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'Breaking Bad' star to talk to 'Hurst students about adversity

Monday, September 15, 2014

R.J. Mitte

R.J. Mitte, co-star of AMC’s Emmy-winning drama Breaking Bad, is coming to Mercyhurst University on Tuesday, Sept. 23, to speak to students about overcoming adversity. His talk, "Overcoming Adversity: Turning a Disadvantage into an Advantage," is an offering of the Mercyhurst Student Government (MSG) Distinguished Speaker Series. In order to make Mitte accessible to all Mercyhurst students, his talk will not be open to the public.

While he is best known for his role as Walter White, Jr., the teenage son of cancer patient and high school science teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturer Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), Mitte is like his character in that he also has cerebral palsy, a permanent neurological disorder that can affect body movement, muscle control and coordination, and balance.

Although Mitte’s cerebral palsy is a milder form, he has spent much of his childhood learning how to overcome many challenges posed by his disorder. Drawing from his personal experiences, Mitte travels the country as an activist and celebrity speaker inspiring others.

MSG thought R.J. Mitte’s visit would fit in nicely with the university’s 2014-2015 Academic Theme: Confronting Injustice. The theme was selected as a way for the Mercyhurst community to address and reflect on injustice in the world while also learning about resources that exist to confront injustice.

“I am so excited that the students feel committed to this year’s academic theme,” said Sarah Allen, director of the Campus Involvement Center. “It’s exciting to host a well-known actor who is relevant to the current student population and who brings a diverse and purposeful message.”

In addition, Mitte is involved with several national organizations that raise awareness about equality and diversity. Currently, he is a youth spokesperson for the National Disability Institute; he advocates for actors with disabilities as a spokesperson for the campaign “I AM PWD” (a tri-union campaign sponsored by SAG, AFTRA and Actors’ Equity); and he is a Celebrity Youth Ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy.

“MSG thought R.J. Mitte would be a relatable individual and speaker to bring to campus for students, given his age and his familiarity,” said Megan Lawrence, MSG events coordinator. “While many of the students at Mercyhurst probably don’t have to face cerebral palsy, they likely have their own set of issues to overcome as they transition into successful adulthood.”

MSG is also hosting a dinner in honor of Mitte. Attendees include the MSG executive board, 20 students who won seats during a random raffle, and three professors —Clint Jones, Ph.D. (chemistry), Kenneth Schiff, Ph.D. (English) and Tina Fryling, J.D (criminal justice) — who are collaborating on a college course called “Breaking Down Breaking Bad.”