Special Guest Speaker: Masi Oka '80-'88

It was a homecoming of a sort for actor Masi Oka '80-'88, who came back to his alma mater — Mirman School — to speak to Upper Schoolers in a special assembly.
The topics that Mr. Oka spoke of were wide-ranging — sort of like his career trajectory! Although he's perhaps best known for his portrayal of Hiro Nakamura on the long-running NBC show "Heroes," Mr. Oka is busier than one might imagine. He has worked on the big screen (as recently as in 2019's "Spies in Disguise"), has a long resume in digital effects (for none other than Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas's production company), founded the video game studio Mobius Digital Games, produced a popular adaptation of the manga series "Death Note" for Netflix, and has numerous other projects in the works.

Interviewed by US4 students Leyna A. and Jett G., and then taking several questions from the audience, Mr. Oka was generous with his time and expertise, giving our future alums a taste of what their futures might hold. Overall, the message that students took away from the successful polymath was clear: the sky is the limit as long as you stay open and try everything!

Here are some excerpted questions and answers from Mr. Oka's interview on stage.

How does it feel to be back at Mirman?
It’s great. It’s funny because you recognize a lot of things, but it has also changed. It's gotten much bigger.

What are some of the things you liked to do when you were at Mirman?
Play with my friends and always try new things. Mirman was very open minded and had us do things that were outside our comfort zone. I had to take a theater arts class — it was kind of weird for me at the time, but I think because I did that, it gave me the bug for acting and an appreciation for the arts. You never know what it will be that interests you.

What’s one of your favorite memories from your time here?
I had a math teacher named Mr. Morrow here. I was raised by a single mother, and he was kind of like my father figure in many ways. I really loved math, and that's a fond memory for me.

While you were here at Mirman, what did you think you wanted to be when you were older?
I remember the first pictures I drew: I wanted to be a fireman and a golfer. Things change.

How did your time at Mirman influence your career choice?
A lot! Because being here, it was like unlimited possibilities - they had me try everything, as I said. I was in a play, I had to do one of the big monologues and I remember I had no acting experience. But doing that, getting laughs from the audience, it definitely influenced my career choice.

What specifically made you want to be an actor?
It was really interesting because I didn't see acting as a profession for me growing up. These days you might see a lot of Asian-American kids on TV, but back in my day we only had stereotypical characters — you either had to be a martial artist or super super nerdy. Now, we have better portrayals.

How has being gifted impacted your life as an adult?
I think it helps a lot. You’ll notice this going to high school and college; you’ll come to realize what a great education you have. Because you don’t realize it, but you guys, we’re all very gifted in the sense that we are privileged and we are given this gift of a wonderful education. And when you get to high school and college, you’ll realize the rest of the country wasn’t as fortunate as you. So don’t take this for granted, this is an amazing opportunity and it will definitely be with you for your entire life.

What are some words of advice you would want to give to our Upper School students?
Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about succeeding or failing, it doesn’t matter. This is the time to just try different things. I teach improv, and the concept behind improv is ‘yes, AND.’ If you’re afraid, don’t worry about it. Just try it. You never know. To do it once, you might regret it at the time, but to not do it at all you might regret it for a long time. Just be open minded, try different things, and also, take care of your friends.
A Horse With No Name No More
from the 2018-2019 Meridian 

After the school rebranded a few years ago, Athletic Director Angela Brown felt that something was missing. While new uniforms were donned for the first day of school, new signs were hung around campus, and a new website launched to accompany refreshed marketing materials, the font-forward design left something to be desired when it came to truly raising team spirit to the power of Mirman. 

In a school where more than half of the student body participates in some form of competitive athletics, and on a campus where a significant expansion created pristine courts and fields upon which one can cheer on several teams on any given day, Brown saw opportunity and sensed desire to elevate the program. After working with Jenn Salcido, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Noah Kaufman, Director of Advancement, the school’s branding was expanded to include a strong, confident (though K-8-appropriate) steed. New universal uniforms, sweatsuits, and swag followed suit. 

“It’s a truly exciting time for athletics at Mirman,” said Brown. “It’s a sense of pride that you can see and feel. It’s almost like we’ve arrived. You could have taken a snapshot of the students in their old uniforms, and then with their new ones with the names on the back. It’s a rallying cry. You can see the pride on their faces.”  

