In a journey that’s coming full circle, the University of Dayton will honor Ramon Estévez, better known as Martin Sheen, with an honorary degree for his lifelong commitment to peace, social justice and human rights exemplifying the Catholic, Marianist university’s mission.
Sheen, who intentionally failed his University of Dayton entrance exam to overcome his father’s objections and start his acting career, will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree during spring graduation ceremonies, which begins at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, May 3, at the University of Dayton Arena.
“Martin Sheen is a legendary actor. More importantly, he’s a legendary humanitarian, who advocates for peace and justice around the world,” said Daniel J. Curran, University of Dayton president. “He has used his celebrity status to be a voice for the voiceless, and in the Marianist educational tradition, he leads through service to others. The University of Dayton is honored to award him with an honorary degree for his humanitarian service.”
Sheen grew up just a few blocks from the University and graduated from Chaminade High School, both founded by the Society of Mary, a Roman Catholic teaching order. He has said the Marianist teachings of the priests and brothers helped shape his commitment to social justice, service and peace.
He has spoken out against war, abortion and capital punishment. Among the causes he has supported are the environment, workers’ rights and human rights.
“I was inspired and nourished by the basic, fundamental education of service to others. That’s how we really grow ourselves — giving to others,” he said, speaking to Chaminade students in 2012. “We can’t really know ourselves except through community. None of us live an isolated life. We’re made to walk the journey alone, but we can’t do it without community.”
As one of 10 children to Mary-Ann Phelan, his Irish mother, and Francisco Estévez, his Spanish father, he was born Ramon Estévez but took on Martin Sheen as a stage name early in his career.
A celebrated actor with a career spanning nearly 50 years, Sheen has achieved fame for performances in the theater, television and film. Among his best-known roles: President Josiah Bartlett in television’s The West Wing, a serial killer in the film Badlands and a troubled soldier during the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now.
A leader in human rights education, the University of Dayton established the nation’s first undergraduate human rights studies program. More than 100 students have graduated from the program and pursued careers as human rights advocates and academics or humanitarian professionals in legal, governmental and nonprofit sectors.
The University has launched a Human Rights Center to focus on human rights education and bring together the critical components of social change — knowledge, research, collaboration and action.