Broadway Actress Emily Walton Surprised With Graduation Ceremony on Stage After 'Come From Away' Performance
Like tens of thousands of others in the entertainment industry, Emily Walton found herself out of work when Broadway shutdown in March 2020 due to COVID-19. So, she took advantage of her time off and went back to college.
Tears trickled down Emily Walton’s cheek. She was stunned. All of a sudden, the actress, who plays Janice in Broadway’s “Come From Away,” was wearing a blue graduation cap and gown and being presented with a framed college diploma.
Walton had no idea she’d be surprised with an honorary college graduation ceremony in front of her co-stars and 1,000 strangers after the show at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Friday.
“[There was] an audience [that was] like, ‘we just saw a Broadway musical, but oh, we're also watching this girl cry and get a diploma. What is happening?’ It was insane. It was amazing,” Walton said of the experience.
Like tens of thousands of others in the entertainment industry, Walton found herself out of work when Broadway shutdown in March 2020 due to COVID-19. So, she took advantage of her time off and went back to college. She enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University.
“I woke up every day with a with a purpose when a lot of people were struggling to find that, especially in our industry,” Walton said.
A year into her studies and amid the lockdown, Walton and the rest of the cast were called to film the musical that’s now streaming on Apple TV+.
And as the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, so too did the cast. They also reflected on the true events that unfolded in Gander, Newfoundland, that inspired "Come From Away." “The feelings that that day always conjures for all of us are much more heightened by this show and by being a part of the show," Walton told CBS News.
All the while, Walton kept studying. And now, she's officially earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and is eligible to walk in a graduation ceremony this spring. “I never felt a 100% certain I'd actually finish because I'm in my 30s. I dropped off school when I was 19 and I just didn't know if I ever would,” Walton said.
In the meantime, Walton's fellow castmates and the crew at "Come From Away" threw her a graduation party to celebrate her achievement. And once SNHU heard, the University also wanted to do something special for Walton. So they planned a surprise graduation celebration to hand deliver her diploma and give her a real on-stage graduation.
“We've been apart for about a year and a half, and we have missed a lot of very special events in our family. And tonight we want to share a very special event with you,” actor Joel Hatch said to the crowd following curtain call. He then introduced Paul LeBlanc, SNHU’s president.
“To walk on stage and see Emily's immediate reaction was profound,” said LeBlanc, whose father coincidentally actually helped construct Gander Airport, which became a place of refuge for displaced airplane passengers when U.S. airspace was closed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and featured prominently in "Come From Away."
For Walton, the evening felt like a dream.
“To have something that I've been quietly pursuing on my own without a lot of fanfare and to have it be acknowledged with so much fanfare is really incredible and makes me feel very proud and loved," she said.
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