WEST DES MOINES — To the world, he’s Ashton Kutcher, actor, model, entrepreneur.
To Eastern Iowans, he’s the Cedar Rapids native and Clear Creek Amana High School graduate who made it big without ever forgetting his Iowa roots and love of Hawkeye sports.
But it was his humanitarian efforts in the spotlight during an April 8 dinner in West Des Moines when he received the Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award.
The award recognizes Kutcher’s humanitarian, educational and entrepreneurial efforts at home and abroad — from co-founding The Native Fund to aid Iowans in need, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters; and Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, which uses technology to help combat human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.
The Native Fund was launched last August with an all-star country concert featuring Blake Shelton in Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Metallica will headline the next Native Fund concert, set for June 9 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton.
A commanding presence, Kutcher addressed the awards banquet audience with passion, humor, tears and candor about character ingrained through his Midwest upbringing and Boy Scouts; love and support from his family and wife, Mila Kunis; and lessons learned by mistakes ranging from getting caught trying to break into his high school to pushing through failures in past relationships and business ventures.
While The Gazette reported from the event that night, the following are more excerpts from his speech, as well as a media roundtable held before the dinner.
You’re never done building your character. It legitimately never ends. And in fact, I don’t know that you can even take credit for the character that you have. ...
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What’s the difference between character and personality? Personality is the you that you show in the light of day on a daily basis. But your character is the you in the light — and it’s the you in the darkest moment of your life. It’s just you — your DNA. ...
But character hides. And it comes out when you get smacked in the mouth. It comes out when you’re walking your brother home from school and some kid hits you in the back of your head because he wants to fight with your brother and you say, “No, you’re not going to fight with my brother,” and you tell your brother to keep walking. That’s when character comes out.
Character comes when those magazines tear you apart for something you may or may not have done, and you’ve got to go out and perform tomorrow, with everyone looking at you like you might be an adulterer.
Character comes out when you go to jail for breaking into your high school and everyone in town knows it. And you pull your baseball cap down as tight as you can over your eyes, and you try to make no one see that you’re stupid or that you made a dumb mistake and you’re not a bad kid, you just made a bad choice. That’s when character comes out. ...
The one thing I think I understand as an attitude or impact of character is that it’s not whether or not you win or lose. It’s how you learn from the mistakes that you make and how you perceive the world that’s coming at you, because life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you. ...
I’m the fortunate one. I’m the lucky one. I was born a twin, and from the moment that I came into this world, I had to share it with someone. I shared every birthday, every Christmas. I shared my bedroom. I shared my clothes. I shared everything I had in this world, and I didn’t know that there was another way, because I’ve always had my brother with me.
My brother was born with cerebral palsy, and he taught me that loving people isn’t a choice, and that people aren’t actually all created equal.
The Constitution lies to us; we’re not all created equal.
We’re all created incredibly inequal to one another in our capabilities and what we can do, and how we think and what we see. But we all have the equal capacity to love one other — and my brother taught me that. And he also taught me when I got older — I spent years and years feeling bad about it — our inequalities.
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He also taught me that he had gifts that I didn’t have — extraordinary gifts that I didn’t have. And that every time I felt sorry for him in life, I made him less. He taught me that, and he gave that to me.
ON BEING A PARENT
During the media roundtable: It’s probably the most significant shift I can imagine in your life. I feel like having children is probably the first great shift of life, and then maybe losing your parents is the second greatest shift of life.
When you have kids, you actually understand “unconditional” in an entirely different way.
“Unconditional” is not a choice — there’s no choice in “unconditional,” no choice. And so to choose to be “unconditional” for someone isn’t real. “Unconditional” just is.
I think that when you have kids, you understand what “unconditional” looks like and feels like. ... That’s a dynamic shift in the way that you are as a person — but also the way that you look at the world, because if it’s unconditional, it means that every single action you take in the world could potentially affect their greater good over time. ...
During his speech: But the greatest, greatest lesson on character in my life are my kids. I have two of them. One’s 2 1/2, the other one’s 3 months. (Correction from his table) Four months? ... Geez. Is he already 4 months? You know somebody’s going, “He doesn’t even know how old his kids are. What kind of character does he have?”
That’s the real deal. When my wife and I had these kids, and we got to share that amazing, amazing, amazing honor, my first response was: I wanted to call my parents and say I’m sorry. Because I never knew how much you love me. l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org