Milana Vayntrub speaks at Weasler Auditorium


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Milana Vayntrub spoke at Weasler Auditorium last week about her experiences as a refugee and her #CantDoNothing Campaign.

Watching a girl pass out homemade sandwiches to countless refugees was a key moment in the activism of Marquette University Student Government’s most recent guest speaker. 

MUSG’s speaker series hosted actress, comedian and refugee Milana Vayntrub Thursday, Feb. 15 in Weasler Auditorium, where she humorously spoke of her inspiration to start #CantDoNothing,  a small organization that helps connect people to opportunities that assist refugees.

A crowd of about 50 witnessed Vayntrub, who appears as “Lily” the AT&T girl, and is featured in such shows as “@midnight with Chris Hardwick,” “This Is Us” and “College Humor,” as she focused on raising awareness of the refugee crisis occurring globally. 

#CantDoNothing sprung from a vacation Vayntrub took to Greece with her father. There, she saw hundreds of Syrian refugees searching for food, shelter and care.  

“I felt stupid,” Vayntrub said about vacationing around refugees, adding that she could not leave Greece without feeling regret for not doing something to help them. 

Skipping her flight home, Vayntrub instead flew to the island of Lesbos, where hundreds more refugees fleeing conflict in Syria were making landfall. There, she applied what she knew to help refugees in what ways she could. 

“I held babies. I told people it was okay… a lot,” Vayntrub said jokingly to the audience, who laughed at her wit. She made a video while assisting refugees on Lesbos, which was the first step in starting #CantDoNothing. 

#CantDoNothing advocates for people to donate their time, money, or voice to helping alleviate refugees’ plight. Vayntrub called it her “individual assignment” to use her skills and resources to contribute to something outside herself and encouraged others in attendance to do the same. 

Students who attended Vayntrub’s presentation laughed and enjoyed her fresh, funny and charismatic speech, which inspired them to consider what they can contribute.  

“I always like hearing about other refugee stories,” said Sammuel Kayiwa, a junior in the College of Communication and refugee, whose family fled from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. “I feel super inclined to take action for what I believe in. I’ve always had a plan on how I would take action but before coming to the speech, I think I had started to forget about those goals. I plan on saving any money I earn in my career and sending it back or finding a way to raise money for Rwanda and our government.” 

Vayntrub spoke of her own experience as a refugee, fleeing her home country of Uzbekistan. Her family moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, when she was just a toddler. “I had to grow up,” she said, recalling a story of going with her father to job interviews as a child to help translate for him. Vayntrub’s resilience and positivity inspired attendees that evening. 

Madison Hicks, a sophomore in the College of Communication, member of MUSG and the “gears” behind the event, enjoyed seeing the audience’s warm response to Vayntrub’s speech. “It doesn’t matter how many people come, but rather the connection made and experience taken away from the event,” she said.  

Indeed, students and other attendees engaged with Vayntrub’s message and lined up after her speech to hug, take pictures and share stories. She left her audience with an understanding that all people can do something to help, even if it is just distributing sandwiches to those in need.