I met him at my first WE Day and I’ve seen him at least a dozen times since then. I have loved every time. He always greets me with a warm hug, tells powerful stories on stage and always inspires the audience. But the next time I see him, at WE Day Vancouver, it is going to be different.
It was five years ago at my very first WE Day that I met Martin Sheen. I went to WE Day as media to cover it for my blog and I had the opportunity to go to the press conference where he was going to be taking questions. When my grandmother heard that I was going to be asking him a question, she told me to call him “Mr. President” and at the press conference, Craig Kielburger introduced him just like that and called him “his favourite American President”. My parents were also really excited that I was going to meet “the President”. I was 9 years old and what I knew about Martin Sheen was that he had been an activist for his whole life and that he had played the role of President of the United States on TV. When my turn came to pose my question, I asked him if you can create bigger change as an activist or a politician. I loved his response:
It was an incredible answer and I still think about it often. Back then I didn’t understand everyone’s craze about Martin Sheen and The West Wing, the show that he played President Jed Bartlet on. I mean, there were a bunch of TV shows and movies about the White House and this was just one of them.
That’s what I thought until recently and now I understand. A couple of months ago I started watching The West Wing. I can honestly say that it is the best show that I have ever seen – the White House Senior Staff is the best team I’ve ever seen and Jed Bartlet (aka Martin Sheen) is the best President. They are people that want to do the right thing. They take the issues personally and recognize that every decision they make, will cost someone something. It is thought-provoking, raw and meaningful. The West Wing gives me hope for the world, so much hope. I understand that it is a show, but it’s like an antidote for all of the awful things that are going on in the world. This year, there have been many times when I have felt helpless with the world events, and then I see this show and I feel motivated and hopeful once again. In an interview about the show, Martin Sheen once said that they created a “parallel universe of possibility.” Like so many things, he says it best. That’s exactly what it is.
Something that I love about President Bartlet is that he is passionate and feels things so deeply. He feels sadness, helplessness, empathy, happiness and motivation. He is not only so passionate about many issues from gun violence to discrimination, but he is outspoken and acts on them, speaking out about them and creating laws. Something that is also very personal to me that I admire about President Bartlet and his team is that he sees and believes in the power of young people. For example, in an episode, there was a group of youth lobbyists who were working to lower the voting age. Not only did the Communications Director Toby Ziegler (played by Richard Schiff) take the time to sit down with the youth and listen to their voice, but President Bartlet listened too.
“Well as adults we’re certainly not shouldering our responsibility and your generation has a vested interest. Allowing children to vote is worthy of consideration.”
The last thing that I will add about him is that everything that comes out of his mouth is inspirational and motivates me to keep taking action. Knowing him as I do, I know that so much of what he said and did in those years in The West Wing, were true to his own character as well. At WE Day he said, “acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive.”
Everything that I have said about President Bartlet is the same for Martin Sheen. He is outspoken, raw, not afraid to stand up for issues that he cares about and is everything that President Bartlet is. I recently watched an interview where Martin Sheen shared what he loved most about Jed Bartlett and he said, “his heart.” Me too. So this time when I see him take to the WE Day stage in Vancouver next week, it’s going to be different for me.
At least once in every episode of The West Wing something happens that makes me wish I could give him a hug. I can’t wait to do that.
PS. I might have something special planned.