Last Thursday at lunch, Berkeleyites got a taste of Hogwarts alongside their dining hall enchiladas.
Emma Watson, 18, the actress who plays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, was on campus Thursday as part of a series of visits to East Coast colleges and universities. Watson stopped in New Haven to take a private tour of Yale’s campus and talk to students about their experiences at the University. During her brief visit, Watson generated considerable attention on a campus known for its resemblance to — and obsession with — Hogwarts.
John Song ’11, a sports reporter for the News, was eating lunch in the main dining hall when Watson descended from the upstairs Berkeley Swiss Room to bus her tray. Dozens of cell phones instantly materialized in the hands of starstruck students.
“Everyone just got out their phones and started calling people,” he said, adding that he first text-messaged his mother. “There was kind of a … little buzz around, everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Emma Watson,’ but no one went up to her.”
Amandla Ooko-Ombaka ’10, who works at the admissions office, was one of the lucky undergraduates who ate lunch with Watson and a few other Yalies. The young actress wanted a first-hand account of academic and social life at Yale, she said.
One of the topics discussed, Ooko-Ombaka recalled, was the benefits of a liberal arts education — a system not as common on the other side of the pond.
“She was really, really very down-to-earth, and we just talked to her as Yale students,” she said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, you were in Harry Potter.’ ”
Before lunch Thursday, Watson took a private tour led by Drew Rowny ’10, head tour guide for the admissions office. Her itinerary included typical prospective student staples such as an information session, Rowny said, but the French-born British actress requested that her visit be kept to a low profile.
“Emma Watson requesting a tour is a little bit different than Joe Six-Pack requesting a tour, but not so much,” he said. “I think we treat everyone who asks for a tour pretty similarly. My sense is that she had a good visit, and that who knows, [hopefully] she’s going to put an application in.”
But for Rowny himself, the tour certainly had its unique moments. On part of his tour, he usually tells a joke that features wizards as the punchline, but he decided to omit it this time in front of Hermione “for obvious reasons.”
Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said the admissions office tries to accommodate “reasonable” requests for private tours if the person in question is highly recognizable.
“[Watson] wanted to come to see Yale, not to be treated as a celebrity,” Brenzel said.
But Brenzel emphasized that the offices does not give special treatment to some groups over others, nor does he personally give evaluative interviews to candidates or counsel candidates about their applications.
Even for those who did not have the chance to meet Watson in person, signs of campus excitement generated by her visit still linger. By the tray racks in the Saybrook College dining hall, the only hint of color in the white-tiled area is a glamorous close-up of the actress in a pink dress.
“Do you want Emma Watson to come to Yale?” the poster reads. “Then push your tray to the back!”