Why do we listen to movie stars? Why do people snatch up millions of magazines a year because they featured an interview with Robin Williams or Halle Berry? What makes people take notice when Madonna announces she has adopted yet another child from a third-world country? This phenomenon is difficult to explain. Movie stars make us cry, laugh, and ponder. We watch them for hours. We try to dress and act like them. We steal their jokes and pick-up lines. And when they get up to say something, the media shows up to capture each second. Some can be seen promoting world peace, others promoting world idiocy. Some of their attempts can be very helpful (i.e. Bono vs. AIDS in Africa), others just plain foolhardy and disastrous (i.e. Hanoi Jane). Needless to say, we place a huge amount of trust and credibility on our Hollywood celebrities.

Are they worth listening to? Granted, the entertainment industry is one that has always placed a higher premium on experience than on education. However, given that so many of them raise their voices outside of the film realm, we thought it would be worthwhile to look at the educational backgrounds for some of Hollywood’s most influential stars. How many of them can match the characters they play? How many of them are actually qualified to speak to the complex and multi-faceted problems that afflict the globe? See who makes the grade below:

will smith collegeWill Smith

Despite rumors that the Fresh Prince was once accepted to the pre-engineering program at none other than MIT, Smith has made it clear that he was never accepted to or attended the prestigious school. He does, however, admit to having high SAT scores. Unfortunately, test scores are regularly criticized as being poor indicators of performance. Therefore, personally, I’m more apt to listen to his solider-scientist Robert Neville in this season’s I Am Legend or his cocky Air Force fighter pilot in Independence Day. His grade: B

Brad Pitt

brad pitt collegeHaving seen Pitt as the buffed up Achilles and a super-assassin opposite Ms. Jolie, it’s not hard to imagine him at Kickapoo High School (you’ve gotta love those hideous English spellings of Indian words), where he was involved in sports, debating, student government, and acting. Following high school, he attended the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri – Columbia. Journalism isn’t a far cry from Pitt’s current humanitarian work in ravaged New Orleans where he is creating affordable housing in the Ninth Ward for Katrina survivors. Do I believe this role? Yeah. His grade: A

Paris Hilton

This key member of the Triad of Embarrassing Bombshells attended Marywood-Palm Valley School in Rancho Mirage, California her freshman year of high school, Dwight School in New York for her sophomore and junior years, and then a few months at Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut before dropping out. Despite her lack of opportunity and resources, Hilton pulled herself up by her bootstraps and eventually earned a GED. Way to go! Seriously, when I hear that Paris decided to become a spokesperson against fur and for vegetarianism, I can’t help but think that she would do more damage than good to any given cause. Note to all do-gooders: until Paris grows enough of an intellect to stop setting herself up for public floggings, keep her away from your cause. Her grade: D

Sean Penn

This lauded actor and director briefly attended Santa Monica College, where he studied Auto Mechanics and Speech but did not graduate. If you’ve attended college, you know that Auto Mechanics and History, Political Science, or International Relations are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Forgive me then if I don’t quite take Penn’s buddy-buddy relationship with dictator Hugo Chavez or Penn’s views on American foreign policy seriously. As well-intentioned as he may be, Penn doesn’t have the training or experience to justify his claims. His movies are great, but I’m not believing this role. His grade: C

denzel washington collegeDenzel Washington

Before he played an anti-apartheid activist, a black Union soldier, Malcolm X, a detective, a drug kingpin, and a hard-driving football coach, Washington attended the University of Oklahoma. He eventually dropped out but attained a B.A. in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977. Interesting tidbit: Washington played collegiate basketball under coach P.J. Carlesimo. He still found time to pursue his interest in acting, and after graduation he went to the San Francisco American Conservatory Theatre for one year. As far as causes go, Washington has been an avid supporter of the Girls & Boys Club of America, having benefited from their services as a child. Maybe that’s why he plays the role so well. His grade: A+

Sylvester Stallone

In an unexpected example of a book that can’t be judged by its cover, Stallone, who will forever be labeled as the dull tool Rocky Balboa, is actually a scholar. He attended a private boarding school and then the American College of Switzerland in Laysin and the University of Miami for three years. He came within a few credit hours of graduation before deciding to drop out and pursue an acting career. Like his little-engine-that-could onscreen alter ego, Stallone never gave up and later requested that his acting and life experiences be accepted in exchange for his remaining credits. He was granted a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree by the President of the University of Miami in 1999. Stallone isn’t one to open his mouth very often, but I’ll give him my ear when he does. His grade: B

angelina jolie collegeAngelina Jolie

Jolie had a rough go at it through high school. She studied at the Lee Strasburg Theatre Institute for two years as a child. She attended and graduated from Beverly Hills High but never went on to college. Years later, Jolie is known worldwide for her acting skills, martial arts prowess, and her bee-stung lips. No Hollywood celebrity has been as active in the international scene as of late as Jolie. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and visits refugee camps worldwide. She has been highly visible in meetings with U.S. lawmakers and has received numerous distinctions for her efforts. Which begs the question: is she qualified to speak to these issues? Perhaps not from an expert’s perspective. However, one cannot argue with her drive and sincerity. Maybe some causes don’t require a degree. Her grade: A

