Charlize Theron with Chancellor Michael Drake and Ashlee Irish
Charlize Theron, right, shares a round of applause with Chancellor Michael Drake and Ashlee Irish, left, director of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, at a dinner following her appearance as the first Living Peace Series Speaker. The reception and dinner raised funds for Center for Living Peace Orange County. Alex Abercrombie

A crowd of more than 600 students, staff, faculty and community members heard a call for service on a global level Saturday, Dec. 4, when Charlize Theron kicked off the Living Peace Series at UC Irvine.

The Oscar-winning actor and United Nations Messenger of Peace appeared with Dr. Michael Bennish, founder and executive director of Mpilonhle, to discuss the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, which promotes safety and health among impoverished children and communities in South Africa – with a focus on those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Hers was the first of three lectures in the series sponsored by UCI and the Center for Living Peace Orange County.

Before her formal remarks, she met with 75 representatives of student and community groups, including Engineers Without Borders and the Olive Tree Initiative.

Doug Cheung, one of UCI’s 2010-11 Dalai Lama Scholars, told Theron
about the club he founded, Students for Integrative Medicine, and its
work to provide clean water options in Africa. “To drill a well is just
$2,000, which is an accessible goal, and I told her about that,” Cheung

“She was inspiring because she told us that, to help with
the world situation, we don’t have to be Hollywood movie stars. Change
starts with people like us – students – who make a difference.”

Chancellor Michael Drake began the evening also talking about service
and invoked the words of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and
dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I
acted and behold, service was joy.”

He said he was encouraged by
the energy and excitement surrounding Theron’s visit and was looking
forward to future Living Peace Series appearances from Sir Richard Branson
(Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011) and His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama (Wednesday,
May 4).

“We’ve all known Charlize Theron as an impressive
Academy Award winning actor. It was a real pleasure to get to know her
as a committed and unusually effective philanthropist and