Change enriches lives, Radnor tells Bexley grads

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Josh Radnor, a 1992 Bexley High School graduate and now the star of the television series How I Met Your Mother, speaks to this year’s graduates at the June 1 commencement ceremony. Radnor advised the students to embrace change in their lives.

As captain of the Bexley High School swim team, Josh Radnor was obviously not afraid to dive in head-first and get in over his head.

That is the way Radnor, Class of 1992 graduate and now the star of the popular television series How I Met Your Mother, has approached his career.

At this year’s commencement speaker, he advised graduates to embrace new challenges with "a mix of self-determination and surrender."

"Our brains hate change," he told the assembled students waiting to receive their diplomas. "The brain wants us to go where we’ve already been, think what we’ve already thought."

It’s best not to listen to those negative neurons, he urged. "Wisdom is knowing what to ignore."

In comments before the ceremony, Radnor said he did not get the "have something to fall back on" speech from his parents, Alan and Carol, when the National Honor Society member opted for an acting career.

Such advise is "useless," he offered. "It’s good as an actor not to have something to fall back on. You have to jump without a net."

A lot of options were open to Radnor, who was class president and an editor with the Torch student newspaper, an activity he enjoyed.

"I enjoyed swimming about 50 percent of the time," he admitted.

But his path was set when he attended an audition for a school musical with a friend and decided he could play the part better than the other hopefuls.

He appeared in the Bexley High productions of Oklahoma! and Cabaret, and performed during the summers with Columbus Junior Theater (now Columbus Children’s Theatre) under the tutelage of Bill Goldsmith, whom he identified as an important early mentor.

"It was the one activity not geared toward my college resume," Radnor said of his theatre experience. "It was the one that made me feel most alive, and was the best fit for my personality."

He recalled the Bexley community as having "high expectations" for its students, standards he absorbed but has since learned to temper.

He went on to Kenyon College, earning the Paul Newman award for acting, named for another famous alum.

He continued his studies at New York University, earning a master of fine arts degree in acting.

In 2002 he made his Broadway debut opposite Kathleen Turner in The Graduate, and has continued with stage work on and off-Broadway.

He picked up television credits for roles on Judging Amy, Six Feet Under and Law and Order, and movies, including Not Another Teen Movie, before landing the lead role of Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother.

The series, recently renewed for a fourth season by CBS, tells its story in flashbacks as a father (played by Radnor, with an older voice-over by Bob Saget) recounts to his children how he met their future mother.

His life is enlivened by a less-responsible friend (Neil Patrick Harris) and the audience is left guessing as to which of Radnor’s romances will turn out to be the real thing.

Radnor admits to not not watching a lot of TV, preferring to read (a favorite author is Philip Roth).

He also writes fiction and is working on a screenplay about intersecting lives in New York that he hopes to have financed.

While acknowledging that he is fortunate to have acted steadily for the past nine years, he told the Bexley grads that nothing is certain and all of that could go away tomorrow.

"Being a professional actor means living professionally in the unknown," he said.

That’s why being ready for change – the kind of change the students are facing and will confront for the rest of their lives – is crucial, he offered.

"If you show up here in the fall for classes, it will be awkward," he joked.

He also cautioned against the pose of cynicism, which he said is "not only uncool, it’s dangerous."

He contemplated the uncertain tenure of a football coach who preached defeat to his players in the locker room.

"Optimism is fuel. Without it we’re sputtering on fumes," he said. "You have to be your own Jim Tressel and wear your own inner sweater vest."

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