TIME Education

Ian Brennan, Creator of Glee, to Grads: Audition for Everything

Ian Brennan gave this commencement speech at Loyola University Chicago

Very few people get to give a commencement address at their alma mater. And in fact this is my very first Loyola graduation, because I didn’t attend my own 15 years ago. I was doing a play at Navy Pier, and I guess I figured I definitely couldn’t miss a performance. (And looking back, I definitely could have missed a performance, because I had like 4 lines that were the Shakespeare equivalent of “Everybody, get in here!” I could have missed a performance and the other actors on stage wouldn’t have noticed.)

At any rate I’m very happy to be here and very humbled. And nervous, because these things are all about sharing pearls of wisdom that has one as accumulated and sage pieces of advice. Well what advice to give a stranger, let alone 600 of them? You all have different dreams than I do, different skill sets, different backgrounds, different sensibilities, different ambitions – you’re different people. And to give advice to a group of people as diffuse as that, you’d have to say something so toothless and so vague, it would have to be like “Go be good!” Which is also what you say to a dog when you want it to pee.

And what good is advice anyway? Everyone’s path is so different, and so dependent on chance. Advice that helped me in my life wouldn’t necessarily help you in yours. And it would be nonsensical to advise anybody to follow my path, because you wouldn’t end up in the same place. My path standing here before you this morning involved yes, a lot of hard work and planning, but also a lot of chance, a lot of bizarre chance events, a lot of strange coincidences.

Case in point, I’m here presumably because I created a TV show. That TV show, “Glee”, began its life as a screenplay, which was yes, based on my own experiences in show choir (which I hated — really didn’t enjoy it, still having anxiety dreams about it), but it didn’t occur to me to write about show choir until I met a girl I was in a play with in New York, and we ended up dating, and she had been in show choir, too, and then we would talk about it, laugh about it, watch old video tapes of it, and it’s then I realized, oh my God, no one’s ever written about a glee club. That’s hilarious. Such a funny setting for a movie. So then I sat down and wrote a screenplay about it. That screenplay was called “Glee.”

Now: that girl I dated, I met during this play, a play I had to fly to New York from Seattle to audition for, because I was doing a play in Seattle. I had to catch a red eye or I’d miss the whole thing entirely. I kid you not, I was 15 seconds away from missing that flight. It was like a Tom Hanks movie, I was in Sea-Tac airport, running through screaming to the gate agents, just as the doors were closing they let me on the plane. Barely made the flight, got to the audition, booked the play, met the girl that inspired the screenplay that became the TV show. If I was 15 seconds later I would have missed the flight, not gotten cast, never met the girl who showed me the videotapes that inspired the screenplay that became the TV show. And someone else would be here talking to you.

I don’t say that to exaggerate my abilities or to denigrate them, I just say that to illustrate the randomness that dictates every one of our lives. And in the face of such randomness what advice can you give, beyond Good luck. Buckle up. Enjoy the ride. To say anything else would just be hackneyed platitudes, and I do have hackneyed platitudes for you all. But before I get to that, I would like to speak a little bit about this institution we can now all say we share bachelors’ degrees from.

So confession – My whole life I really wanted to go to Northwestern. I just always thought it was going to happen. I was born in Evanston, it seemed symmetrical. They had a good theater program. I could stay in Chicago, my parents could watch Ohio State beat them at football. I just always thought it would happen.

And then, it didn’t happen. I didn’t get in. I’m still furious about it. I was like, how could this – you know, you get the little envelope, and I was like, but the whole plan was… and then your mind starts going, “What did I do wrong?” And in my case I totally knew what it was, and it was show choir. GLEE CLUB, ARGH. I felt obligated to do it because I knew I wanted to be an actor, and you sort of had to do it to be in the musicals, and I wanted to be a theater major and I dropped AP Euro so I could do it. And it made me too busy, it was literally the extracurricular activity that broke the camel’s back. It made me grades suffer, in junior year I got a bunch of B’s that should have been A’s. Dropped me out of the top 10% of my class. And then the person I asked to my write college recommendation to Northwestern was the show choir director! And it wasn’t even a good recommendation, because all he wrote about was how I was good at show choir! So dumb! And I didn’t even really enjoy it, with the sequins and the smiles and the show tunes. For our final show choir event, for the whole school, I was forced to perform in something called “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Concert.”

