Flinn Scholars

Actor/Activist Edward James Olmos meets with Flinn Scholars

October 19, 2010

By Flinn Foundation

A spaceman and a schoolteacher and a judge and a cop–those are just a few of the roles that Edward James Olmos has assumed on screen. But as a small group of Flinn Scholars learned on Oct. 10, even the complete filmography of the Oscar-nominated actor would only begin to convey Olmos’s story.

The Scholars who spent three hours with Olmos were enjoying one of the lesser-known elements of a premier cultural event at Arizona State University: the annual Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecture. Each year, Barrett, the Honors College invites an intellectual leader to spend several days at ASU, culminating in the public Centennial Lecture at ASU Gammage on the Tempe campus. The visit is funded by an endowment awarded by the Flinn Foundation to commemorate ASU’s 1985 centennial.

Olmos began his visit to ASU by meeting with Flinn Scholars over a leisurely dinner. He spoke with the Scholars about a broad assortment of interests that have captured his attention over his career, from stage and screen performance, to civil-rights activism, to human-longevity research.

“I was introduced to an entirely new side of Edward James Olmos,” said Katherine Cai, a 2009 Flinn Scholar attending ASU. “We were startled when he began discussing gerontology and the theory of technological singularity, and we engaged in an intriguing debate about the types of wisdom most important to pass on through the generations.”

Sarah Trainor, a 2007 Flinn Scholar attending the University of Arizona, was able to speak with Olmos about the television role for which he is most widely known to contemporary audiences–as Admiral William Adama in the series Battlestar Gallactica.

“I wasn’t sure if my enthusiasm would be annoying, but on the contrary, his face lit up when he found out I was a big Battlestar Gallactica Fan,” Trainor said. “He reminisced about some of the show’s most memorable moments, gave me a unique insight into the finale, and engaged me in a discussion about the parallels between our world and the future depicted on screen.”

In his public lecture, “We Are All in the Same Gang,” Olmos presented his argument for how to achieve the cultural and racial harmony that he asserts is the American ideal. That ideal is implied in the title of a photographic book project he helped to create, “Americanos: Latino Life in the U.S.,” which he discussed with Barrett students in a seminar course focused on the Centennial Lecture.

(Video from Olmos’s conversation with Barrett students is below.)