Carnegie Mellon University
June 11, 2020

"I Will Prove You Wrong"

School of Drama alumna Ming-Na Wen achieves her dream (and becomes a Disney Legend)

By Pam Wigley

Pam Wigley
  • College of Fine Arts
  • 412-268-1047

It started with the Easter Bunny. Dressed as the holiday favorite, Ming-Na Wen started to take the stage at her third-grade play when she tripped and fell. The audience erupted into laughter. Some little girls would have been mortified. Wen, though, loved the reaction.

The acting bug had taken its first bite.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Wen continued to dream about becoming an actress. At Mt. Lebanon High School, she took part in "an incredible arts program," and she remembers studying with teachers James Lutz and Cindy Goode, among others. Lutz, in particular, inspired her.

"Mr. Lutz taught us about [focusing on] the ensemble and not about [focusing on] yourself," she recalled. "I always really loved that about the theater. It's about the triumph of the team."

Actor, producer, Disney Legend and CMU alumna Ming-Na Wen delivered a message to the Carnegie Mellon University Class of 2020.

A hard worker with a solid academic record, Wen was raised, along with her brother, by her Chinese parents. They helped at the family's Chinese restaurant, Chinatown Inn, which still operates today. And, when she returns to Pittsburgh, Wen said she is still expected to work the register. Although her parents spoke English, they had little understanding of the steps to take for university after high school. Wen applied to one school, Carnegie Mellon University's School of Drama, and auditioned as part of the admission process. Not realizing that she had to be officially accepted after the audition, she didn't have a backup choice.

"Sometimes, ignorance is bliss," she said. "It all worked out."

Indeed. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1986, Wen knew she wanted to "go off and conquer the world," acting on Broadway and, eventually, the big screen. Never mind that the leading ladies of the day were, by and large, blue-eyed blondes. Although she didn't fit that mold, Wen was determined to make it as an actor.

"I didn't allow anyone else to say that I could not do this or be that or get in my way. I will prove you wrong."
— Ming-Na Wen

"One of the things I always joke about is that there is truly something in being single-minded and focused on a goal," she said. "I didn't allow anyone else to say that I could not do this or be that or get in my way. I will prove you wrong."

Among her body of work, Wen may be best-known for her role as Melinda May in the ABC action series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" and for voicing the character Mulan in the animated films "Mulan" and "Mulan II." After playing a Disney princess, she was later named a Disney Legend. It's a title that few are given, and she said she is very proud of receiving it. She also played Dr. Jing-Mei Chen in the NBC series "ER," and starred in films like "The Joy Luck Club." Her most recent credit is "The Mandalorian," which she called "my Star Wars dream."

Animated still of Mulan and Mu Shu
Wen voiced the character Mulan in the animated films "Mulan" and "Mulan II." Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios

She is grateful that she continued her education at Carnegie Mellon, which helped to refine her personally and professionally.

"Ultimately, it was about finding out who you are," Wen said. "CMU offered the full spectrum — challenges, plus guidance, to help you achieve your dreams."

Wen remains a staunch supporter of the arts and arts education and sees both as essential parts of life.

"Arts education is really about exploring the human heart, about exploring our existence as human beings with each other, humanity, and community and storytelling. It's about connecting and making a difference," she said. "Whether it's to inspire, or to move, or to motivate, or to entertain — it envelops all that. I think it reaches another level of consciousness that makes us whole."

Alumna Ming-Na Wen introduced the 2018 Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner Melody Herzfeld, drama teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of Parkland, Florida, during the telecast. Afterward, her drama club students received a standing ovation for their surprise performance of "Seasons of Love" from the musical "Rent."
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I cried when I got this news. A beautiful letter from Bob Iger thanking me for my contributions to @disney. Telling me I have been chosen to be a Disney Legend. Surreal. I cried because I was so moved. Never in my wildest dreams would I expect this to happen to me. I am just always grateful for the work. That is reward enough. I love acting. I love @Disney. So to have worked for Disney for so many years on so many projects is wonderful enough. This honor just blows me away. I am overwhelmed, humbled, grateful, and yeah, super happy! What an incredible roster of people to be included with this year! @jonfavreau @bettemidler @robertdowneyjr #jamesearljones #wingchao @kennyortegablog #barnettericci @hanszimmer @robinrobertsgma @dianesawyer 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏 Congrats to all the 2019 Disney Legends! It’s crazy I’m one of them. Thank you so much, Disney! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️From the bottom of my #Mulan heart, I am very grateful for everything Disney’s done for my career. This is truly icing on the cake! •••••••••••••••• PROOF that amazing things can happen. You just have to know your passion, work hard as hell, appreciate every opportunity and every person along the way. If a little Chinese girl who immigrates to America with her family can become a Disney Legend, anything can happen! Feel very blessed. 😘❤️😘❤️😍🥰😍🥰 #mulan #joyluckclub #agentsofshield #disneylegend

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