Looking back on it now, A) It all worked out. B) Sort of glad I was in Glee Club… and C) I am very glad I did not go to Northwestern, because if I had I could not have gone to Loyola.

I’m so proud of this institution, I’m so proud of the Jesuits, I think they represent just the absolute best of Catholicism. I’m so proud of the pope, the first Jesuit pope ever. Watching this man be pope is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I literally had T-shirts made with his face on it, waving, that said “This Pope is Dope.” Not making that up.

And I’m so grateful to have gone to Loyola, a school that, as you will learn as you go out into the world, no one really knows where it is. You say “I went to Loyola”, people are like “Oh, I love New Orleans.” Nope. Or they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never been to Baltimore, what’s Baltimore like?” I don’t know. Or they say, “Great view of Los Angeles, really really convenient to LAX.” You go, Nope, that’s Loyola Marymount. I went to Loyola in Chicago, where there’s a Loyola.

I’m so grateful to have gone to a place where there’s sort of no fraternities—apologies to any of you that are in a fraternity. When I was here, they didn’t really even have houses, they had lunch tables. I don’t know if they still have that? And the lunch tables, they looked like dollhouses, they had these little mailboxes on them with letter slots which presumably you could drop letters into. Fifty percent of the letters had to say just like, Nice lunch table.

And I’m so grateful to have spent four years in this weird little pocket of Chicago called Rogers Park. It’s such an amazing place, it’s one of the most diverse places in the world, it’s a place where everyone is technically a minority. It’s amazing. It’s true. A place where if you throw a party, actual street people will show up. Like, urchins will wander in with an empty milk jug, head to the keg, fill it up, and then just hang out. You’d always be like, strong street urchin component at this party, Bravo.

And I’m so grateful for this Jesuit education. When you go here, that’s a phrase you hear a lot. For those who don’t know – and most of you should, because you paid for it – it’s a lot of classes over the broad range of the liberal arts, most of which you can’t use AP credit to pass out of, so you have to take them, with a heavy concentration in theology and philosophy. Such a heavy concentration that when I was here at least you only had to take three more courses in either philosophy or theology and you’d have a minor.

So let me tell you, this Jesuit education sticks with you. There’s still five or six classes that I still talk about on a weekly basis and bore people with at parties.

I took a class, it was a theology class, an astronomy professor my astronomy professor, wandered in one day, and he gave this lecture, and it was about how Hebrew tradition was really confused by the beginning, in the beginning, the first phrase in the book of Genesis begins with the letter Bet instead of Aleph, the letter B instead of A. Hebrew scholars were freaking out like for millenia, This perfect document, why does it start with B? Why wouldn’t it start with the first letter of the alphabet?

And what they came up with is, the letter Bet, it’s shaped like a bracket, and that that shape was itself a message, that it was pointing you that way, into the text. It was essentially saying Don’t worry about what happened before “in the beginning”. All this, by an astronomy professor…there’s no other institution in the world where that would happen, an astronomy professor wanders in and gives you a lecture in Hebrew theology.

I learned so much there. So much of any of my success I can trace to this place. And you’re like, Hold on, Wait, didn’t you have that high school teacher that inspired you? And yes, his name is John Marquette, he totally encouraged a small cadre of classmates of mine to go into a career in theater, he taught speech team, he directed all of the plays, and he want to Loyola.

It was here at Loyola that I took my first acting class, taught by that woman right there. It was here I was in my first new play, a play that had never been directed before, also by that woman right there. It was where I wrote my first play, saw it produced, realized it was the worst play ever written. I couldn’t even tell you the title of this play, such is my embarrassment. If any of you had read this play you would stand up right now and just go Shame! Shame! It’s that bad.

This is where I directed a play for the first time, learned about 60% of what you need to know about directing. So I can’t say I learned everything at Loyola, but a big chunk of what I learned, I learned at this place.

So, that having been said, what have I learned? What are my sage kernels of advice for 600 strangers? Here they are in no particular order.

