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Positive Mindset Helps COM Instructor Fulfill Dreams and Inspire Others

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School of Communications & Media Technologies instructor Toan Lam interviews “Hamilton” cast member Ari Asfar, who plays Eliza Hamilton in the Chicago production of the hit Broadway musical. Photo courtesy of Toan Lam.

When Toan Lam told people he was going to get tickets to the musical sensation “Hamilton,”—without paying scalpers a fortune—they often looked skeptical. After all, the Broadway hit has been selling out in record time at theatres across the country. But that didn’t deter Lam. 

“I believe that manifesting trust and action equals traction,” said Lam, who teaches COM 103 and 303 classes at Academy of Art University. “I didn’t know how I would get a ticket, but I knew it was going to happen.” 

t only scored him tickets to the Chicago production of “Hamilton,” it also landed him an interview with cast member Ari Afsar—who plays Eliza Hamilton, the lead female role—for his “TruthDare” podcast (truthdaretalk.com). “‘TruthDare’ is about having intimate conversations with truth tellers who are living to their fullest calling and their fullest capacity to serve others,” explained Lam, a former TV reporter and PBS host who launched his podcast earlier this year. 

As a teacher and mentor, he hopes “TruthDare” will inspire his students and other listeners to think about what excites them, and figure out how to turn that passion into a living. He also believes that everyone is a superhero. He wants “TruthDare” to help his listeners—Truth Tribers, as he calls them—discover and tap into their own unique powers. 

“My superpower is that I’m a good communicator,” said Lam, who is a huge Oprah Winfrey fan and considers it high praise when he’s compared to her. “I’m living my dream life personally, professionally and spiritually. I want to help others do the same.”

To date, Lam has aired six episodes of “TruthDare.” He said he finds compelling interview subjects mainly through conversations with friends and acquaintances. With all the buzz around “Hamilton,” for example, several people suggested he interview a cast member. They included his friend Crystal Lee, a Miss California pageant contestant. She knew Afsar, who won the title of Miss California in 2010, and wrote an email to the performer introducing Lam to her.

“I sent Ari a link to my website and said I was looking for interesting people to interview,” said Lam. “She shot back an email thanking me for reaching out and said she’d love to do an interview.”

Lam didn’t know it at the time, but the interview would also lead him to those coveted “Hamilton” tickets. During a phone call prior to the interview, Afsar asked him if he’d seen the show. When he replied “no,” she offered him two tickets at face value. 

The play exceeded Lam’s expectations, and interviewing Afsar in the historic PrivateBank Theatre where “Hamilton” is running in Chicago was also a thrill. Lam described the star as “talented, humble and lovely” in a post about the podcast episode on TruthDareTalk.com. 

During the interview, she opened up to him about some of the challenges she overcame while following the path that eventually led her to “Hamilton.” She said being a contestant on “American Idol” when she was just 16 was “the best and worst experience of my entire life.” Singing in front of millions of people was nerve-wracking, while getting kicked off the show was devastating. But those experiences also helped her develop a thick skin. And proved to her that she truly had a passion for singing and performing. In addition to finding her voice on the stage of “Hamilton,” Afsar is also using her voice to give back through her work with the ACLU and senior citizens. 

“I think we all have a much bigger purpose,” said Afsar. “My dreams are ever-changing and evolving. Three years ago, I needed money and was just trying to get a job. Now I have the luxury of this dream job, and that worry is out, so I can ask ‘what’s my purpose?’ That’s what continues to inspire me.”

As he does in each “TruthDare” episode, Lam interspersed his interview with Afsar with takeaways gleaned from their conversation that listeners can apply to their own lives. “I think the main takeaway from Ari for my students is that if you keep doing the work and keep following your gut, it leads you to the right place,” he said.