JACKSON TWP. Actor RJ Mitte, who is better known as Walt Jr. or Flynn to Breaking Bad fans, spoke at the second installment of the Featured Speaker Series at Kent State at Stark on Nov. 16.
Mitte's topic, "Overcoming Adversity: Turning a Disadvantage into an Advantage," was a hit with the audience. The 24-year-old Mitte, like his character on the show, has cerebral palsy (CP), which he has turned into an advantage. He told the audience that if it were not for his condition, he would not be doing what he is doing today.
The AMC series, in 2013, was placed in the Guinness World Records Book as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.
"RJ has been an inspiration to many, as a champion, for removing the stigma associated with disabilities," said Kent State at Stark President Denise Seachrist, who introduced Mitte.
Mitte serves as the official ambassador for cerebral palsy and Shriner's Hospitals for children and is also a strong advocate for children with disabilities.
Mitte was first diagnosed when he was about three years old after many visits to doctors across the country. Doctors would admit something was wrong with him, but, in his words, "they knew he had something but did not know what. Not what you want your doctor to tell you."
His grandmother met a man who asked if the family had taken R.J. to Shriner's Hospital. They had not and took the man's suggestion. Mitte said within the first hour of being there he was diagnosed and began treatment.
He said he spent many months each year with both legs in casts from age three to 13.
"I really did not know I was disabled," he said. "I thought everyone went to occupational therapy and everyone did physical therapy. I didn't see it as abnormal until I went to school."
Mitte told the story of how a kid came up to him one day and asked what was wrong with him? The child asked him about his braces (he had braces on both legs). Mitte said he didn't know and went home and asked his mother, who explained he had cerebral palsy. He went back to school and told the kid he had cerebral palsy and the conversation was over.
He also talked about dealing with bullies and said he never backed down. While he was technically assaulted, he never thought of himself as being a victim because he stood his ground.
"I never wanted to be defined by someone else's words," he said. "It is not someone else that defines you, it is you. Your actions define who you are."
He also said everyone in the room has a disability whether they know it or not. It can be physical or mental or can be a family, a friend or a situation they are in.
"It comes to all of us in different ways, I utilize it and you can too." Mitte said.
It was a life altering experience for Mitte to be on Breaking Bad, who had previously been on on 7th Heaven, Hannah Montana, Switched at Birth and other shows.
He told the audience that you have to be willing and ready, when opportunity presents itself, to accept it.
"I accepted the challenge of Breaking Bad and they accepted me," he said.
Mitte said we all have the ability to change this world.
"It doesn't take a foundation, an organization or a Fortune 500 company," he said. "It can be one person that has determination, and is not afraid to step out of their own comfort."
Since Breaking Bad, Mitte has been able to work with a number of philanthropic organizations for disabilities.
"Be aware of what is going on and you can have an impact," hes aid. "Don't let your fear keep you from getting involved."
This is the 26th season for the speakers series, which is offered as a service for students and the community. More than 120 national and international personalities have spoken at the series. The next speaker in the series will be Susannah Cahalan author of Brain on Fire at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15. It is a free event but tickets are required. Tickets will be available beginning Jan. 23 at the Main Hall information desk. Visit www.kent.edu/stark/featured-speakers-series for more information.