Samuel L. Jackson

Jackson attended Riverside High, playing the French horn and trumpet in the school orchestra. He later attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he co-founded the “Just Us Theater” and graduated in 1972. As far as causes go, Jackson is as authentic as they come. He was a part of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and was an usher at the funeral for Martin Luther King, Jr. He held the Morehouse Board of Trustees hostage, demanding reform at the school. He was suspended for two years but returned to get a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama. Following, he got involved buying guns for the Black Panthers. Would I give much credence to Mr. Jackson talking about global warming? Not likely. Would I believe anything he said about civil rights in America? Heck yeah. His grade: A-

madonna collegeMadonna

She attended Rochester Adams High School, where she was a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan after graduating from high school. After being convinced by her ballet teacher, she left the University of Michigan at the end of her sophomore year in 1977 and moved to New York City to pursue a dance career. Madonna has always been a controversial figure, promoting open sexuality, openly railing against the Catholic church and the Bush administration, warning against global warming, adopting children from third-world countries, and stirring up Jewish scholars in Israel. Should we consider her a credible voice in these matters? Doubtful. Her grade: B-

Lucy Liu

All that and brains, too, apparently. This Charlie’s Angels star graduated from New York City’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School in 1986. She attended New York University for one year, before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Asian Languages and Cultures. In addition to speaking five languages, Liu has been involved in several causes. She was a spokesperson for a breast cancer awareness fundraiser, is a U.S. Fund for UNICEF ambassador, has produced documentaries to raise awareness of human trafficking, and has been recognized as the most well-known Asian American in the media today. Looks like a good fit to me. Her grade: B+

Of course, it’s great to have fame and fortune. But wouldn’t it be great to have credibility, too? Whether you are in the midst of your college search, in college, or in your career, remember that the last is the most important of the three.

Who do you think is the most well-educated Hollywood star? Leave your comments below!

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13 comments on “Education of the Stars

  • How much sense does it make to give the college drop-out Angelina Jolie an A and give Lucy Lui, who you say speaks five languages and has a degree, a B+? You should simply give the information and omit the “grade.”

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  • Love the blog.  I grew up in the Hollywood crowd and celebs are mostly a bunch of kooky blowhards.  You should add Leo Dicaprio to the list.  He's always spouting off with scientific authority on global warming BS and yet doesn't have a stitch of scientific background, educationally or experientially.

  • Jodie Foster is tops – graduated valedictorian from high school and magna cum laude from Yale in Literaure; won awards for acting and had a very intellectual approach to her career..!

  • Just because you have a degree from Harvard doesn’t necessarily make you a genius; take George W. Bush for example who had the intellectual curiosity of a worm. More often than not it makes you rich and well connected. Conversely just because you don’t have a degree doesn’t make you dumb or uneducated. My father comes to mind. He was one of the smartest, most educated people I ever met, read a book a day and didn’t spend a day in college.

  • james woods is well-known as high-IQ; David Duchovny went to Yale and considered career in academia. I agree scgool is NOT necessarily an indicator of real intellectual prowess; it’ s more like finishing school for certain kinds of mental manners / coulgn’t even do that much for George Bush. alcolmX only learned to read while in prison.
    I would stand up for Sean Penn and Leo, who were already working in their teens and have a lot of intellectual curiosity.

  • I have to agree with M.E. Osborne. How an earth does Lucy Liu, who speaks five languages, is a UNICEF ambassador, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Asian Languages and Cultures earn only a B+ compared to Jolie (and others)? Interesting grading policy.

  • Rachel Maddow, though not in Hollywood, is a Rhodes Scholar.

    Danica McKellar, Winnie from the wonder years, is a mathematician.

    Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura “Heroes), is a computer programmer. His work in CGI can be seen in movies like Star Wars, The Perfect Storm, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

    Ashley Judd has a Master’s Degree

  • Funny, how people who don’t even know George W. Bush buy what the media tell them about the man. You claim he has no intellectual curiousity, yet how many times did the press comment on the book he was holding as he dismounted Air Force/Marine One? He averaged 58 books/months.

    One should question their judgement before they start hurling stones at Ivy League scholars. Progressives and the media laughed at Bush for getting C’s, yet Obama sealed his records and they didn’t even blink.

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