By Brenna Eller
When a child is asked what they want to be when they grow up, they hardly ever say sitting in an office all day or doing something they aren’t fond of. Instead they say they want to be a doctor, firefighter, singer, or even an actor/actress. The limits have seemed to change for college students who once had those dreams themselves.
Twenty-six-year-old actor, model, and cerebral palsy activist, R.J Mitte who spoke at the Ray and Stella Dillon Lecture Series on Tuesday Oct. 2 at the Sports Arena, explains that no one should limit themselves on what they can or can’t do. Mitte spoke about struggles he has faced with the condition and stressed the thought, “Can’t is a decision, and a mindset.”
Mitte is most known for roles in television shows, the main one being Walter White Jr. on AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad”, who has cerebral palsy, same as Mitte, except in reality, Mitte’s condition is milder, so he had to slow his speech and learn to walk with crutches for the show.
Mitte, like others with CP, was born with the disorder where the brain lacks the appropriate amount of oxygen. Mitte is also known for characters he played in “Switched at Birth”, “Weeds”, “Vegas”, and even acted in “Hannah Montana” and “Everybody Hates Chris”.
Still acting, Mitte helps with several charities on the side, such as Shriners Hospitals for Children, Special Olympics, ALS Associations, and many more organizations dedicated to helping others.
Mitte was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. From age 3-13, his mother took him to Shriners Hospital for many types of therapy and braces. Mitte was a “severe toe walker and his feet bent downwards, so he walked on the tips of his toes, so he had to go through a lot of physical therapy. During his lecture, Mitte described the casts he had to wear and shared about sticking frozen coins in them during the hot summer to cool his legs.
Despite his optimism, growing up with the disorder had its challenges. Even though Mitte participated in normal childhood activities like soccer and riding dirt bikes, he explained what it was like with bullies.
“People with disabilities don’t want to be labeled as disabled,” Mitte said.
He also explained how a lot of people stand by while bullying takes place.
“If you see something, say something,” Mitte said. “Everyone has the ‘someone else will take care of it’ mentality and we need to break it.”
Mitte followed that thought with a story involving a blind man on the same plane as him recently. The man was in need of assistance, according to Mitte, and got lost trying to figure out where he was going. Mitte decided to step up and guide the man, even though he was a stranger and several people were watching the blind man struggle, yet Mitte was the only one that took initiative.
From a young age, Mitte learned the importance of self-worth. His grandfather pushed the philosophy of “Can’t say can’t” and the idea stuck with him. When answering his grandpa, Mitte had two options, “Yes”, or “I wasn’t in the room, or didn’t hear you.”
His grandfather showed him that even though people told Mitte he couldn’t do specific things, that it was their decision, not his and wanted him to be the best he could be.
Mitte not only faced his own obstacles, but his family’s as well. When he was 12-and-a-half years old, Mitte’s mother was in a car accident that partially paralyzed her for seven years. His grandfather also suffered a stroke that left him fully paralyzed on the left side.
“Without challenges, where would we be in our lives?” Mitte said. “It’s those challenges that shape us.”
In 2006 Mitte’s family moved to California to support his sister, Lacianne, while she was trying out for an acting opportunity. That was also the time, Mitte was recognized and started going to acting classes just for fun and to meet kids his own age. Before he knew it, Mitte was pushed into the entertainment industry, or as he called it, “The Mob”.
The main focus of Mitte’s speech was to not limit yourself to the small things, but instead reach as far as you can, and then even further.
“It’s up to you how far you want to reach,” Mitte said. “Step out of your realm of comfort.”
When asked earlier in the press conference what the overall message would be to the Hutchinson Community College students, Mitte said, “Protect your brand and image, you are cultivating your business, jobs look at you as an individual on social media and what you represent.”
Mitte also wanted to inform students that being aware of who they are and not being afraid to show people their true self is important.
“The people around you set your tone, if you don’t stand up for something, then who will?,” Mitte said. “We only get one chance to show people who and what we are, so stand up for what you believe in, what we believe is all we have.”