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February 22, 2015 01:50 PM

Eva Longoria may have starred in a top-rated television program for eight seasons, but as the last member of her family to receive a Master’s degree, she was considered an “underachiever” in her household.

“When I was on Desperate Housewives, it was the number-one show in the world, and I was ranked really high [on the] Forbes list,” she told a crowd gathered at Harvard University on Saturday. “I said to my mom, ‘Look,’ and she said ‘Right, when are you getting your Master’s?’ ”

Longoria said the importance her family placed on education has stayed with her and is evident in her philanthropic work (including the Eva Longoria Foundation and for Eva’s Heroes), for which she was honored with the Artist of the Year Award at Harvard University on Saturday.

In addition to urging the Ivy League students to use the opportunities they have been given and the knowledge they possess to make the world a better place, Longoria, 39, applauded Harvard for embracing cultural diversity.

“I’ve kind of lived my life straddling the hyphen of being Mexican-American. I kind of just sit on that hyphen, you know – navigating loving enchiladas and apple pie, loving mariachi music and Britney Spears,” she said. “But there are so many moments in my life that were memorable to that experience of being a hybrid, of being a hyphen.”

Longoria, who grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, would often take day trips with her family to Mexico and wondered why they were able to get in the shorter line when entering back into the U.S. while others had to wait in a much longer line.

“[My dad] said they were born on the other side – el otro lado – and I said, ‘Dad, why were we born on this side?’ and he said, ‘Luck,’ and I never forgot that. And I never forgot how important it was to be an American.”

As for that Master’s degree, Longoria made her mom proud when she got a MA in Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge in 2013.

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