Inspiring. A word that OHS Alum Matt Freed ’13 uses to describe his experiences with Up with People.
And a word that easily could be used to describe Matt Freed.
For the past seven months, Freed and “99 of his now closest friends” have been touring with the world-renowned service and performing organization. He will be a featured soloist as the international company performs at Orange High School’s newly renovated auditorium on Friday, February 26 at 7:30pm.
“It has been fantastic; nothing short of inspiring, outstanding, all of these words that I want to use,” Freed said. “Up with People is so unique as a culture, as a program, as an organization. It’s educational; it’s humbling to do the thousands of hours of community service; and it’s just awesome when you get to ‘be the change.’”
Now in its 51st year, Up with People (UWP) is a global education organization whose mission is to bridge cultural barriers and create global understanding through service and music. The “show experience” culminates a week of interaction with Orange High School students and community members.
In his sophomore year at Orange High School, Freed had the opportunity to see UWP perform along with a classmate of his, Josiah Rogers ’12. They were both awestruck; Rogers took the first step in joining UWP which also counted among its members Orange grad Clyde Foxhall ’12 and Elisha Campbell who studied at Orange through eighth grade. Yet while Freed knew he had the international bug in him, he knew he wanted to go to college before travelling. He attended American University for two years…before the musical theater bug took hold.
“Up with People was always an option, but I was unsure if I was ready for it right out of high school,” Freed noted. “I knew I always wanted to travel abroad though and after I finished my second year of college, it was the right time.”
Freed and his cast mates spent the first month after joining UWP training for the high energy, high tech show the UWP troupe performs around the world. And then it was off to see the world. Freed has traveled to (and lived in) Mexico, Belgium, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Italy…and is currently touring throughout the United States.
Rome is his favorite destination to date.
“It’s a place I always wanted to go…to see the Coliseum; all of these beautiful places that are even better than you see in the movies. And the food, oh my gosh. Real Italian food is pretty sweet.”
But even the amazing food was not the highlight.
“We got to perform for Pope Francis. Who gets to stand on the stairs of St. Peter’s Square, 10 feet from the Pope himself in Vatican City and sing songs of peace, sing songs of inspiration...and do that for thousands of people?!”
A long way for Freed to come since the only other time he “sang professionally” in some small theater shows in church while in grade school!
“That’s the funny thing,” said Freed. “I was not involved in theater at Orange. I was a high school athlete and did basketball and golf my whole career at Orange. I had friends that were involved, and I envied them because it actually sounded pretty fun. But I wasn’t that brave.”
Now, as Freed takes center stage multiple times throughout the show, he seems perfectly at home.
“Now I can go to church and sing in the gospel choir and not feel uncomfortable. Music has always been near and dear to my heart, but now it’s not just for me. I can do it for other people and share my gift with others.”
A gift that Freed attributes in large part to his OHS teachers who mentored him throughout high school.
“So many teachers made a difference in my life…Mr. Keller, Mr. Chordas, Mr. Burkhart, Mr. Bitzer, Mr. Bechlem, just to name a few. These guys are dear friends; I built a connection with them,” said Freed.
“They cared for me as a student, as an athlete, but more than both of those they cared about me as a person. They let me know what a great education I would get at Orange but they also encouraged me to know that I was capable of doing more, of being more. And that encouragement really pushed me to do something like Up with People, something I never thought I’d do. Their advice, their belief in me brought me to where I am and made me who I am. And for that I’m really grateful.”
And it wasn’t just the teachers that helped Freed along the way. Former OHS parent Chuck Jarrett, a former UWP cast member himself and now Chairman of the Board, was a guiding light for Freed.
“He has helped me my whole life including with my college decisions and with everything In life,” said Freed. “His life was changed by Up with People and honestly, if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be, but I know I wouldn’t be in the amazing place I am today so I want to thank him dearly.”
And where will this path lead him now?
Freed plans to continue touring with UWP for the remainder of his term (five more months) to venues including South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Mexico, Bermuda, Sweden and Denmark. And then it’s back to American University to complete his degree in political science and perhaps a double major in international studies. He will certainly have had experience in that area.
“That’s another reason I joined Up with People. It has really helped to see other perspectives, different cultures that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. It has helped me to understand people so much better. I have learned how to relate to all people better…and to build bridges instead of knocking them down which is really cool.”
Those bridges come not only through their music but through service projects throughout the communities in which they visit. Working with local Kiwanis chapters and other service organizations, UWP cast members continue to spread their messages of global understanding and peace through service projects at Beech Brook, the Gathering Place and Habitat for Humanity, to name a few.
“I had never built a house before, and we built a house!” effused Freed. “When you see all the work going into it, you’re like ‘Wow, this means something!’”
UWP staff members also worked with Orange High School students throughout their week in town
sharing anti-bullying and diversity programming and leadership training in various student workshops.
“For me it’s a privilege to be here. I can say I have been there. Sometimes you graduate and have an idea of what you want to do, but sometimes you don’t,” Freed noted, advising students, “Consider all options. Don’t feel limited. You, too, can do things like Up with People and live your dreams of traveling and building stories that you’ll have for a lifetime. It is possible; so don’t limit yourself.”
Thrilled for the opportunity to perform for the OHS student body on Thursday afternoon and for his family, friends and community Friday night, Freed, although happy to be home and enjoying “his own shower,” is eager to get back on the road again.
“I want to keep travelling. I want to keep focusing on the here and now. Some of these places I know I just won’t be able to go to again. I want to literally taste everything, see all the colors that I can… and be in the moment.”
And down the line…?
“Hopefully my future holds something where I can impact people on the greatest scale. I want to influence
change positively. I feel like, even if it’s big or small, helping people is my greatest passion, and I want to give myself to others to know that I have helped to make someone’s life better.”
Editor’s note: Photographs from the Up With People cast working with OHS students throughout the week and performing for them on Thursday are available on our Orange Schools Facebook page by clicking here. For more information on Up With People’s performance on Friday, February 26th, please click here. At the time of publishing, less than 100 tickets remained.