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Six degrees of celebrity run-ins

Besides that time my family and I ate dinner in the booth across from Dennis Quaid and his son, I haven't had much direct exposure to celebrity. That is, not until my definition of fame began to morph.

My best Hamline buddy is the theatrical daughter of two actors, one of whom plays the Reverend in Chanhassen's current production of Footloose (I'll let you guess which). Gwen, my new pal, secured our mutual friend Meghan and I free tickets -- in the Director's Box, no less!

There we were, enjoying caviar and champagne amongst the elite theatre-goers of the metro area -- ah, but I exaggerate. Suffice it to say we were pretty darn pumped at our (literally) lofty seating.

Imagine our awe when Gwen's famous father introduced us to his fellow actors at the cast party following the show.

Meghan and I, stereotypically star-struck, stood with our arms around each other's waists in defeated attempts to remain upright, and if you check out my Facebook photos, you might glimpse one of us three clustered around the way-cooler-than-Kevin-Bacon lead, who Meghan was distraught to discover already has his wedding set for this summer.

Altogether, our experience with the famed of Footloose was much cooler than seeing Clay Aiken in Spamalot on Broadway; he was an astronomical jerk about posing for pictures with the likes of us common folk.

To top it off, skimming through the program revealed DL's own Rico Heisler as a cast member. This is a guy who was my swimming instructor only several summers back.

How much more awesome is that than telling people about how my aunt once babysat for Matt Malloy, famous for his roles as Men's Store Salesman in "As Good as it Gets," Contest Official in "Lords of Dogtown," and appearances in every TV show from "House" to "Desperate Housewives" (which, as we all understand, is a necessary prerequisite for fame)?

A couple weeks ago, I covered a Conversation with the President of the University for Hamline's campus newspaper. It wasn't the flashbulb-blinding, shouted-questions-from-the-press-deafening sort of hullabaloo I'd envisioned, but when a freshman mentioned President Hanson's alleged 100 percent salary increase over the past four years and asked whether she felt herself deserving, I got more than the spoonful of controversy I'd been craving.

Afterwards, I interviewed said gutsy first-year, who was more than happy for the coverage, and who I learned had taken a shower on my floor that very morning. (There is no non-creepy way to phrase that.) Can you say 'paparazzi?'

Still, I'd call that a dozen times more impressive than my un-provable suspicion that we stayed in a cabin neighboring Johnny Depp's one summer, even though those kids were the right ages to be his and the chick with him looked an awful lot like his supermodel girlfriend...

Last weekend, I helped run the judges' lounge at the DL speech invite, which put me in charge of setting up sandwich stations and maintaining a steady supply of coffee for the adults I've spent the past four years trying to impress with my speeching abilities. I watched judges who gave me raving critiques eat Special K bars, and guided those who still intimidate the curls out of my hair to where room 301 is located.

It was far more remarkable than bringing up the fact that my aunt was girlhood friends with a famous actress whose name you'd recognize if I could for the life of me recall it.

The thing is, these are all ordinary people: parents, students, kids from my hometown. The overwhelming excitement I experienced certainly wasn't warranted....right? My designation of excellence has surely become too liberal. My threshold for renown has lowered!

I recently met Professor Berkson, who gave me a telephone interview last spring for an academic scholarship, this time face-to-face. Without exaggeration, I can say that interview is one of the most prominent reasons I'm here today; we talked about theatre and religion, catching each other's enthusiasm, and would undoubtedly have continued for hours if the interview wasn't limited to 20 minutes. In person, he was even more impressive.

Call him one of the "working-class heroes" they sing about, but remember he's only one of many. Glory doesn't come with movie deals and modeling contracts, magazine covers and adoring fans. I dare you to find a celebrity in your vicinity today -- it shouldn't be much of a challenge. And if said celebrity happens to resemble Good Sir Depp, all the more power to you.

Thressa Johnson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends Hamline University in St. Paul.