Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, June 16, 2019

'West Wing' star discusses activism, immigration

Sheen speech is final KPU event of year

'West Wing' star discusses activism, immigration
AU'S WEST WING- Martin Sheen, star of "The West Wing," discussed the importance of students getting involved in humanitarian causes in the world during his speech in Bender Arena Monday.

As "The West Wing" actor and social activist Martin Sheen walked into Bender Arena's Kettler-Palmer Lounge to meet with AU media before his Kennedy Political Union speech Monday, he took off his black Ray-Ban sunglasses, smiled and extended his hand to an Eagle reporter.

"Please, call me Martin," he said.

Sheen continued to open up during his speech - KPU's last event of the semester - and encouraged the audience to engage in social activism and travel to Third World countries to develop a better understanding of global conditions.

"We are all responsible for the world we live in," he said. "I recommend all young people go to the Third World and engage in activism or humanitarian service to get a better idea of what the world we live in is like."

Claire Kurtz, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she thought Sheen came out of his television persona and strongly connected with students on a personal level.

"I'm so happy he stepped outside of what we think of him as an actor on television," she said. "He talked about things students really care about."

Sheen said it was important that people engage in social activism.

"You must do this mysterious thing because you cannot not do it and really find yourself," he said.

Forrest McConell, a sophomore in the School of International Service, said Sheen's speech was presidential - a reference to Sheen's role as President Josiah Bartlett in "The West Wing." McConell said he was surprised Sheen connected so well with a younger crowd.

"He bridged the generational gap with ease," he said. "He relayed and conveyed his ideas really clearly. I felt a connection with him."

Sheen dedicated the latter part of his talk to immigration and railed against the media's treatment of the issue.

"The anti-immigration rhetoric on these political talk shows is really distressing," he said. "I think we need to remind ourselves how this great experience in democracy got started."

During the event's question and answer segment, Ajay Bruno, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, said that although he was a Republican, he would vote Democratic if he could get a picture with Sheen. Sheen invited Bruno on-stage and struck a pose that made it appear Bruno was Sheen's running mate.

Sheen praised the university and the activist community at the end of the speech.

"I didn't realize [AU] had such a strong activist community," he said. "I'm going to brag about having a speaking arrangement here from now on. Thank you so much. Now go out and change the world."

During Sheen's pre-speech interview, he said he continues to be an activist even when there's a resistance to change.

"The only thing you may ever change is yourself," he said. "But you cannot not do it and be yourself. You're doing it for yourself. The only success and failure is measured by another yardstick - you can't measure with your own heart and your own spirit. ... We have to surrender to something higher and for someone else in order to know ourselves and to realize our potential."

Sheen donated his speaking fee proceeds to the Catholic Worker Movement, an organization that provides hospitality to people on the margins of society, campaigns for nonviolence and opposes wars, according to Acting Media Relations Director Maralee Csellar. Art Laffin, organizer for D.C.'s Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, accepted the donation during the event.


Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.