Piece of Advice Number One: Work hard. Work hard. Be the hardest working person you know. Because if you’re not, someone else will be. And you can’t control how smart you are, how funny you are, how good-looking you are. The one thing you can control in your life is how hard you work. Make it a thing that people say about you, you know, “Man, he’s ugly, but he sure works hard.”

If you’ve got the lazy gene, you’re in trouble, because there is literally no successful person in history who people look back on and say, “Yeah, she was a really amazing person, accomplished so much, super lazy.”

It doesn’t mean you have to be obsessive type A maniac, because for 8 hours a day you can just pretend that you are and then you can go home and be as lazy as you want. Work hard.

Piece of Advice Number Two: Sounds obvious, but find a job that you love. And don’t stop searching until you do. Find a career you can get obsessed with. A career is like a mattress, you spend a third of your life on it, so make sure it’s comfortable. Take it from me, if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life.

Piece of Advice Number Three: Don’t follow money. Money is not your friend. Happiness in America – they’ve done studies about this, the happiest people in America are the middle class. The sweet spot is like between eighty thousand dollars a year and one hundred and twenty thousand a year. I’m not saying that easy, but less than that and you’re miserable, and more than that, and you’re miserable. (It’s sort of true.)

Money is good in that it gives you the freedom to continue to do the things you love. But it’s not an end in itself. It will not make you happy. Ask any Powerball winner.

Piece of Advice Number Four: Foster your creativity. And then, protect it. Your creativity is the greatest gift you will ever be given, and it’s the source of the greatest things you will achieve. It’s the part of you that is the most you. So care for it, the way you would a child or a beloved pet. Be firm, don’t let it just sit around. Make it do things. Toilet train it, be patient with it and it will grow and mature and get better and better and better. It will become the part of your life that you enjoy the most.

And more specifically, with regard to the two professions with which I can speak with some authority – to any actors out there, Act already. Start yesterday. Audition for everything. They say it takes ten years to get truly good at something? Well get up there and start being bad. Because once you stop being bad you’re going to start being good.

To writers: Write. That’s the one thing you have to do. Write for an hour every day. I remember I was told that once, and I thought, That sounds horrible. And it sort of is. But it doesn’t matter what you write, just write for an hour a day. Two at most. Nobody is creative for more than two hours a day, and if they say they are, they’re lying to you. Stephen King sort of was, but he did loads of cocaine.

Just let the world around you quiet down, and listen to your mind. Earplugs help for me. And when you get stuck, there’s a book to read, it’s called “Bird by Bird.” It’s by a writer named Anne Lamott. “Bird by Bird” – it’s the single best book on the writing process I’ve ever read.

Writing is lonely and difficult. Every time I sit down to write the first 45 minutes consists of 90% of my brain that is critical telling the 10% that’s creative that what it’s doing is absolutely horrible. It’s a job of the writer to not get up from the chair until that critical brain gets tired. And as soon as it does that creative part will start creating. Writing is hard until it isn’t, but when it comes flying out, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

And my final piece of advice, sort of my only piece of advice, begins with an anecdote. When I was here at Loyola, the theater department brought in a very successful Chicago actor to give a seminar on acting. And I won’t say who his name is, I want to protect his anonymity, but his name is Bill Norris. He’s a great actor, he’s had a great career in Chicago theater for like 40 years.

Anyway I was like a freshman or sophomore, I can’t remember, but at the end of the seminar he asked if we had any questions. And my hand shot up, and I was like, What advice would you give someone like me who wants to do this as a career? What would you advise?

And his advice was one word. He said, Quit.

Now: I understood what he was getting at, and he was probably half joking. And maybe some people in that room needed to hear that. But it stands as the single worst piece of advice I have ever received. I am only standing here because I didn’t take it. So my only real advice to you is the opposite: Don’t Quit. Never quit. If you’ve been blessed to know the thing you want to do, do not give up on it. It doesn’t matter how hard it is.