Finally, everyone could don uniforms featuring their own names writ large. Everyone except, of course, the horse. Everyone knew we had a mascot — you’d see the nameless Mustang trotted out for the occasional assembly or championship bout — but nobody really knew the mascot. 

What if the community could help change that? 

Last fall, Brown and her colleagues in the Physical Education department introduced a contest at an all-school assembly. The objective: not only to name the Mustang, but to tell the mascot’s story. Over the course of a 6-day cycle, ballots were collected from every grade level in both divisions. With Salcido’s help, Brown and Assistant to the Athletic Director Alyssa Woods tallied the results. 

The judges carefully considered the entries, assessing them on an unwritten rubric including points for overall catchiness, gender-neutrality, universal appeal, and other considerations. As the dust settled, one clear winner emerged: Rider. In retrospect, it seemed rather obvious. The school had only recently unveiled its Core Values (Responsibility, Integrity, Discovery, Empathy, and Resilience). And as equine monikers go, Rider makes a certain degree of sense. The name was revealed with much aplomb at an all-school assembly, with Rider trotting out on stage to show off a newly-minted personalized jersey. 

The winning entry belonged to Room 4L students Victoria A. and Amelie S., who soon revealed that they had a little help from their friends, specifically former Room 4L co-teacher and current Librarian Allison Sparks. 

“We had just had a community circle in class talking about the Core Values,” said Sparks. “This was something new to me as a new member of the Mirman community. When I asked the class out loud if they’d considered Rider for the Mustang name, a few of the students wanted to suggest it.” 

“I laughed it off and dismissed the idea,” Sparks admitted. “I thought that since it had come from an adult, it wouldn’t count. But when I saw how excited they were when they submitted it, I knew the name rang true. It really came out of an ‘a ha’ moment we had together as a class. 

“It relates so much to our school and Core Values and helps us make sure we’re always doing the right thing,” said Victoria A. of the new name. 

“It’s amazing to be part of our school history,” added Amelie S. 

The two girls, who themselves represent Mirman on the basketball court and soccer fields as part of the Room 4 teams, admitted that, like many great ideas, their first iteration didn’t ring quite as true. “I think we wanted to do mustard,” said Victoria. 

“Or mayonnaise,” said Amelie. 

As it turns out, most things do get better with teamwork. 

Like any ballot box, this one was not without its curiosities once opened up. Here were a few of the voting trends: 
  • More than a few students wanted to name the Mustang after themselves or their classmates 
  • One entry suggested “Vegan” 
  • “Uncle Grandpa” popped up more than a few times, much to the confusion of one judge. It was revealed upon further investigation that this is in fact an affectionate nickname for Coach Allen Foster. 
  • Regarding “The Mysterious Moose:” decidedly not a horse, but good alliteration. 

A Biography of Rider 
By Victoria A. and Amelie S., Room 4L 
(with editorial assistance from an anonymous magazine editor) 
Once upon a time, a beautiful horse was born. He* shook himself and stood up, curious about the world around him. He began to walk through the forest, stopping every so often to grab some fruit from a tree. After a while, he came upon a group of two little girls and their teacher walking through the woods.

“Hi horse! What’s your name?” the little girl asked. 

“I don’t have a name, actually. What’s yours?” the horse answered. 

“Woah, I can actually understand you,” said the little girl. “That’s so cool!” 

The girls and their teacher spoke with the horse a while longer, introducing themselves and getting to know each other. They wondered aloud why the horse didn’t have a name. 

“I just haven’t thought of one yet,” he said. “I’ve only just been born!” 

The trio brainstormed about names for a while, but then got sidetracked with what they all wanted to be when they grew up. “Do you have any ideas,” asked the teacher?” 

“I want to be a head of school!” one of the girls said. “And my school will need to have Core Values, but I don’t know what those should be.” 

“Maybe I can help you,” volunteered the horse. 

“You need to have responsibility,” began the teacher. “And integrity.” 

“And empathy for other horses!” said the horse. 

“We’ll need to discover things along the way!” said the other girl. 

“And you’ll need some resilience,” the horse finished. 

Suddenly, the trio and the horse looked at one another. “How would you feel if we called you Rider in honor of those core values?” asked the teacher. 

By now, you know how this story ends — happily ever after, surrounded by the cheering crowds. 

*while Rider is a male horse in this story, we know from his biographers that he really can be any gender! Everyone can and should be able to identify with Rider. 
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