It’s hard to believe award-winning actress Eva Longoria ever felt like an ugly duckling.
But before she starred in the TV series “The Desperate Housewives” and won this year’s Hollywood Reporter’s Philanthropist of the Year award, Longoria grew up with three beautiful sisters and always considered herself the odd one out in the family.
To make up for it, she focused on “being really smart and really funny,” Longoria explained last night at Irvine Auditorium. “I’m living proof of the American dream,” she said. In high school, she had worked at Wendy’s serving burgers and fries.
This year, the Lauren and Bobby Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series hosted Longoria as its fourth ever social impact speaker. With over 2,500 RSVP’s for the event, students and press packed the auditorium.
Since it began in 2010, the Executive Speaker Series has aimed to connect the Penn community with leaders who are changing the definition of wealth.
By the age of 22, Longoria was a successful businesswoman, working as a corporate headhunter in Los Angeles. That was long before she landed her role on “Desperate Housewives,” which many consider to be her big break.
Speaker series’ founder and 1984 Wharton graduate Bobby Turner emphasized, “We should not confuse the creation of wealth with the creation of happiness.” In fact, he added, wealth doesn’t have to necessarily correspond with money. For people like firefighters and teachers, wealth can simply be the satisfaction from knowing they’ve enriched other lives.
“It’s not about the car or house we have,” Turner said. “It’s about achieving power to have a positive impact on other people’s lives.”
Turner chose Longoria as last night’s speaker for her authenticity, which Turner seeks in a successful leader and valuable speaker. He described all the guest speakers as people who “live and breathe their passions.”
Today, Longoria is active with Eva’s Heroes and Padres Contra el Cancer, her own organizations dedicated to helping Latinos who suffer from cancer or special disabilities and their families.
Longoria said she’s been describing herself as a “political junkie” since she was 17. Currently, she’s also an activist for the Obama re-election campaign.
Members of the audience asked whether her political stance affects how others view her. “There are things more important than how many people will see my next movie,” Longoria said. She is strongly involved because the election deals with what deeply affects her: the women and Latino communities.
College senior Akin Sobowale, in fact, came to the event because Longoria was a good speaker at the Democratic national convention. For his first Executive Series event, he was interested in seeing how she would speak about social impact.
Nathan Fleetwood, a Wharton sophomore, was “expecting big things” and said he was definitely impressed. “[Longoria] tackled more than one facet of life,” Fleetwood said.
Longoria mentioned to Turner that she’d like her epitaph to read, “This person made a difference.”
“You have to give back,” she advised the audience. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”