The one way to guarantee you’re not going to be successful at something is to give up on it. Yes, some dreams are harder to achieve than others. But there is not one that is impossible. I’m telling you. Really ambitious goals – starting a theater company, running for Congress, starting your own business, opening an art gallery in Prague. These things are hard. But even the hardest goal is not that hard. The hardest part is admitting to yourself that that’s what you really want to do.

Dare to say out loud the thing that you actually want and the hard part is actually over. Because then you’ll start to make a plan, and when you have a plan, then you’ll start to make that plan real. And before you know it, you’re just doing the thing that you always wanted to do.

And when you’re busting your hump, following your dream, and someone asks you the question, What do you have to fall back on? Slap them. Don’t worry about Plan B. You know what your Plan B should be? Plan A. You’re young. The world is full of possibilities for every one of you. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t plant the seed of failure right next to the seed of success. You may not end up twenty years from now exactly where you thought you would be, but it’s going to feel like you did, because you followed your truest, deepest desires. You honored your truest, deepest self.

So that’s my advice. So Go be good. You’re 600 strangers, you have your whole lives ahead of you, and I’m already in wonder of what you’re going to accomplish. Congratulations, Class of 2015.

Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Arianna Huffington to Grads: Make Time to Connect With Yourself

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Grads: Make Feminism an Inclusive Party

Chris Matthews to Grads: ‘Make Them Say No. Never Say No to Yourself’

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Darren Walker to Grads: Build a Bridge to a Better World

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Ian McEwan to Grads: Defend Free Speech

Joe Plumeri to Grads: Go Out and Play in Traffic

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Michelle Obama to Grads: Shape the Revolution

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

Natalie Portman to Grads: Carve Your Own Path

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

TIME Television

Jayma Mays on Wet Hot American Summer and the End of Glee

arrives at the Milk + Bookies 10th Annual Story Time Celebration at Skirball Cultural Center on April 19, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Gregg DeGuire—Getty Images Jayma Mays arrives at the Milk + Bookies 10th Annual Story Time Celebration at Skirball Cultural Center on April 19, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

The actress says she was "flipping out" when she got the Netflix gig

Jayma Mays has been one of the busiest actresses in Hollywood lately. From two Netflix shows (The Adventures of Puss in Boots, already out, and Wet Hot American Summer, coming in July) to wrapping up Glee and starting work on Doug Liman’s new movie Mena (also starring Tom Cruise), Mays has a full dance card. We caught up with the actress to hear about her many projects.

Jayma Mays: There’s a cat meowing in the background. Just know that it’s not me doing a voice. It’s my actual cat.

TIME: You’ve talked about your cats before, haven’t you?

Yeah, I feel like I’m slowly becoming the crazy cat lady. I almost got a third cat this weekend and then I realized that was pushing it too far.

Speaking of cats, The Adventures of Puss in Boots has been streaming on Netflix for a few months now—what has the feedback been like from parents and kids?

So far so good—this is my first job doing voiceover, and it’s different because when you’re out and about, people don’t necessarily know who’s doing what voice. But for my family and friends, I have lots of friends with kids, and I have young nieces and nephews, and it’s really cool because I’m getting to experience it through them a little bit. I have nieces in England, and they’re able to watch it, too. They give me notes, tell me my diction is awful, because they’re English, obviously. But they love the show.

Do you want to do more voice work?

Yeah! If I’m fortunate enough, I’d love to. It works your imagination in a completely different way, and you’re not just limited to your physicality. And I don’t even need to shower before work, which is a big bonus!

I’m a big fan of another show you’re on, Getting On. Will your character be back for the last season?

She’s supposed to—I don’t have any specifics on what the storyline is or where she goes as a character, but yeah, they phoned to see if I’ll be available to do [the episodes], so hopefully that means that I’ll be coming back, because that’s just another dream-come-true job for me. I’m a huge fan of Laurie Metcalf and Niecy Nash.

It’s one of the first shows to really deal with end-of-life care. Is that something you’ve had to deal with in your own life?

Well, I don’t have any of my grandparents surviving anymore. I guess I’ve experienced that world through my parents discussing it with me. But my parents are still alive and healthy, thank goodness. The character I play in particular is all about healthcare and death for profit, so I do feel like that’s something that’s a hot topic, especially in a country with, clearly, issues about healthcare. To deal with it in a comedy, albeit a dark comedy, I think is supremely relevant and really cool. But it’s also just wildly entertaining. Watching it, I’ll find myself chuckling at stuff, and I’m like, “Should I be laughing at this? Why am I laughing at this? Is it because we don’t talk about it?”

