Zach Braff joined the South Orange Middle School Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Braff was welcomed to his alma mater by current students, staff, and faculty, including teachers who knew him as a teen. Speaking to the student body in the Stirling Hall auditorium, Braff described himself as "paralyzingly shy" as a young teen. Nonetheless, recalled Braff, he auditioned again and again for acting roles. "If you work hard," said Braff, "and don't allow anyone else to outwork you, the sky's the limit."
Braff, who attended Marshall, Jefferson, SOMS and graduated from Columbia High School, is the youngest of four siblings raised in South Orange. Braff is an actor, screenwriter, producer, comedian, and director. was nominated for an Emmy Award and three Golden Globe Awards for his role as Dr. John Dorian on the television series Scrubs.
Braff will next appear in Oz the Great and Powerful, in which, he told students, he plays a monkey who provides "comic relief."
The actor's appearance at SOMS was the fulfillment of a promise he made to teacher Johanna Wright. Braff told Wright he would return to school; when Wright announced she would retire in January 2013, the MLK Club invited the actor and he accepted.
Art teacher Ellen Hark presented Braff with the self-portrait he drew in seventh grade. "It was on my 'Wall' of Fame," she said. Students presented Braff with a SOMS t-shirt that he wore immediately.
Braff and the audience were entertained by dance and musical tributes performed by current students. Braff said he was "blown away" by the kids' talent and confidence. "I worked the curtain," he said of his middle school stage experience.
His advice to students was to appreciate their teachers and to work hard towards their ambitions. Braff was waiting tables when he got the lead in Scrubs. "I called my mom," he said. "Then my dad, then the manager of the restaurant and I told her that I quit." Braff reminded students of the importance of fulfilling commitments, whether to a teacher or a job. "The manager," he said, "didn't have anyone to take my place that night, so I waited tables for one last shift."