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Actor Stephanie Gould Surprised Onstage With Diploma Delivery

SNHU graduate Stephanie Gould holding her diploma with SNHU's executive vice president and university provost, Lisa Marsh Ryerson

It started as an inside joke between a student and her academic advisor.

When Stephanie Gould ‘24G saw a video of a graduate receiving their diploma on stage, she playfully said that she’d love to experience the same when she graduated from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Although this is far from a typical experience for graduates, in this case, the stars happened to align.

As an actress who has appeared in Emmy winning shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Gould is no stranger to performing. She’s been working in television for over a decade and has appeared in a variety of shorts and stage shows. However, when she mentioned that video, she didn’t know she’d actually end up starring in an off-Broadway play right after finishing her master’s in English and creative writing.

Gould shared the good news of her casting with her advisor, Kayla Morrison. With knowledge of Gould’s journey to a degree and her achievements at SNHU, Morrison quietly reached out and informed others in the university — keeping the plans a total secret.

Taking the Stage

SNHU graduate Stephanie Gould holding her diploma with SNHU's executive vice president and university provost, Lisa Marsh RyersonGould, who lives with cerebral palsy, joined the cast of “Cost of Living” in Boston this March during Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony-nominated play follows two sets of relationships featuring characters with and without disabilities. In the role of Ani, Gould portrayed a woman who suffered a spinal cord injury which led her estranged ex-husband, Eddie, to re-enter her life.

At her Thursday night show at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, she had some special guests in the packed audience.

After she and the rest of the cast took their bows, Morrison and SNHU's executive vice president and university provost Lisa Marsh Ryerson joined Gould on stage in an emotional moment. When she realized what was happening, tears streamed down Gould’s face and a castmate handed her a tissue.

After a quick costume change into graduation regalia, Ryerson congratulated Gould on graduating with a perfect grade point average. “It was so fabulous to see you on stage with your cast mates, but you have done all of this and graduated with a 4.0,” Ryerson said. “Congratulations! You did it.”

Gould shared hugs with Morrison and Ryerson while on stage. Then, Ryerson handed Gould a framed diploma, and it was official. Gould was a graduate with a master’s degree and all the accoutrement to prove it.

Under the Spotlight

The onstage celebration was a surprise that Gould didn’t see coming, and she was especially shocked to learn that her parents were in on it, too.

SNHU graduate Stephanie Gould with her cast members on stage
“I did not know any of this,” she said. “I did not know they can keep surprises, but they can.”

To have this moment coincide with this particular show made the evening all the more significant for Gould. “Cost of Living” has been something of a holy grail for her, and this wasn’t the first time she auditioned for a role in the play.

“I auditioned for the original back in 2016, and it didn’t happen for years and years,” she said after the performance and surprise.

It just so happened that everything fell into place in her hometown, right after she completed her degree.

The show’s messages always resonated with Gould as a performer with disabilities, and she knew right away that she wanted to be a part of it.

“It’s important to realize disabled actors are out there and we exist,” she said. “We can access parts of ourselves that are different and unique and use them to our advantage.”

In this way, she said disability can actually be an asset to a performer, as is often the case in productions of “Cost of Living.”

Behind the Curtain

Gould said she was overwhelmed by the experience of celebrating both of these milestones with her SNHU family.

Morrison and Gould had a close relationship throughout Gould’s time at SNHU.

“We've had many great conversations about school and writing, but our relationship grew, and I've gotten to know Stephanie quite well,” Morrison said. “We've shared many laughs and tears throughout her program.”

SNHU graduate Stephanie Gould on stage with her cast members

Gould said Morrison was a huge support throughout her journey to earn this degree.

“She was there when I needed her,” Gould said of her advisor. “It’s important to have people on your side.”

She said studying online was an ideal solution for her busy life. “It was perfect, actually. I could do it on my own time but with a schedule, as well,” said Gould. “You had certain due dates, but you can take your time. It was really conducive to what I do, so it was great.”

This moment wasn’t just a celebration of her success as an actor. The degree also marked the beginning of a new era for Gould as a writer.

Although she had already co-written and starred in a one-person show in 2016, the degree let her further develop her craft and prepare for future endeavors.

“Stephanie entering and earning accolades for her scripts were exciting moments for both of us along her journey,” Morrison said. “She always called to let me know she entered a contest and would call so we could celebrate together when she placed or won.”

The Next Act

SNHU graduate Stephanie Gould with SNHU's executive vice president and university provost, Lisa March Ryerson

After her run in “Cost of Living,” Gould isn’t sure exactly what will come next, but she’s got a few ideas. First, she said she’d love to use her degree to teach. She also noted that she’d love the screenplay she wrote as a part of her master’s program to be produced.

“I’d love to get the thesis that I did made,” she said. “That’s my goal.”

Morrison, for one, has no doubts in Gould’s ability to turn that goal into an accomplishment, too. “I've always known Stephanie to challenge herself and take advantage of opportunities,” Morrison said. “When she sets her mind to something, she does it and does it well.”

The evening was proof of just that. In addition to celebrating Gould’s achievements, Ryerson noted that the surprise ceremony could also serve as a motivational moment for everyone who witnessed it.

“What’s so special about it also is it’s an inspiration for others in the audience tonight who hear about Stephanie and her story and see the light and pathway to possibility,” she said.

Discover more about SNHU's master's in English and creative writing: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

Mars Girolimon '21 '23G is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University where they earned their bachelor's and master's, both in English and creative writing. In addition to their work in higher education, Girolimon's short fiction is published in the North American Review, So It Goes by The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, X-R-A-Y and more. They're currently writing their debut novel, which was Longlisted for The First Pages Prize. Connect with them on LinkedIn.

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