There’s so much enthusiasm for the upcoming Wet Hot American Summer series on Netflix. Were you pumped to be a part of that?

Yes! I was like, flipping out on the phone when I got the phone call. I feel like so many people have seen that film now—it felt like such an underground thing when it came out.

Who were you most excited to work with in the cast?

Well, without giving anything away, my stuff is a little bit separate, so I didn’t get to work with the whole cast, but I was super stoked to work with Michael Showalter and David Wain—they created that world, it’s iconic. People quote things from it all the time. Knowing that they would let me be in their show was the most exciting thing that could have happened.

You came back for the end of Glee! How did you feel about the finale?

I was really glad that they asked me to come back. First of all, it’s really nice to know when a show is ending, because so many shows get pulled now and you don’t get to say your goodbyes or have closure for your character. It’s a gift when you know that it’s the end.

People always talk about Will & Grace influencing America’s thoughts on gay rights, but I think Glee has been even more powerful for a younger generation. Do you think the show pushed the needle on public opinion?

It’s so funny, I don’t know that this show necessarily set out to do any of that. It started out as a little show that was like, “Can a musical work on television? I don’t know!” But clearly it’s a topic that’s been discussed. Has it influenced a generation? I don’t know. But if it has in a positive way, then how fortunate are we to have been a part of something that did that.

Do you have a dream role?

I’m really drawn to comedy, I grew up in the south so I’m drawn to all things southern, so my role in Getting On has been fun for me to play something southern—I always feel like I understand those characters more because of where I was raised. I’m starting a Doug Liman movie, Mena, where I get to play a southern girl as well, but she’s really foul-mouthed and sassy, nasty and headstrong. For me right now, that is my dream role, because it’s so different to anything that I’ve ever done. It has my artistic juices flowing.

time-gallery id=”3894471″]

TIME celebrity

Read Lea Michele’s Sweet Mesage Commemorating Cory Monteith’s Birthday

Monteith died in July 2013 of a drug overdose

The show that brought them together has ended, and she has moved on with a new man, but Lea Michele is still sharing her love for Cory Monteith.

The Glee alum Tweeted a photo of her late on- and off-screen boyfriend in honor of his birthday. Monteith would have been 33 Monday.

“I know you’re serenading everyone right now,” Michele, 28, captioned a shot of Monteith – who died in July 2013 of a drug overdose – playing the drums and smiling.

Michele has been dating model Matthew Paetz since last summer.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Television

Glee Holds On To That Feelin’, One Last Time

GLEE:  L-R: Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rachel (Lea Michele) make a pact in a flashback to 2009 in the special two-hour "2009/Dreams Come True" Series Finale episode of GLEE airing Friday, March 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Mike Yarish/FOX
Mike Yarish/FOX

The emotional two-part finale was a reminder of the show's potential for greatness, and of the ways it fell short.

Spoilers from the series finale of Glee follow:

The beautiful thing about high-school TV series is that they reproduce, in accelerated form, the cycle of life. In three or four years a group of characters is “born,” grows, matures and passes from its world. If the show lasts longer than that (and isn’t continued at a conveniently located nearby college), then the story adds another generation of younger faces. The underlying premise of a high school show like Glee is that cycles repeat. Much as you think your story is unique, after you pass there will be a whole new set of stories just like it. We have always been at war with Vocal Adrenaline.

Glee’s finale, however, was for the show’s old-timers: the original cast (with the sad exception of Cory Monteith) and the fans who may or may not have stuck with the show beyond its first seasons. However many twists the show went through in its later years, the finale’s first hour, “2009,” was a reminder of where it started: as a story, equal parts hopeful and bittersweet, of small-town students and teachers wanting something more than what they had.

