Four-time Emmy-Award-winning actor Jim Parsons gave the keynote speech to students at John Muir Middle School for Muir United on Thursday, November 16, a day filled with presentations focusing on diversity and tolerance for the entire student body.
“Muir United was a day devoted to bringing our students together on issues of acceptance, tolerance and unity,” explained Principal Greg Miller. “Through a great lineup of speakers, we were able to have a day of dialogue with students about their feelings and perspectives on our differences and similarities across race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and more.”
More than 25 different presentations ranging from live music, visual arts, comedy and drama to straightforward discussions were given throughout the day for Muir United.
In addition to Parsons, the list of presenters included: Teen Truth, Chris Hendricks of Perfectly Afflicted, Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A., Ten West, Special Olympics, USC Interfaith Council, PFLAG, Eva DeVirgilis, Kourtney Kang, Armenian National Committee of America, Survivors of the Holocaust, Soraya Deen/Muslim Women Speakers Movement, John Muir Drama, Dr. Faustin Uzabakiliho, Shahe Mankerian, Sheldon Borenstein, Shelly Barish, Tori Cuseo, Cathy Howard and Julie Van Lohn, Jose Gonzalez and Amelia Cheatum, Chuck Rhodes, Joanna Vargas, Dr. Davina Kotulski, Brenda B. Smith and Erica Orozco Cruz.
Parsons, perhaps best known for his portrayal of the character Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, confided to the Muir student body assembled on Mustang Field that he was still nervous to stand and speak in front of people.
“Middle school is so appropriately titled – it is the middle of a young person’s life,” he said. “Middle school is this really awkward middle bridge between that childhood bubble and that young adult bubble.”
“I don’t think there is a better group of people or age for a day like this – to talk about and to think about what it means to be tolerant of other people, accepting of other people, non-judging of other people – than you who stand here on this very odd bridge,” Parsons continued.
“It’s equally important to think about what [the presenters] say in relation to how you treat yourself. Think about what it means to be tolerant and accepting of yourself, too.”
“Be patient with yourself,” Parsons also counseled. “At this age you don’t have to know exactly who you are or what you want to be in order to have room in your heart to be accepting of others who are different.”
“Try to learn from [mistakes], forgive yourself and move on,” he said. “As you go through today, listen for two people – your neighbor… and… yourself. Be kind to your neighbor and be kind to yourself.”
Principal Miller noted the outpouring of interest from the school staff and the community when the school site team first decided to organize the Muir United event, earlier this year in April.
“We never envisioned it this big, involving this many presenters,” Miller said. “People are interested in the topic – this idea that you need to educate kids on the need to be accepting… to embrace this idea of unity.”
“The kids were completely engaged and the speakers delivered,” Miller added. “Our hope is that our students are more tolerant and kind to one another and that, rather than this being a great day, it is the start of a great movement and mindset for all of us.”