Earlier this month award-winning author, actor, and activist Maulik Pancholy joined the Middle School and Upper School assemblies. Pancholy’s acting career has spanned hit television shows, animated series, the Broadway stage, and films, and his debut middle grade novel, The Best At It, is a 2020 Stonewall Honor winner.
Jenny ‘24 and Maanas ‘24 moderated the Upper School discussion with questions curated by the Asian Culture Club. Pancholy recounted stories of his upbringing in Indiana and Ohio and “trying to fit into a world that is different from what you see in the mirror.”
Students were exceptionally excited to hear about Pancholy’s acting career, as he retold stories from his time on 30 Rock, Weeds, and Whitney, among others. Throughout his prolific career, he has had to consistently fight stereotypes on the screen and strive to make writing rooms more diverse. He closely considers how his roles will impact People of Color and those in the LGBTQ community, which can be a “burden” to get right. “It’s a very unique thing and it’s because we don’t have enough of these characters.”
The author also delved into how living in predominantly white communities in a post 9/11 world and during the Covid pandemic helped shape his activism around anti-bullying. “I want to create a world where everyone can celebrate their identity and feel supported.”
In 2014, Pancholy was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). As a Commissioner, he co-founded the anti-bullying campaign #ActToChange — designed to meet the unique needs of AAPI youth. He later reformed the campaign as a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit so it may “live outside of politics.” Pancholy continues to Chair the organization and remains actively involved.
Pancholy ended the discussion revealing that his book had been banned in some states and the need for both expanding the diversity in writers for young people and preserving intellectual freedom in our libraries.
Later in the day Pancholy visited the Upper School Public Speaking class. In this more intimate setting, students delved deeper into conversation with Pancholy about his inspirations, being a working actor, being an authentic representation of yourself in show business. Students asked excellent questions that Pancholy expertly turned back to them to help the students reflect on their possible futures using the tools they were learning in their Public Speaking class and in our theater program. He emphasized the importance of fostering community with people who are supportive of creating opportunities so that there will continue to be more diversity in the people creating the stories we consume.
Prior to Pancholy’s visit, Director of Middle School & Upper School Library Services, Adrienne Almeida, and Lower School Librarian, Paula Zamora Gonzalez hosted a Book Club discussion on Zoom for all adult members of the Friends community for The Best At It, his debut novel about Rahul Kapoor, a gay Indian American teenager dealing with seventh grade crushes and anxiety in small-town Indiana as he and his family seek to become the best versions of themselves.