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'Glee' actress tells FHSU crowd about life

2/17/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Lauren Potter, activist and "Glee" star, has worked her entire life to overcome challenges. Born with Down's syndrome, she always dreamed of being an actress.

"There were some who said I could never do it," she said Wednesday, addressing a group of approximately 150 students at Fort Hays State University. "I was dancing before I could even walk. I always loved music."

When Potter was 18, she received a phone call from a friend in Hollywood.

"She knew about my dream," Potter said. "I would tell anyone and everyone who would listen."

The casting director was looking for a girl "who wasn't afraid to reach for the stars," Potter said. She must have Down's syndrome, but also be cute, witty and spunky.

They were looking for someone to play Becky Jackson, a cheerleader who overcomes her struggle with the disability, on the new television show "Glee."

"I had always wanted to be a cheerleader," Potter said. "And even though I tried out at my high school, I wasn't allowed to cheer. I knew I wanted this job. I also knew I had to work really hard and do a really good job."

Potter said she still loves playing the part of Becky, but it has been a hard season for the cast after losing Cory Monteith to drugs.

"This has been a sad and rough time for our 'Glee' family," she said. "We lost our dear friend. I loved Cory. He was always so sweet and had so much talent."

She now is adding drug-use to her list of causes.

"Everyone should remember Cory's death," Potter said. "Drugs are never the answer to relax, have fun or be cool. How would it be if we never had to lose another friend to drugs?"

Potter said the producers of Glee have given her a voice. She now has the ability to speak against drug-use and bullying.

"I was bullied when I was a kid," she said. "I was pushed down, made to eat sand, called the 'R' word. That's why I have been fighting to end bullying."

Mary Williquett, Potter's cousin and assistant who helped field questions from the audience, said Potter is more confident since being cast in the show.

"When she was younger, it was a lot different," Williquett said. "She used to hide behind me when we went out in public. Now she knows who she is and owns it."

As a result, she has been highly involved in Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendship for those with disabilities.

"Kids with disabilities are just like you," Williquett said. "That's why we do so much with Best Buddies. It's a charity that just promotes friendship. If you don't have money, everyone has friendship. That's all these kids want. They're all lonely."

Despite the serious topics of the night, Potter didn't fail to entertain.

Potter and Williquett bickered about food choices after Williquett complained about not being able to buy frozen yogurt because Kim Kardashian also wanted frozen yogurt. Potter disagreed with having frozen yogurt for dinner while she ate McDonald's. Williquett argued McDonald's isn't a better dinner than frozen yogurt.

"Hey," Potter said. "McDonald's is the most important meal of the day."

Potter is working on the fifth season of "Glee" and is attending college. She dreams of becoming a massage therapist in addition to continuing as an actress.

"I am never ever going to give up my dreams and stop reaching for the stars," she said.