Justin Baldoni is a class act, reminding the next generation that life is short and therefore should be filled with service, love and kindness.
On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 15, UCR welcomed Justin Baldoni, lead actor in the hit TV show, “Jane the Virgin” and creator and director of the online documentary, “My Last Days.” Baldoni is most known for his role as the charming, suave and immensely handsome hotel owner Rafael on “Jane the Virgin.” However, for this particular event, students got a chance to meet the real person behind the character in an event titled, “Using Entertainment to Inspire with Justin Baldoni,” which was put on by ASPB’s Film and Lecture division.
As early as 12 o’clock that day, excited students began securing their spots to see Baldoni. “I want to know how he became an actor and learn more about his Baha’i religion,” Faith Martinez, a second-year political science major, remarked when asked why she was looking forward to seeing Baldoni. Paradise Leuta, a second-year liberal studies major, agreed with Martinez and added, “I want to hear what he has to say about how entertainment can be used as a form of inspiration.”
After patiently waiting for hours, the doors to HUB 302 were finally opened and the large multi-purpose room filled up with anticipating fans in a matter of minutes. Ecstatic chatter bounced off the walls and cell phones were being held in jittery hands. Any movement on the stage caused everyone to jump, hoping it would be Baldoni himself. Once the room was packed, Michael Carella and Grace Baek, ASPB’s directors of concerts, took the stage and introduced the man of the hour.
When Baldoni finally stepped out with his cell phone in hand, recording the reaction of the crowd, the entire room thundered with screams, claps, hollers and yells. It compared to a Michael Jackson moment, for he simply stood there for a few minutes and the crowd showed no sign of quieting down. “I’ve been all around the world,” Baldoni gushed, “But I’ve never been greeted like this.”
Baldoni wasted no time as he immediately delved into a personal story once everyone had settled down. “This is going to start off a little morbid,” he stated, “But all my life I’ve always been drawn to people who are close to death.” He then talked about his uncle who suffered from lung cancer and how he was there alongside his aunt at the moment of his death. In the hospital room, his uncle’s favorite Frank Sinatra CD was playing. “As my uncle was taking his last breath, the CD skipped to a particular song. I looked at my aunt who began sobbing, but she was smiling.” It turns out the song that started playing was the song his uncle and his aunt first danced to.
His uncle’s death changed his life to say the least. Baldoni began speaking about how little time we have on this earth, then asked, “Why do we have to find out we’re dying to start living?” Everyone in the room listened intently as he spoke about his Baha’i faith. “It’s every religion — we are one,” he explained. Baha’i faith strongly stresses the importance of being of service to others, no matter what line of work you fall under. “Entertainment is a medium that is so powerful,” Baldoni declared. He then stepped offstage to show what he meant by that as a snippet of his documentary, “My Last Days,” began playing on the large screen.
“My Last Days” follows regular people who are living with a terminal illness and documents how they are living their lives to the fullest. In the clip, the audience met Claire, a 19-year-old cystic fibrosis patient whom Baldoni helped with reaching her dream of becoming an influential public speaker. “Death doesn’t bother me,” Claire remarked. “We can’t control that. But living a life we are proud of is something we can actually control.”
Baldoni returned to the stage to conclude the lecture part of the night. “This is the most exciting time in your guys’ life. There is nothing standing in your way.” Baldoni strolled across the stage and took in the sight of the packed house. “Wake up every morning and say, ‘Thank you.’ Then ask yourself, ‘How can I make someone happy?’”
The evening wrapped up with a Q-and-A session. Students asked for advice on how to deal with personal struggles and if they should pursue their dreams that seem farfetched. “Yeah, it’s hard. That means you should do it,” Baldoni proclaimed. After all the questions were asked, Baldoni had the crowd recite a quote he has tattooed on his forearm. Everyone chanted, “Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”
Before the event took place, many students just saw Baldoni as a handsome actor, but afterward, they felt more inspired to pursue their dreams and to use those dreams to inspire others. Justin Baldoni is a class act, reminding the next generation that life is short and therefore should be filled with service, love and kindness.