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Max Mandel: The Smile Guy

Major: News and Documentary

Age: 20

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Favorite movie?

I love Pulp Fiction. But there’s this really awesome documentary called Leviathan. It’s amazing, you guys should check it out.

Favorite place on Earth?

I haven’t found it yet, but really anywhere there is love.

What’s a day in the life of Max Mandel like?

I wake up (probably later than I should), shower and wash my face, strap a sign on, grab some food and eat it while I skate to school, and just hang out with my sign. I get honked at by a couple of people, waved at by a couple of people, skate through campus, go to class, and if I have time between classes I get coffee or climb a tree. I really like climbing the trees in the piazza. They’re so gorgeous. The one closer to Beckman is a little sticky with sap but that’s okay.

What was the idea/ motivation behind wearing your smile sign?

In high school I was really depressed, really suicidal, and I chose to kind of hide that by being someone I wasn’t. I was an asshole and just a bad person. I was like that because of the fact that I was hurting inside. I didn’t feel love for myself so I couldn’t love others. I had tried to kill myself a couple of times and it was the final time, I was gonna do it, because I didn’t understand why I existed and I didn’t wanna be here. I thought I was a waste and a failure, etc. But only a moment before, my friend texted me as I was listening to my last song. It was just a short text, it would’ve only taken her seconds to type, but she just said, “Yo you weren’t looking good at lunch today, you cool? Do you wanna talk about anything?” and just that small action had such a huge impact on me. I just marinated on that for a while and I didn’t end up killing myself that night. And in a way, she saved my life you know? Actually, in every way she saved my life. I went on this spiritual retreat soon after that day and it really changed who I was and it helped me so much. Then I realized, I need to do something bigger than just me. I need to incorporate something else. And that’s how smile began. 

How many days have you been wearing a smile sign?

571 days.

Do you have any tattoos?

I have two tattoos. One of them is a small tattoo of my smile sign on my right wrist. The other one is a white ink tattoo on my left wrist and it says 86,400. It’s got a story behind it and I learned it on my spiritual retreat. If you woke up every day with $86,400 in your bank account, and the money never carries over no matter if you spend it all or if you spend a penny, at midnight it’s back to $86,400. You would spend it all right? You’d look at the people only spending $20, $30 of it and think, “You guys are crazy!” Right? I mean, with that money you could set yourself up, set your family up, set your friends up, buy whatever you want, travel, pursue your passions, really just do whatever you want. So its like, yo, every day you have 86,400 seconds to spend. You should spend them however you want to spend them, because you wont get them back. 

What inspires you?

Plato has a quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s just so true because you never know what struggles people are going through. It sucks because sometimes when you’re having a bad day and you see your friend, you don’t know but they could also be having a bad day. So in these moments and at every moment, try to be kind and try to keep your head up. 

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