Making the first half of a finale essentially an alternative version of the show’s own pilot–which remains one of the best TV pilots of the last decade–was an ingenious move, sweet and nostalgic and tearjerking. We saw Rachel once again as a trying-to-hard achiever; a tentative Kurt, finding a way out of his basement; Mr. Schu, trying to back his crappy car out of the dead-end alley of his life. The reprise of “Don’t Stop Believin'” was inevitable but still devastating. We had the return of Mike O’Malley, with his grounded, complex portrayal of Burt Hummel; and seeing the embryonic friendship-rivalry between Kurt and Rachel singing “Popular” from Wicked recalled one of the series’ high points, their moving, heartbreaking sing-off on “Defying Gravity” in season one’s “Wheels.”

As someone who reviewed Glee regularly its first few seasons, and loved the show’s transcendent moments for all its inconsistencies and iTunes-driven excesses, it was a well-earned love letter. But it was also a reminder of the potential that the series once had and that it only intermittently lived up to.

Glee began as a show about losers, outcasts, the wretched, slushie-drenched refuse of high school. As “2009” reminded us, the most important thing the New Directions got from glee club was not a trophy or a career but a sense of belonging: “We should look back on our time here and be proud of what we did and who we included.”

Inclusion was central to Glee, and that was, as much as the music, what made it of its time. Glee’s pilot aired in May 2009. The United States had just elected a black President; same-sex marriage was legal in only three states. In its top-to-bottom diversity, and especially its attention to LGBTQ characters, it was one of the emblematic shows of its time socially. It wasn’t flawless in this way more than any other; it could be offensive intentionally and unintentionally. But it spoke to the moment by being about difference. Everyone was an outsider, united by hormones, dreams and love of pop music.

One of Glee’s great themes was the power and danger of dreams. At its best, the show balanced the romantic idea of shooting for stardom with the fear of knowing that it doesn’t always work out, that you might not be good or lucky enough, that at some point you hit up against your limits. Losing Monteith to an early death in 2013 was a blow, because it cut out one of the legs from Glee’s long-running story: not just Finn and Rachel’s romance, but Finn’s fear of ending up a “Lima loser,” that high school really might have been his peak.

In any case, if the first hour of the Glee finale was a hat tip to what Glee once was, the second, “Dreams Come True,” was mostly an affirmation of what it became: a more fantastical, outsized, upbeat version of the show, which ended, for the most part with everyone getting just about everything they wanted.

So Kurt and Blaine are in New York, still together, starring in “the first LGBTQ production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and having a baby with Rachel as their surrogate. Rachel, in turn, is also in Manhattan, winning a Tony Award. (And married to Jessie St. James? OK. My congratulations to their ‘shippers, whoever you are.) Mercedes is an international recording star. Mr. Schu is not only principal but has essentially remade the American educational system. Artie is a film director and Tina his star. Sue Sylvester is, somehow, the vice president to just-re-elected Jeb Bush. (And yet closed things out with a speech praising arts education, the likes of which I do not expect to hear from the podium at next year’s RNC.)

Curiously, the one character who best captured the season-one theme of reconciling big dreams with small ones was not around for Glee’s beginning: Sam, who essentially ended up inheriting the Finn Hudson role. It’s Sam, the kid from a financially strapped family, who ends up deciding that chasing fame won’t make him happy, and who reminds his New Directions group of a philosophy that powered some of Glee’s most emotionally true episodes: “If we want to be great, we need to be able to sing about hurt and loss.”

His students’ reaction to that line is to suggest singing Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”–which is probably a shout-out to Overstreet’s father having written that song, but is also emblematic of how, in the long run, Glee went for the crowd-pleasing over the bittersweet. Obviously, Glee is not the only show to go all-in on the happy endings; see the recent finale of Parks and Recreation. And given the show’s sense of mission–toward bullied kids, outsider kids, kids without privileges–maybe it was inevitable.

But it made for a strange contrast in the show’s last moments. In her valedictory speech, Sue tells us she once thought that encouraging kids to dream was cruel and useless, because the world is full of disappointment. Which, of course, it is, even if not only disappointment. If Sue was wrong back then, it’s because there’s a value in dreaming for all of us, whether we realize those dreams or not.

