Tony Award winner Ben Platt ’10 and award-winning playwright Natalie Margolin ’10 participate in student-led mental health discussion

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Katharine Steers '22

Chance Walker ’21 and Izzy Welsh ’22 moderate the mental health discussion with panelists Natalie Margolin ’10 and Ben Platt ’10.

By Katharine Steers, Harvard-Westlake School

Award-winning playwright Natalie Margolin ’10 and actor Ben Platt ’10 spoke to students about their experiences with mental health during a Community Flex Time webinar Thursday.

Members of Bring Change To Mind (BCTM), a club dedicated to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, Carina Villalona ’22 and Maya Mathur ’22 kicked off the virtual event.

“Community Flex Time is one of the few opportunities the entire Upper School comes together,” Villalona said. “We thought it would be the perfect place to address mental health, an issue impacting all of us right now.”

Community Council member Chance Walker ’21 presented the guest speakers in a video showcasing moments of their professional careers.

Community Council hosted a Q&A session with Platt and Margolin.

Walker and fellow Community Council member Izzy Welsh ’22 moderated a Q&A session, prompting the guest speakers to share advice with current students.

In the Q&A, Platt and Margolin said it’s easy to feel weird about reaching out to friends but that socializing in pandemic-safe ways is crucial.

“As an annoying millennial, before this time, the phone was not my favorite thing in general,” Platt said. “I don’t love [FaceTiming or calling] and now those are just really important. It’s been forcing [me] to do that and to keep connecting because if I do ever get in a rut, like Natalie was saying, one chat just changes the whole kind of pH balance of the room.”

Margolin advised students to let their high school experiences play out naturally without the pressure of a mental checklist. She also touched on the positive side of virtual school.

“To have [all these things that you were excited for] taken away is totally traumatic,” Margolin said. “Honor that. It’s so hard and this is not easy, but there are going to be things that are happening to you and that you’re learning about yourself, your family [and] your friends, that you wouldn’t have otherwise learned.”

Platt also shared how his experience at the school prepared him for his future.

“[The school] is the first place where I learned to really channel [my anxiety] into focus and and not get overwhelmed by having a full plate,” Platt said.

Margolin and Platt spoke about their experience as students at the school.

Emery Genga ’21 said she was thrilled to hear Margolin and Platt say that many of their best friends were forged through the school’s performing arts program

“[Platt] mentioned several times that like he’s met a lot of people in his career but his closest friends are still his [high school] theater friends,” Genga said. “I have my group of friends that I do theater with and it made me really happy to see how long the friendships formed through the performing arts [program] last because it’s such an amazing program. I’m so happy to have been a part of it.”

The panelists also spoke about what they would have changed about their teenage years if they could.

The closing question of the panel asked what advice the guest speakers would give to their high school selves. Margolin said she wishes she had focused more on self-love.

“Anxiety and insecurity and body image stuff is just so real and so hard,” Margolin responded. “I just would wish a little less of that teenage girl’s brain was filled with those lingering insecurities and thoughts.”

Platt said he wishes he was more present in his teen years as they flew by quickly. He acknowledged that circumstances today differ severely from his high school experience but stood by his advice.

“I know probably at this point, the opposite of what you want to do is dwell on what’s happening right now, but I would say that there is such value in really taking in what the experience is,” Platt said.

Welsh said the Community Council and BCTM club hosted the event because they wanted to help the student body since many students are struggling with their mental health.

“Even though the end of the pandemic is on the horizon, it’s just really hard right now,” Welsh said. “We thought what better way [to help] than to have two really prominent alumni come back and share their experiences with mental health, as they are leaders in that field.”

This story was originally published on The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle on March 5, 2021.