How Millie Kentner from Freaks and Geeks still inspires me to do my own thing

When Freaks and Geeks made its cable debut in 1999, it introduced the world to a cast of fictional students that would forever stand as a relevant and authentic depiction of  trying to get through high school. From awkward first dances to school bullies that ruled the dodgeball court, the Judd Apatow-produced comedy series centered on the stories of a group of, well, freaks and geeks. And while I was more than happy to follow the adventures of Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), Kim Kelly (Busy Philips), and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr), there was one particular character I felt always deserved more credit: Millie Kentner.

Many of the characters on this eternally classic series could fall into two categories—a freak or a geek—but Millie was much more than that. Sure, her participation in the Mathletes and her dedication to studying may have classified her as your standard nerd, but it was her caring personality and lack of interest in what others thought of her that made Millie unique. She truly looked out for every student at William McKinley High School.

During the first episode, we meet the beacon of light that is Millie. Even though her best friend, Lindsay, is surrounded by freaks, Millie is unafraid and approaches the group to remind Lindsay that the deadline for the academic decathlon is quickly approaching. While Lindsay might be trying to temporarily hide her geeky identity from the school’s resident badasses, Millie is unashamed. In fact, she goes on to express concern over her bestie’s new circle of friends.

This initial instance isn’t the only time we witness Millie caring for others either. She stars in a school assembly that shows the dangers of drunk driving, she attempts—and fails—to join the freaks after the death of her beloved dog, and she’s never afraid to say exactly what she’s thinking—including disapproval over Kim’s improper use of the school’s darkroom for “fornication.” She’s also more than happy to turn down an opportunity to party, saying, “I get high on life.”

Of course, each of these hilarious instances pale in comparison to Millie’s shining moment: when she takes over a riotous school party at Lindsay’s house with a piano performance of “Jesus Is Just Alright.” The character’s religious upbringing is mentioned throughout the show and results in her turning down many of the trademark high school activities. True to form, while the rest of her friends choose to drink at the party, she takes to the piano, leading an entire group of fake drunks in a singalong, one of the greatest moments in Freaks and Geeks history.

The scene became an instant classic as Millie was joined for her performance by freak, Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel). The interaction between these two unlikely friends epitomized the  intentions of the series—showing how two students from completely opposite groups can became allies, even if for just a brief moment. And while my own experience in high school may have not proved as harmonious, I can’t help but feel hope that maybe one day we’ll all just get along and join in a group performance of classic hymnals.

Millie may have never been one of the series main characters, but each and every one of her brief on-screen appearances made a lasting impact on me.

As an adult, I thankfully no longer have to face the halls of high school, but Millie taught me that, in life, there really are no freaks or geeks. We’re all just trying our best to find our place in the halls of life. And, if nothing else, we’re all just trying to find what makes us happy, and sometimes that breaking into song at our friend’s party.

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