That idea has been a theme of some of Glee’s best episodes. (Think of season one’s “Dream On,” in which Artie imagines escaping his wheelchair, something he must eventually realize won’t happen.) The finale of Glee made the case, emotionally and passionately, that it’s worth it to dream because–as both Rachel and Will said in so many words–“dreams come true.” It’s an important message, powerful, and–considering the young audience Glee speaks to–not one to cynically dismiss.

But what was missing was another message, which Glee also used to make powerfully: that dreams don’t all come true, and yet they’re worth having anyway. Just as the arts are good even for kids who won’t end up on Broadway, dreams expand your sense of who you can be, even if you’ll never give an acceptance speech on national TV.

Yet I’ll miss the memory of Glee no matter what. In the end, I teared up at the last performance, as it brought back characters major and minor. (Farewell, Sugar!) That’s what Glee always did: it could frustrate me with its stories, execution and cartoonishness—and then open up a firehose of musical emotion and, at least for a few minutes, everything was forgotten.

Glee began with a ton of potential. It fulfilled it occasionally, squandered it often, and every once in a while, delivered moments of transcendence. To be a Glee fan was to love its flashes of brilliance despite its stretches of disappointment. To paraphrase the final inscription on the Finn Hudson Memorial Auditorium, it was a show to appreciate for what it should be, what it could be, and at its best, for what it was.

Read next: What Glee Club Looked Like 60 Years Before Glee

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Read TIME’s Original Review of Glee

Glee
Fox A scene from Season 2 of 'Glee

As the show comes to an end, look back at TIME's 2009 take on it

When Fox’s long-running musical Glee sings its last note on Friday, it will have been after six seasons of slushies and songs. But back in 2009, when the show premiered after American Idol (before returning for its regular run that fall), it wasn’t clear whether the network’s risk would pay off.

After all, as TIME’s critic James Poniewozik noted back then, the top models for TV-musical success at the time were American Idol and High School Musical. Would something that sometimes took a tongue-in-cheek approach work, or would potential fans be turned off by what they saw?

Poniewozik, for one, was hopeful for the former:

What makes Glee more than sketch comedy, and what may save its commercial appeal, is that it is also an underdog story (not just about the kids but also idealistic music-lover Will) with heart. Like Ugly Betty’s, its spoofing is bright, not dark. And with a well-chosen sound track and arch comedy, the pilot is just a giant basket of happy. If Murphy can flesh out the overly broad characters, this series could be a rare, sophisticated, joyous hybrid that gets to have its pop candy and satirize it too.

Read the rest, here in the TIME Vault: Chorus of Laughter

TIME Television

Glee to Cover Wicked‘s “Popular” For Finale

Actress Lea Michele attends the Family Equality Council's Los Angeles Awards Dinner at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 28, 2015 in Beverly Hills,
Imeh Akpanudosen—Getty Images Actress Lea Michele attends the Family Equality Council's Los Angeles Awards Dinner at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 28, 2015 in Beverly Hills.

The series finale airs March 20

Glee will go out with a bang with stars Lea Michele and Chris Colfer covering “Popular” from Broadway’s Wicked.

As McKinley High’s Gleeks bid farewell to television this Friday with the series finale, it’ll be interesting to see if long-lost fans will tune in. The musical dramedy hit a ratings low during its fifth season finale with just 1.9 million viewers.

This latest cover is perhaps a throwback to the first season, when Michele and Colfer sang a duet of Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity.” Both stars of Wicked‘s original Broadway cast, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth, have guest starred on the show. Listen to Glee’s version below.

Read next: Glee Stars Open Up About Final Days on Set

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Lea Michele Threw Up While Singing ‘Let It Go’ on Glee

She really did let it go

When Lea Michele sang “Let It Go” on Glee, she took the song’s command literally—and threw up on set.

“The day didn’t start off so well,” she said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Wednesday. “I was singing, there was snow falling. I looked up, trying to make it magical and beautiful, and ended up choking on the snow and vomiting.”

The camera crew got the whole thing all on film—in slo-mo, no less. But Michele eventually got well enough to perform sans barf—and to pretend to be Elsa for the crew’s kids.

