Actress and humanitarian, America Ferrera, said to the student-dominated audience at a recent Open Visions Forum that they should fight for their dreams and contribute to society.

Before going on stage for the Eighth Annual Students Forum, sponsored by the Quick Center and FUSA, Ferrera attended an intimate meet-and-greet in the Black Box Theater. About 50 students waited patiently for Ferrera to enter the room.

Heads turned to catch the first glimpse of Ferrera. Nervous and excited chatter began as students discussed the questions they wanted to ask her. Finally Ferrera entered the room.

Students clapped and greeted her as she warmly smiled and took a seat. She started the conversation by talking about a recent goal that she just reached. Ferrera finally received her college diploma in the mail from the University of Southern California that morning.

Ferrera received her degree in international studies. She gleamed with pride as she explained how it took her 10 years to finally complete her degree. Once her career started to take off with the popular show “Ugly Betty,” Ferrera had to take a leave of absence from school.

During the meet-and-greet, Ferrera was asked how she used her career to begin her philanthropic work, such as her involvement as an ambassador for the Save the Children organization.

Ferrera explained that acting gave her a platform: an opportunity to explore her passion for educational and global issues. Her experience taking international relations courses in school and her opportunities as an actress came full circle and allowed her to speak out for what she believed in.

Through her involvement with Save the Children, Ferrera helped raise $44,000 to build a school in Mali.

“I wanted to use my platform as an actress to bring forth change in the world,” Ferrera said.

As the questions continued to flow, Ferrera answered with thoughtful and relatable answers. She shared with the students how her career is a representation of her life.

“My career is an expression of my life, my experiences and understandings. … It’s always on my mind to be giving with my life, and my stories, but only in  ways that serve my growth as a person,” Ferrera said. “That’s why I went back to school, if I didn’t do it for myself it would be a waste of time.”

Once the meet-and-greet ended, students filed into the auditorium of the Quick Center. They and other attendees filled almost every seat. Ferrera’s common theme throughout her speech was the importance of an education and being an active member in the community.

She expressed that while she was an undergraduate she felt very ignorant about what went on in the world outside of the United States. She admitted to tearing up in one particular class on a regular basis, because she felt like she was the only student who wasn’t aware of the global struggles being discussed.

Ferrera said it challenged her to question her position in the world. She spoke to her professor after class one day and told him, “I love acting but it’s so useless. I have to do something more meaningful; what do I do?”

Ferrera said her professor responded by telling her: “Your work is meaningful. You inspire young people who have similar backgrounds as yourself.” He was referring to his mentee of three years who was Latina like Ferrera. The mentee told him that after watching a movie Ferrera starred in, “Real Girls Have Curves,” she and her friends felt seen and represented for the first time. He went on to tell her, “Your movie changed the course of someone’s life.”

Ferrera continued her speech by encouraging students to be active members in the community.

“Take action in the community,” she said. “This is your life; you can let people make decisions for your life or you can make them yourself.”

Ferrera ended her speech by saying that she is blessed to be in the position she is in. “My story is not a fairy tale; fairy tales are easy to dismiss; they are strokes of luck. I believe every person should be able to dream wildly. You have to believe you are worthy of dreaming.”

Ferrera finished by telling the audience members that their life and their voice matters. After the last remarks of her speech, three Fairfield students joined her on stage for a brief panel discussion. Seniors Jameel James, Loan Le and Lauren Liseth each took turns asking questions.

Ferrera gave one last vital piece of inspiration: “Don’t waste energy hating yourself.”

Ferrera challenged students to look past themselves and stand bravely, even if no one is standing beside them.

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