20 Celebrities Who Went to Harvard

Matt Damon

Graduating high school is an achievement for some teenagers who cannot wait to begin their adulthood phase. While others hope to join whichever college they can be accepted into, some aim for the best institutions. Harvard University ranks high in the list of prestigious universities around the world and has strict admission criteria hence the low admission rate of 5%. Some celebrities go to the university even after attaining their celebrity status, while others attended the campus before they knew they would become famous. Below is a list of 20 celebrities who went to Harvard University.

1. Barack Obama

According to NPR, Obama made a lasting first impression, not just with his outfits comprising skinny jeans paired with a sweatshirt, but also with his intent to make a difference at the institution. He was ever attentive in class, preferring to sit in the front row and capturing everyone’s contribution to whatever topic was being discussed. Going to Harvard seemed like a family tradition because his father had also furthered his studies there; it is no wonder that when Obama dropped off his daughter, Malia, at the prestigious school, he shed tears.

2. Matt Damon

Although he is best known for “The Bourne” movies, the actor still embraced quality education, perhaps being influenced by his mother, who was a professor. He already had a promising career at the time he applied to the university and even stated in his application that he wanted to be an actor. The university accepted his application, and Damon studied English. He scored an A for writing a play in a playwriting class and one of the scenes inspired “Good Will Hunting.” However, Damon dropped out before he could graduate.

3. Al Gore

According to The New York Times, the former Vice President of the United States was so determined to study at Harvard that he had not applied elsewhere. Gore explained that he was motivated by the knowledge that it was the best university and that President John F. Kennedy had also studied there. Like Obama, Gore was set on making a difference in the campus; hence, he sought to be president of the freshman council, beginning his campaign on the second day after he arrived at the campus.

4. Natalie Portman

Portman arrived at the campus in 1999 as a freshman eager to prove she was not a dumb actress. She was already self-sabotaging herself by feeling like she was not smart enough to be at Harvard and that people would think she had only been accepted because she was a famous actress. Luckily, she overcame her low self-esteem and graduated in 2003 with a degree in psychology. She was named the Class Day speaker for the 2015 graduating class.

5. John F. Kennedy

When JFK wrote an essay hoping to be accepted into the prestigious university, he only used five sentences to convince the admission panel. As disclosed by Town and Country Magazine, his main reasons for wanting to study at Harvard were that the university had something definite to offer him and that his father was an alumnus. He was only 17 at the time he sent his application and he arrived at the campus in 1936 to study for his Bachelor of Arts degree in government. He graduated in 1940.

6. Michelle Obama

This former first lady impressed her law professor Charles Ogletree so much that he said she was a much better fit for the oval office, unlike her husband, who spoke too much. The professor said although Obama was great, his wife could have easily become president if she ran for the seat, but Ogletree did not think she would. All the same, Ogletree was lucky to have even crossed paths with Michelle because she almost did not get into Harvard, thanks to a letter of recommendation from her Princeton professor that gave quite a brutally honest response. Fortunately, after Michele proved herself to the professor at Princeton University, he wrote her another recommendation letter that got her accepted into Harvard.

7. Eliot Spitzer

The Crimson published an article detailing Spitzer’s days at Harvard Law School. Spitzer was such a meticulous student that even his professors would advise him to have a little fun instead of working hard all the time. In 1984, he graduated from Harvard Law School and was invited to the campus nearly two decades later to lecture on government regulation. Spitzer ended up in politics as the governor of New York. Unfortunately, he started compensating for the lack of fun he did not have in college by sleeping with prostitutes. The scandal cost him not only his gubernatorial seat but also his reputation. Even the Harvard Club of New York City did not want to be associated with him and rejected his membership application.

8. Hill Harper

Harper received a J.D. from Harvard Law School after graduating cum laude in 1992. While at the campus he met Obama at the basketball court, and they hit it off. The two often played basketball at a maximum-security prison thanks to an initiative that the actor had begun. Harper did an outreach program for black students, so an inmate wrote him a letter telling the actor that Harvard students did not interact with inmates. For this reason, Harper organized a basketball game at the prison and got Obama and a few other friends to go with him. The actor said that the act positively influenced Obama because he was the first president to visit a prison while in office.

9. Ashley Judd

This “Double Jeopardy” actress decided to enroll for a Ph.D. at Harvard University, saying that it was not due to prestige but for the sake of becoming an effective activist. She already had a master’s degree in public administration from the same university. She had previously studied at the University of Kentucky, majoring in French studies, but her degree was delayed for 17 years because Judd neglected completing paperwork for a course substitution. Before she decided to apply to Harvard, the actress had considered joining the University of California Berkeley to study public health.