“I was like, ‘I am God right now!” she said, referring to the moment she realized the children thought she was actually the star of Frozen. “I am a Disney princess god!”

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

TIME Television

Your Guide to Hate-Watching Glee’s Final Season

Fox 'Glee'

When bad TV happens to good people

It’s been a long time since the New Directions gave us all goosebumps with the group’s cover of “Don’t Stop Believin.” Since then, the a capella outcasts of William McKinley High School have had many ups and many downs, including incredible covers, interesting guest stars, 3-D films, Twitter hoaxes and the tragedy of losing star Cory Monteith.

Glee, the once popular musical dramedy, hit a ratings low during its fifth season finale with just 1.9 million viewers, and Fox trimmed its final season to 20 episodes. Even worse, the show got pushed to Friday nights. Last season was pretty awful, but the show must go on. So if you’re a Gleek who’s yet to let go, here’s what you need to know before tuning in Friday.

Where we left off

Things got ridiculous last season. Rachel landed the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway and dropped out of NYADA to focus on her career. She was later upended when Santana became her understudy, which only fueled their feud. Blaine and Kurt got engaged to a sweet cover of “All You Need Is Love” during the Beatles episode. And Finn’s death was pretty much glossed over in a touching episode called “The Quarterback” (more on this below). Sam, Blaine, Artie and Mercedes moved to New York after graduation. Sam and Mercedes had an odd relationship in New York that ended when Mercedes left the city to go on a mall tour with Brittany and Santana, who got back together. Oh, we’re not done yet. Puck and Quinn, who reunited on the show’s 100th episode, got back together despite sharing a child together in the first season. Seriously, all of this happened. And to top it all off, at the end of the season, Rachel left Broadway to pursue a career in TV while the glee club was disbanded by whom other than Sue Sylvester. There were also guest stars like Shirley Maclaine, Demi Lovato and Peter Facinelli, and some returning ones like Gwyneth Paltrow and Whoopi Goldberg.

The struggle without Cory Monteith

The show said farewell to its quarterback Finn Hudson when Monteith died at 31 of a heroin overdose in July of 2013. The star dated on-screen girlfriend Lea Michele in real life, which was reflected in the goodbye episode that seemed as much a tribute to Monteith as it did to his character. The show’s creator Ryan Murphy explained that this final season was supposed to wrap up the love between Michele and Monteith’s Rachel and Finn. At the end of season six, Lea [Michele’s] Rachel was going to have become a big Broadway star, the role she was born to play. Finn was going to have become a teacher, settled down happily in Ohio, at peace with his choice and no longer feeling like a Lima loser. The very last line of dialogue was to be this: Rachel comes back to Ohio, fulfilled and yet not, and walks into Finn’s glee club. “What are you doing here?” he would ask. “I’m home,” she would reply. Fade out. The end.”

What we know about the final season

Rachel and Kurt have moved home to Lima to bring the New Directions back to life against Sue’s wishes. There are a handful of new characters, bullies and outsiders, who bring back memories of season one (arguably the show’s best), but will likely seem a little been-there-done-that at this stage. Originals like Mark Salling, Dianna Agron, Naya Rivera and Heather Morris will be back as well. “They’re all back home kind of to lick their wounds,” Jane Lynch told Entertainment Tonight.

Songs to expect

“Let It Go” is the most publicized of the numbers and was released earlier this week. No word on whether Rachel’s on-screen mother Idina Menzel, who sings the original from Frozen, will make another guest appearance. There have also been cuts of Darren Criss’ Blaine covering Ed Sheeran’s “Sing” and clips of the entire club tackling A-ha’s eighties hit “Take on Me.”

The two-hour season premier is set to air on Friday at 8 p.m. E.T.

Get your slushies ready.

TIME Television

Watch the First Full Song from the Final Season of Glee

Darren Criss takes on Ed Sheeran in "Sing"

The first full performance from the sixth and final season of Glee is out, and you can watch it.

The newly released clip, featuring Darren Criss as Blane, is from the two-hour season premier set to air on Jan. 9. The song, performed by all-male group the Warblers, is a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Sing.”

Lea Michele’s pipes don’t feature in the clip, but she does make an appearance as the audience.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com