Ryan Johnson, Published October 01 2013
Nontraditional MSUM student aims to spread joy to others while following his own dreams
If he had to decide at 24, when he took classes at the Fergus Falls campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College, he’d be putting a political science degree to use.
Instead, the 32-year-old is a military veteran, actor, businessman, leader of a new nonprofit organization and a theater arts junior at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Lindquist said he discovered his passion for performing at the age of 30, when his service in the Air Force gave him the chance to emcee and be lead vocalist of the Tops in Blue traveling group that entertains troops around the world.
But he said he’s lucky – four out of five people aren’t passionate about what they’re doing, according to a study by Deloitte.
Lindquist focused on the problem during a recent TEDx talk in Minot, N.D., telling the audience that the pressure on 19- or 20-year-olds to pick their major and career for the rest of their lives often results in “the most uninformed decision” they’ll ever make.
“One of the things that I pointed to in the TEDx talk was to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what if we could just take a step back and not force our young people into making these decisions before they have the chance to live life and discover what really makes them tick?’ ” he said. “Go have an adventure that would better inform the decisions that you’re about to make.”
GETTING A BREAK
Lindquist was born in an orphanage in Seoul, South Korea, and was adopted eight months later by a family in Ortonville, Minn.
After graduating from high school there in 1999, he enrolled at Concordia for a year before he joined AmeriCorps, which brought him to Washington, D.C.
Lindquist worked at several nonprofits and eventually enlisted in the Air Force in 2006, serving as an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency.
He was stationed for five years at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, an experience he said allowed him to live in “paradise” while serving in the military. His time in the Air Force also opened doors for an unexpected career – performing.
“Little did I know that if you join the Air Force, you can join their entertainment troop,” he said.
Lindquist traveled the world, doing 124 shows in front of more than 250,000 people as part of the Tops in Blue. He said it was just what he needed to finally discover his passion for performance.
He was able to turn his friendship with a low-level staffer on hit TV series “Lost” into another opportunity to perform, landing a small, uncredited role on two episodes and also getting another small part on TV series “Hawaii Five-0.”
“It was just a phenomenal experience for me to be there and just kind of take it all in,” he said.
His connections with a casting agent in Hawaii led to getting a credited role in 2012’s blockbuster film, “Battleship.”
Lindquist played a Japanese sailor who pulled singer and actress Rihanna out of the water after her character’s ship was sunk by the alien invaders. His only line, uttered in Japanese, roughly translated to “I’m hurt” as he was carried off on a stretcher.
His first movie role helped him realized “relying on instinct” like he had done for the past decade wasn’t enough. Lindquist left the Air Force earlier this year and enrolled this fall in theater arts at MSUM.
“I’ve been fortunate to get some good gigs and have some great exposure on stage,” he said. “However, I’m 32. If I’m going to live the next 70 years of my life performing, isn’t now a great time to go back to school, get some real training and figure out what the heck I should be doing instead of just guessing?”
Lindquist said it’s been a “difficult journey” to return to the classroom after so many years away from school. But he said he’s glad he didn’t rush to pick a direction for his life.
“I think that now that I know what I’m here for and I’m passionate about it, I’m getting an infinite amount more out of my classes and the books that I read and the things that the professors teach me rather than having been forced into the decision when I was a freshman 12 years ago because that was just the next step,” he said.
Lindquist said he expects to earn his bachelor’s degree in two years. The knowledge he’ll gain will be put to good use in his emcee gigs, singing of the national anthem around the country and when he eventually returns to Los Angeles to pursue TV and movie roles.
For now, he said he hopes to have a “give and take” relationship with MSUM, bringing his experiences on big productions and the stage to his classmates while also honing his craft.
Lindquist will appear in the university’s production of “The Laramie Project,” which starts today and has daily 7:30 p.m. performances through Saturday on the Gaede Stage.
Patrick Carriere, director of “The Laramie Project” and an assistant professor of theatre at MSUM, said Lindquist brings a “wealth of life experience” to the university that will help everyone in the theatre arts program.
“Acting reaches into that; it taps into what you’ve done in life,” he said. “Depending on the production, it helps a lot.”
Carriere said Lindquist brings something else to the table – a wonderful attitude.
“He exudes this kind of positive joy in what he does, and he is very diligent about it,” he said. “I think in that sense, he’s a great example for all of us.”
Lindquist is working to spread that joy through a new nonprofit he founded called Heel Kicks around the World. Inspired by the midair heel kick – think Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain” – he started taking photos of himself in the iconic pose in front of landmarks across the globe.
Now, he’s gearing up to launch his nonprofit to encourage others to do the same and send their photos to him to be included on the website and, eventually, in a Heel Kicks around the World coffee table book.
Lindquist said his goal is to promote the heel kick as the universal symbol of joy. But he also wants it to use the fun for good, so he’s aiming to make it a symbol of giving.
He hopes participants will host heel kick flash mobs across the country, having fun but also agreeing to donate a pair of shoes that will be sent to people in poverty-stricken countries through global partner Soles4Souls.
Lindquist also runs two businesses, motivational speaking company Breath is Limited and financial planning company Retirement Turning Point.
He said he doesn’t expect to slow down on any of the passions in his life, whether it’s performing, motivating people to find their passion or trying to think of new ways to help others in need, even after he graduates and focuses on his acting career.
“I’m going to keep that tradition going,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587