Famously dubbed "the thinking teenager's movie goddess," actress Julia Stiles kicked off a professional acting career at 11 years old. Beginning her journey with stage and TV appearances, she soon landed prominent roles in several popular teen films. Her breakthrough film was the comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, where Stiles played the role of a shrewish high school girl who was as unpopular as she was intelligent. Her winning performance was rewarded with an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance and Stiles was nominated for two Teen Choice Awards that year.
Since then, the actress’s film career has included both critical and commercial success, such as her supporting role alongside Matt Damon in the Bourne film series. On top of her acting chops, Stiles has been vocal as a social and political activist. She is a proponent of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and worked with Amnesty International in raising awareness of the harsh conditions of the immigration detention of unaccompanied juveniles.
Besides being an accomplished actress, Stiles is also highly intelligent, and one of the few people to successfully balance the disparate worlds of academia and Hollywood. In 2001, Stiles stepped away from the camera in order to attend Columbia University, where she felt that "for the most part, all that matters is my ideas." She even lived in one of the dorms (John Jay Hall) where she purportedly set the kitchen on fire. And although she claimed that her star power was mostly ignored at the Ivy League school because "there's that thing in academia where movie-making isn't supposed to be that important," her time on campus wasn't without incident.
When she poked fun at the campus frat contingent and referred to the Columbia cafeteria workers as "mole people" on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, a campus-wide stir erupted. A harsh editorial in the school paper painted her as a "sloe-eyed Hollywood wench." In the end, however, everything worked out for the actress, who graduated in 2005 with a degree in English literature.
Speaking to the importance of her time at Columbia, Stiles said, "I am so grateful for that experience, all four years... It gave me perspective when I was starting to enter the world of 'famous actor' and I refused to drop out because I didn’t want my attendance to just be some talking point in those interviews. You have to have a full life outside of acting, especially in order to be a good actor, so while a liberal arts education may not be obviously vocational, it informs my work all the time."
After graduation, her acting career did not go unnoticed by the university, as Stiles later received a John Jay Award in 2010. The annual honorary award is given to five alumni by the Columbia College Alumni Association for professional achievements. In her speech, Stiles discussed the challenges of balancing education and her acting career, praising Columbia for teaching her that, "...my career and my studies were not mutually exclusive."