Regan: Harry Shum Jr. and the message ‘Glee’ sends


Connor Regan, Columnist

I must admit that when I heard the Taiwanese American Student Club was bringing Harry Shum Jr. to campus, I was impressed. Although not necessarily a “household name” type of celebrity, Shum is a pretty notable actor. He is best known for his recurring role on Fox’s  hit television show “Glee,” which is now in its fourth season and has an impressive 8.3 rating on I’m not a “Gleek,” necessarily, but I do watch the show and was excited to hear the fledgling actor speak at Northwestern.

To be honest, though, I wasn’t expecting much from Shum’s talk. As a young actor with just one “real” role under his belt and no live-audience experience, Shum should’ve — in my eyes — been just alright.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that Shum was a very impressive public speaker. His humor was noticeable but not overpowering, and his somewhat soft-spoken demeanor made his talk feel very personal. Shum essentially told us his life story, starting with his birth in Costa Rica all the way to where he is now, starring on “Glee.” His journey, as he conveyed it to us, was very much an embodiment of what “Glee” is all about.

Raised in numerous places and moving frequently, Shum wasn’t always accepted. He was teased and physically bullied, just like many of the characters on the show. He also struggled with numerous language barriers after coming to the United States, having learned Spanish — not English — as his first language. In fact, English was not even Shum’s second language, as his parents both spoke Chinese to Shum while he was growing up.

Needless to say, Shum’s language barriers, as well as his being an outsider in many environments due to his ethnicity and frequent moves, made growing up in the United States a struggle. His story, however, is not one of sadness, but one of triumph — and that’s what his role on “Glee” is all about.

On the show, Shum plays Mike Chang, a character much like himself. Chang tries unsuccessfully to find common ground with his parents on a number of issues, such as school, girls and his future career. Shum too faced challenges in a similar way with his parents, who were not initially keen on the idea of their son dropping out of college to pursue a dancing career. However, both Shum and his character fought for their dreams and can now be seen as great role models for viewers in similar situations.

Unlike most television shows, “Glee” provides an outlet for people who might not normally fit in, or who might be struggling in the treacherous and often ruthless world of high school. It was rewarding to see that it’s not all one big act — Shum, and presumably all of the actors on the show, play their roles so well because they really understand what it’s like to be the underdogs.

Connor Regan is a SESP freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].