an impact?”

After the talk, Mitte held a question and answer session. In contrast to the talk itself, many students asked questions about Mitte’s experiences in acting and dealing with a disability in a superficial industry. 

One audience member asked how Mitte felt about playing a character that has a more severe form of cerebral palsy in “Breaking Bad.”

“When people saw White, Jr. in the beginning, you saw the crutches first. You didn’t see the character, you didn’t see the person, you saw the disability, what you thought made him. And that’s not him. And as you evolved with him, you slowly get that … you slowly don’t think about that he has (Cerebral Palsy). More people have disabilities than not. Everyone in this room is disabled, we all have these struggles,” Mitte said.

One audience member took the opportunity to say thank you and start a round of applause instead of asking a question.

After the lecture, Thiago Arzua, a senior majoring in chemistry, said he was surprised by Mitte’s sense of humor.

“I didn’t know he was that funny. He’s usually playing more serious roles, so I didn’t know he could do that,” Arzua said.

John-Garry Del Gais, a freshman majoring in industrial engineering, said he found the lecture inspiring and eye-opening. 

“It really changed my view on how I see people, honestly,” he said.

Iranian-American writer Firoozeh Dumas will be the next speaker for ULS on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. when she will speak in the Oval Theater.