March 11, 2015
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Adelphi University, Department of Political Science, Department of Theatre

From White Castle to the White House: Kal Penn on Fusing Passion with Service


by Sophia Conti

Many Adelphi students weren’t sure what to expect from An Evening with Kal Penn. Those planning to attend were certainly excited, since many recognized Penn from his roles in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and its sequels, House, or How I Met Your Mother. But students were also aware of Penn’s political involvement, from campaigning for President Barack Obama in 2008 to working as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. So they wondered: What on earth was he going to talk about?

Penn’s talk was not a dry lecture on the mechanics of American politics, nor was it a collection of anecdotes about his work in television and film. It was an inspiring speech about using your skills and interests to serve the public, no matter who you are. He made government work seem enjoyable and attainable for anyone willing to take on the challenge.

Thanks to his work among younger constituents while working on President Obama’s campaign, Penn knew the cynical mindset many students might have about government work. He warned students not to be taken in by media cynicism or campaign promises, but painted a picture of a happy reality between the two: a government that truly has its citizens’ best interests in mind. Penn also encouraged students to look for commonalities among their peers, noting that a young Democrat and a young Republican will likely have more in common with each other than with an older person of the same political leanings.

Penn insists he is not unique in taking time to work in the White House, despite the notoriety he has gained. “I think I got a lot of undue attention because I was in the public eye,” said Penn. “But there are a lot of people taking a break from the private sector.” He described CEOs, law students, and people from all types of industries who had put their lives on hold to serve in the White House.

Graduating seniors were especially encouraged by Penn’s talk. “He made public service seem so realistic,” said Sarah Cinquemani, president of the class of 2015. Cinquemani also noted how Penn was able to perfectly tailor his talk to his audience. Isuri Wijesundara, a freshman theatre major who attended Penn’s master class prior to the lecture, agreed, describing Penn as someone you could easily approach and talk to about almost anything.

Julianna Claase, a senior and president of the Student Government Association, appreciated Penn’s emphasis on the importance of working hard. “It’s refreshing to hear that hard work does pay off,” she said.

Although Penn has returned to acting (which he calls his “first love”), he is still involved in public service. Penn serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which advises the White House on policy issues in the arts and humanities, especially in arts education. He is a perfect example of integrating the work he loves with public service in creative and effective ways. Penn left the audience with a wish that they will be able to do the same: “I hope you never have to choose between doing what you love in the private sector and serving the public.”

Penn in the master class with theater students.

Penn in the master class with theater students.

About Adelphi: A modern metropolitan university with a personalized approach to higher learning.

Adelphi University is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university offering exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training with particular strength in its Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness. Adelphi is dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support student success.

Founded in Brooklyn in 1896, Adelphi is Long Island’s oldest private coeducational university. Today Adelphi serves nearly 8,000 students at its beautiful main campus in Garden City, New York—just 23 miles from New York City’s cultural and internship opportunities—and at dynamic learning hubs in Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and Suffolk County, and online.

More than 100,000 Adelphi graduates have gained the skills to thrive professionally as active, caring citizens, making their mark on the University, their communities and the world.

Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Adelphi University, Department of Political Science, Department of Theatre