'Come From Away’ Broadway Star Surprised with SNHU Diploma After Show
The applause wasn’t over when Friday night’s “Come From Away” curtain call concluded on Broadway. Surrounded by cast members, actress Emily Walton, who stars in the Tony-winning musical as reporter Janice Mosher, was presented with her Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) diploma.
Dr. Paul LeBlanc, SNHU president, commended Walton for her persistence during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We all remember when the lights went out on Broadway. We were mourning and finding things to do,” he said. “Emily decided to do something important. She went back to school to finish her college degree.”
When Walton wrapped up her online psychology degree last month, fellow cast members threw her a party backstage. She shared the celebration on social media, capturing the university’s attention. In collaboration with Broadway staff, LeBlanc traveled to New York City to hand-deliver Walton’s framed diploma with SNHU trustee Melanie Whelan. “I just never thought I’d see this all in writing,” Walton said.
Achieving a Dream During a Pandemic
Walton began her college journey more than a decade ago after completing high school, and while she dreamed of finishing what she started, she wasn’t sure she would. But, when the pandemic began and her work on Broadway halted, she knew it was time.
“Going back to school during the pandemic was honestly a blessing,” she said. “It kept me focused and... I felt like I woke up every day with a purpose.” She said she was glad to have so much time to devote to her education, too.
After doing some research, she chose to transfer her credits to SNHU because of the university’s reputation and affordability. Once enrolled, she found the online classes to be accessible and the whole experience to feel “warm.” Her advisor, Danielle Lavoie, supported her along the way, too.
“When I see commercials for SNHU, I get so excited because I’m like, ‘That’s me. I have that experience, and I know that it’s a big deal for people to go back to school,’” Walton said.
It’s also a big deal when they finish. Walton, who graduated summa cum laude, said unexpectedly celebrating her hard work surrounded by cast members and crew as well as strangers in the audience was “absolutely surreal” and an “out-of-body” experience.
“To have something that I feel like I’ve been quietly pursuing on my own, without a lot of fanfare, to have it be acknowledged with so much fanfare is really, really incredible and makes me feel very proud and loved,” she said.
Surprising Walton with her diploma after “Come From Away” felt extra special to LeBlanc, too, because the audience shared in the celebration, cheering as Walton tossed her graduation cap in the air.
“I think we all have had such a hard pandemic," LeBlanc said, acknowledging Broadway's shutdown and the pause the university took from traditional in-person Commencement ceremonies. "Tonight, we brought them together – and to walk on stage and see Emily’s immediate reaction, it was profound."
As the show goes on for Walton, she plans to hang her diploma in the theater. It’ll be a daily reminder of her accomplishments in a completely different field. “SNHU, to me, represents, like, possibility – and that may sound corny, but I mean it, “ she said. “... It gave me the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine.”
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Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU is a nonprofit, institutionally accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.