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Grad Student Gets Invite to "Ellen Show"

STM/GSSW student Liz D'Onofrio (left) and her friend Brianna Lambro were guests of Ellen DeGeneres.

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: February 7, 2014

To say that the phone call Boston College graduate student Liz D’Onofrio got last fall was memorable, would be an understatement. The caller was talk show host, comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres, who reached out to D’Onofrio after she had posted the following on her facebook page: “I just answered an unknown number because I actually thought it might be Ellen DeGeneres. I never, ever want to miss that call.”

While D’Onofrio had heard from a producer of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” after that post, she had no idea DeGeneres would call her directly, much less during a taping of the talk show.

“It was very surprising,” said D’Onofrio, who said she could hear the audience reacting as she answered DeGeneres’ call. Initially, the point of DeGeneres’ call was to offer D’Onofrio a copy of her new CD, “Ellen’s I’m Gonna Make you Dance Jams.”

But a stronger connection was made when DeGeneres found out about D’Onofrio’s work as an intern at the Children’s Room in Arlington, a place that offers support for grieving children who have lost someone in their family. DeGeneres responded with “I love you…I’m so glad I called you.” Next thing D’Onofrio knew, DeGeneres had invited her to California to meet her and come to a taping of the show.

[Watch the exchange here (about 1:28 into video).]

D’Onofrio said it was a “whirlwind” after that, with so many people reaching out to her after hearing about her celebrity encounter. Producers made arrangements for an all-expenses-paid trip to the show for Jan. 23.

D’Onofrio, who started watching “Ellen” when she was in high school, has been a longtime fan of DeGeneres. “I like her message. She is very accepting and is all about being yourself. Her humor in not about tearing people down. Plus, she shares her wealth. She really values giving back.”

D’Onofrio knows a thing or two about giving. After graduation in May, she plans to pursue a career in palliative or hospice care. A graduate of St. Bonaventure University and native of Montrose, NY, D’Onofrio chose to pursue graduate studies at Boston College because of the dual degree program in pastoral ministry and social work offered through the School of Theology and Ministry and Graduate School of Social Work -- and because she “loves the city of Boston.”

Before flying out to California, D’Onofrio had some shopping to do. The show was to coincide with DeGeneres’ birthday, so D’Onofrio wanted to bring the comedian a gift. “It was weird to be at the BC Bookstore shopping for Ellen’s birthday,” she said. Among the items that made it into the gift bag was a stuffed bear with a BC scarf.

But what would television be without a plot twist? Turns out shortly after D’Onofrio and the rest of the audience were seated for the taping, a producer delivered some bad news: For the first time in 11 seasons, DeGeneres was out sick.

“At first, we thought it was a joke,” said D’Onofrio. Then, reality hit. “I was a little disappointed.”

Actress Ellie Kemper, a star of the television show “The Office” and the movie “Bridesmaids,” filled in as host. The guest was television star Neil Patrick Harris. “The show was a lot of fun,” said D’Onofrio, who left her gift bag for DeGeneres with a producer. “Guess it became a get-well gift bag.”

The story still has the chance for a “happily ever after” ending. According to D’Onofrio, DeGeneres felt so bad that she missed the show, she invited the entire audience to come back for another taping—all expenses paid. They have been invited to return in December to one of the very popular “12 Days of Giveaways” shows.

D’Onofrio will hear back from producers in November with the details, but says she is “on board” to make the trip again, and hopefully, meet DeGeneres. As they say in TV land, to be continued…