The 4-foot-tall, lightening-blonde and animated woman toddled to the podium and stepped up on the block. Approximately 70 people in the crowd from DePaul and “Best Buddies” cheered at the actress’ speech as she raised awareness for those with mental disabilities.
“I will never, ever give up on my dreams,” she said.
Lauren Potter, the 23-year-old who plays “Glee” character Becky Jackson, came to DePaul March 5 as an advocate for “Spread the Word to End the Word” – a campaign that raises awareness to end usage of the “R-word.”
“Being an actress is very hard work and very long hours,” Potter said after rolling in to Illinois from California.
DePaul Activities Board (DAB) and Best Buddies (an organization that pairs a person who has disabilities with a mentor) collaborated to organize Potter’s visit. People brought their buddies to the event so they could have a chance to hear Potter’s inspirational story and have questions answered. Potter, an ambassador for Best Buddies, has a buddy too – her cousin and Chicago native, Mary Williquette, who was at the Q&A, answering questions with Potter. Potter had her arm around Williquette, kissed her on the cheek, and said, “My favorite thing to do is spend time with my cousin.”
Their relationship was clearly strong, as Williquette has always played a significant role in Potter’s life. Williquette is also on set with “Glee,” acting as a mentor for Potter.
From the time she was three years old, Potter had dreamed about being on stage as an actress. Though she did not learn to walk until she was two years old, she loved listening to music that her parents played for her as she bounced up and down joyfully to the tunes. Potter performed in her first dance recital when she was three years old – she had her first standing ovation as the only dancer who blew kisses to the audience.
“When people were clapping, I knew that was all I wanted,” Potter said.
As a child, Potter was bullied, pushed down, “made to eat sand” and called the “R-word.” Through such hardships, she worked with defeat to end the label. She wanted to get everyone in the world to end hatred against people with disabilities.
“Bullying hurts and kills dreams,” Potter said. “Different is different. Different isn’t bad.”
The skies became clear when Potter received her first role in a movie at 16 years old as Young Andra Little in “Mr. Blue Sky.”
But Potter’s dream was fulfilled when she saw the posting for Glee, calling for an actress who was a cheerleader with Down syndrome.
Potter, who had previously tried out to be a cheerleader in high school and did not make the cut, had a second and even better chance to get the role. Competing against sixteen other contestants, Potter had to “jump rope really badly,” so she “did it really badly.” After a long day of auditioning, Potter received the role as Becky Jackson. Potter, having just completed her 100th episode on Glee, has built close and lifelong friendships on set with Lea Michele, Jane Lynch, and her celebrity heartthrob Darren Criss. Some of her favorite memories included the Promasaurus episode, when bad boy Puck appeared in underwear.