10. Mira Sorvino

Sorvino is well known as the person who ignited the #MeToo campaign after accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. According to Los Angeles Times, she majored in East Asian literature and culture. Sorvino was torn between continuing with her studies and pursuing her acting career after she was passed over in films. However, a friend of her father convinced her to stay in school and graduate.

11. Rashida Jones

Jones is an alumnus of the 1997 class. She was determined to study law at Harvard Law School, but the Simpson murder trial made her see a different side to her chosen career path. As a result, she began exploring other different career paths. She was not in her best mental health while at the university, but acting helped to end her depression, enabling her to graduate with a degree in religion and philosophy.

12. Conan O’Brien

When O’Brien delivered his speech to the Harvard Class of 2000, he revealed that he was overweight and had the ugliest picture on the freshman Facebook page. He told the students that although they looked up to him as a demigod and celebrity, he still suffered from the same self-doubt that most of them probably had upon joining the prestigious campus. The well-known award-winning comedian began his career in comedy at Harvard University by becoming a writer for Harvard Lampoon, a humor magazine. In 1983 and 1984, he was elected the magazine’s president and in 1985, he graduated Magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American History.

13. Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg’s father had a tradition of giving his children an ultimatum of either going to college or running their own franchises. The CEO of Facebook chose to go to college and arrived on campus in 2002 to study psychology and computer science. He dropped out to focus on his business which would eventually become Facebook. Looking back, he joked that his parents probably thought he should have taken the money and run a franchise if all he wanted was to be an entrepreneur. Zuckerberg eventually got an honorary degree from Harvard in 2017.

14. Chris Hughes

When Zuckerberg was at Harvard University, fate conspired to have Hughes as his roommate. Hughes at the time worked at the Hicks House library, earning $10 per hour. The two roommates began chatting about Facebook because Hughes was interested in discussing his ownership stake after helping Zuckerberg with the site’s marketing, user experience, and media coverage. Although Hughes wanted a 10% stake in the startup, Zuckerberg gave him 2% which earned Hughes $500 million in 2012 when Facebook went public.

15. Barney Frank

Frank became the first US congressman to announce that he was gay. It was no surprise seeing that he has been known for standing firm on his political opinions and fighting for his beliefs. He loved politics and would engage in debates with his roommate at Harvard. Even before coming out of the closet, he filed the first gay rights bill in the early 1970s when he was a state legislator in Massachusetts. Such milestones became major topics of reference during his lectures at Harvard University, where he returned to offer his teaching services.

16. James Blake

Blake is known for being a professional tennis player. He started playing the sport as a child and his parents, who volunteered in the Harlem Junior Tennis program, were his instructors. However, the parents always hammered in him the importance of academics, but Blake was set on pursuing the sport professionally. He was therefore undecided on going to Harvard. His brother, Tom, who had also gone to Harvard and was great at tennis, convinced him that the campus would offer a chance at both academics and sports. Blake was the first-ever freshman to win All-American, and in his sophomore year, the tennis player was the ITA Collegiate Player of the year.

17. Donal Logue

According to Buzzfeed, Logue was raised to be a hard worker like his parents. He said it is the norm in Irish families where children are taught to be independent and to start earning money from the age of 10. Therefore, even when he attended Harvard, Logue also was a security guard and janitor to earn extra money. He had Harrison Ford as his ethics professor while at the campus.

18. Henry Kissinger

Kissinger arrived in the US as a German immigrant in 1938, carrying along a dog named Smokey. When he was 24, Kissinger was accepted at Harvard and hid the dog in his dorm room. He was not welcomed by everyone at the campus because some thought that after serving in World War II, Harvard should not have accepted him. The critics called him a war criminal but Kissinger still graduated summa cum laude. He had even become a Phi Beta Kappa member and wrote a 388-page thesis in his senior year that prompted all future government theses to have a 150-page limit.

19. Colin Jost

Like O’Brien, Jost honed his comedy skills at Harvard University, where he was the president of Harvard Lampoon. He was at the campus at the same time as Hughes and Zuckerberg but was a year ahead. His love for comedy began early, and even in his high school, Jost would intern at the Staten Island’s Advance paper. He also wrote articles for other publications, and after graduating from Harvard, Jost joined the payroll of Advance as a night editor.

20. John Lithgow

In 2017, Lithgow became the 24th recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, an award that recognizes a graduate of Harvard for excellence in arts. He graduated magna cum laude in 1967 after studying History and Literature. In 2005, he delivered a Harvard commencement address, becoming the first-ever professional actor to do so.

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