Greta Gerwig ’06 at the world premiere of “Barbie.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Greta with Barbies
Greta Gerwig '06 behind the scenes on the set of Barbie. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Greta Gerwig’s latest film project, Barbie, which has its global release tomorrow, is among the most anticipated films of the summer. From feature stories in The New York Times and Time magazine to innumerable TV stories and social media posts, Gerwig — the actor, writer, and director — is everywhere right now. But long before Gerwig was everywhere, she was at the gates of 116th Street and Broadway — on the Barnard campus.

When Gerwig majored in English with a theatre concentration, Patricia Denison — associate chair of the Department of English and senior lecturer— was her faculty adviser for all four years.“She was so intellectually curious. She was so remarkably creative,” recalled Denison. “And she just wanted to sample so much.”

Gerwig’s former professors tell a similar story about her.

“Greta was a student of mine in the Renaissance Colloquium — one of our core seminars for juniors — in the fall semester of 2004. She wrote wonderful essays and was a standout in class discussions, taking our conversations to higher planes while keeping a sense of humor and earning the affection of her classmates,” said Peter Platt, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English. “Greta was a pleasure to teach, and the class was simply better because she was in it.”

“She was a lovely presence — very vibrant,” said English Department senior lecturer Maura Spiegel.

Greta varsity show 2
Gerwig (left) participating in Columbia’s Varsity Show in 2005
Greta on set for Lady Bird
Gerwig (right), with Saoirse Ronan, on the set during the production of Lady Bird


Greta Athena Film Festival
(L-R) Debora L. Spar, Greta Gerwig, and Kathryn Kolbert at the 2013 Athena Film Festival
Greta on set Barbie
Gerwig (right), with Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie, during the production of Barbie

Gerwig told reporters during a press junket that she had planned to study musical theatre at either NYU or UCLA. But on a trip to New York City, her father encouraged her to visit Barnard and Columbia. “We did the tour of Columbia, and I liked it. But when I went to Barnard, I wanted to be all the women I met there,” said Gerwig. “I was instantly drawn to the place and the women. They all seemed like superheroes to me. And my whole life plan changed.” Even though she missed the early admissions deadline, she wrote to the admissions office, “If I don’t get in, save my application because I’ll be applying as a transfer next year.”

“What I think captured her about Barnard is that you can test out so many different ways of being yourself,” said Denison, who has been teaching at Barnard since 1990.

“I think it is partly because it is grounded. In the English Department, you have an emphasis on doing a tremendous amount of reading as well as [on] a tremendous amount of writing, so that the best creative writers are also doing analytical writing and then they can begin to focus on a particular genre. So they can really try out different ways of being a writer,” said Denison.

As silver screens around the world light up in pink, Denison — who is in London for the summer — will be among the legions of Gerwig, Barbie, and movie fans flocking to the theatre.

“I love the way some of the advertising is framing it — that Barbie is a movie for those who hate Barbie and Barbie is a movie for those who love Barbie,” said Denison. “During interviews for the movie, [Gerwig] talks about joy. She wants to bring joy to people, and that’s what I felt was very much with her as an undergraduate as well.”

LISTEN: Gerwig discusses her big love for Barnard on the podcast Choice Words with Samanta Bee: