Friday, September 25, 2020
  Around Campus

By Melissa Vasquez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – This fall semester, the Distinguished Speaker Series was a little different as UTRGV students experienced the annual event, featuring the prolific John Leguizamo, from the comfort of their own homes.   

Leguizamo, a multi-faceted performer and Emmy Award winner, kicked off the 17th season of the university’s series, which is free to UTRGV students, staff and faculty, in a virtual format.  

The actor originally was scheduled to participate in the series, hosted by Student Activities, in person in April, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic was rescheduled for Thursday, Sept. 25.   

Dr. Greg Selber, a 20-year journalism professor at UTRGV, moderated the event and introduced Leguizamo to the audience as “hilariously informative.” 

“We are lucky to have this man with us tonight,” Selber said. 

Leguizamo, who dubbed himself “JLegs” on the virtual screen, talked about his inspirations and how a kid from Queens, New York, made his dreams a reality.  

“I never got into this business to be famous, I got into it because I loved the craft,” he said. 

His advice to students looking to break into the business was to learn and never stop learning.  

“Find the best teacher in your community, in your area, and study. Learn the craft, and then you can throw down with anybody,” Leguizamo said. 

He also discussed a hot topic in Hollywood – the lack of Latino/Latinx representation in the industry – telling UTRGV students that “1 percent of the stories (in Hollywood) are yours.”

“We're almost 20 percent of the population. …Why aren’t they putting us in shows and why aren’t they telling our stories?” he said. 

Leguizamo stars in and directed his most recent film, “Critical Thinking,” about a dedicated teacher who inspires a group of Latinx and Black teens to become chess champions. The film took him two decades to complete because of constant rejections and, as he puts it, there are “no Latin executives who appreciate our culture.” 

As for how he has spent his time during the pandemic, Leguizamo said he has gotten to spend a lot of time with his grown children and play lots of board games. He said he considers himself a “board game freak.” 

“This pandemic is so interesting because it took so much away from us, but it also gave us a lot of things. … I had a chance to really write about the things that I was passionate about without distraction,” he said. 

“The corona(virus), the pandemic, really gave us a chance to reboot, to really rethink about ourselves and to think of ourselves as a nation. I really think that Black Lives Matter really had a chance because of coronavirus,” he said. “It tried to have a life two years ago and a year ago, but right now, everybody joined in.”  

As the country heads into a presidential election, Leguizamo encouraged students to go out and vote and let their voices be heard. 

“If we Latin people are the largest voting block at 32 million registered voters – and Texas is 40 percent Latino and 12 percent Black – we have a big chance of turning that blue,” he said. 

Of course, during the evening, Leguizamo treated the audience to a snippet of his famous character voice – Sid the Sloth, from the popular “Ice Age” franchise.  

A total of 80 questions from students came in for Leguizamo for the Q&A portion of the event, and a handful of students were chosen to ask the actor their questions themselves. 

Before he signed off, Leguizamo wished UTRGV students the best of luck this semester, which finds the majority of UTRGV students learning from home.  

“Zoom learning is not the greatest, but have faith that the hard work will pay off,” he said. 



Cindy Mata-Vasquez, director of Student Activities, said the Distinguished Speaker Series for the 2020-2021 academic year will continue with a minimum of two more speakers. The organization committee and Student Activities office currently are working to finalize a lineup, which they hope to announce in a few weeks. 

“We felt that the series could continue despite all the challenges that our students and UTRGV family has been facing,” she said. “This is one way that we can continue to provide a sense of normalcy, by continuing to bring events like this to UTRGV.  

“The team behind the scenes – the agency we work with and the Student Activities team – are working hard to ensure that the this event and the series can continue.”  

To learn more about the UTRGV Distinguished Speaker Series, visit  


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.