Emma Watson took the minimalist approach to announcing her graduation from Brown University this weekend by tweeting a single exclamation point and a selfie in a cap and gown.
The actor most commonly known as Hermione from the Harry Potter film series joins others like Laura Linney, Leelee Sobieski, and Eva Amurri as Brown alumnae, and peers like Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, and Brooke Shields, who stepped back from busy careers in entertainment to reach their goals in higher education.
And I say: Good for her. Good for all of them.
Emma also happened to have a woman sitting next to her at graduation who turned out to be an armed bodyguard, so the truth is that as a well-known public figure, she is not necessarily like every other graduate, at least when it comes to any time spent in the public eye. She left Brown for a time in 2011, and said at the time that her celebrity was an issue in her campus experience.
I was in denial. I wanted to pretend I wasn’t as famous as I was. I was trying to seek out normality, but I kind of have to accept who I am, the position I’m in and what happened … I say to my friends, ‘Why hasn’t X called me? Why doesn’t anyone ever pursue me?’ They’re like, ‘Probably because they’re intimidated.’ It must be the fame wall. It must be the circus that goes around me. Me, as a person, I find it hard to believe I would be intimidating.
With personal challenges arising from fame, even fame that came as the result of great success in her chosen field, it makes sense that she — that anyone—would seek out normalcy. Acting is one of the few fields where people seem to make a big deal out of anyone entering or returning to college, although drama programs are common at colleges and universities, and legends like Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler — to name a few — all have degrees from prestigious universities. It’s pretty normal for a person to want a college education, even if it’s not required to advance in her field.
Emma kept working, filming the last Harry Potter movies while school was in session along with others, including Noah and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She told Rookie magazine last year that she appreciated Brown’s open approach to studying, which may have helped her in juggling work and school:
I really like the fact that it has a very open curriculum, that there aren’t any requirements. Really, I’ve kind of been in charge of my own education since I started out on Potter when I was 9 or 10, and I liked that I could design my own major if I wanted to, and I could take independent studies if I wanted to on subjects that weren’t necessarily in the curriculum. I did an independent study on the psychology and philosophy of how and why we fall in love, which was awesome.
Sounds like a dream school to me and an approach that has helped Emma get ready for the next thing, whatever that may be. She told Wonderland earlier this year that she has no idea what that is going to be:
In a way, I started out like this old lady, and now I feel like my age is catching up with me. And I’m excited by all these new things for me to do. I feel like I have so much more to accomplish as an actress. I’d love to try theater and that’s a whole other thing. But when I finish my degree, I will have a lot more time to pursue other passions, and I want to figure out what those will be. I love having something completely unrelated to the film industry. I want to find something that will let me use my brain in another way. I like connecting people who aren’t part of that world, too.
I was a young girl when Jodie Foster went to Yale, and I was so impressed that a person that successful and talented would take the time and effort to go to college. Education was always very important to me, and it was cool to see a person I considered another kind of role model prioritize it too, no matter how far her Yale access and undoubted lack of trouble paying tuition were away from my personal experience. I know that Emma Watson is interested in expanding her reach far beyond Hermione and Hogwarts, but the truth is that she has been part of the entertainment landscape for going on two generations of young people now. So even though art is not life, and Emma the person and Hermione the character are distinctly different, I appreciate the cred they have both given to girls who are smart, capable, goal-oriented, hardworking, and passionate about living their best lives. I like this kind of role model, for kids and grown-ups alike. And I hope that whatever Emma Watson chooses to do and wherever her passions take her, that she is very, very happy.
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