Harvard lies at the heart of American education. Nearly 21,000 people studied at Harvard during the 2019-2020 school year.

But this number constitutes only a small fraction of notable Harvard alumni. The college has produced leaders in the arts, sciences, and politics. You deserve to know their names.

Who are some of Harvard’s finest comedy writers? Who has run for President or political office? Which Harvard graduate has helped with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer these questions and you can enrich your understanding of the world’s most important college. Here is your quick guide.

1. Conan O’Brien

Conan O’Brien graduated from Harvard in 1985. He concentrated in history and literature, and he graduated magna cum laude. He served as a writer for the Harvard Lampoon, eventually becoming its president.

After graduating from Harvard, O’Brien embarked on an incredibly successful entertainment career. He became a writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, then he hosted late-night talk shows for nearly 30 years.

2. Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman was a successful actress before she was admitted into Harvard. She pursued a degree in psychology while studying Hebrew literature and biology. While she was a student, she took roles in three Star Wars movies.

After graduating from college, Portman took a role in the movie Closer, for which she received an Oscar nomination. A few years later, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Black Swan. She remains one of Hollywood’s most bankable actresses.

She has been involved in numerous causes, including animal rights. She has traveled to Africa to support women-owned businesses and micro-lending programs.

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson graduated from Harvard in 1980. He majored in physics, but he pursued a number of personal passions that included dance.

He then got his doctorate from Columbia University and embarked on a scientific career. He became director of the Hayden Planetarium and served on a presidential board for aerospace.

Tyson is also a highly active science educator. He has hosted PBS documentaries about space exploration, and he has advocated for increased funding for NASA.

4. Soledad O’Brien

Soledad O’Brien (no relation to Conan) first studied at Radcliffe College. She left before she graduated so she could take a job as a journalist. She then studied at Harvard, receiving a degree in English and American literature in 2000.

O’Brien has been a successful journalist for 30 years. She began as a medical reporter, but she has moved on to cover many different national news stories. In particular, she has anchored a number of television specials about race in America.

5. Jill Stein

Jill Stein graduated from Harvard in 1973. She was a multidisciplinary science student, examining psychology and sociology. She then went to Harvard Medical School and received a medical degree.

Dr. Stein went on to practice internal medicine at a number of Boston-area hospitals. But she is best known for her political activism. She has served on a number of boards, including Physicians for Social Responsibility.

In 2002, she ran for governor of Massachusetts on the Green-Rainbow ticket. She received more than 75,000 votes. She then became a Lexington Town Meeting member for five years.

In 2012, she ran for President on the Green Party ticket. She received nearly 500,000 votes, and she ran for President again in 2016. She amassed an incredible amount of mainstream media attention and finished the race with nearly 1.5 million votes.

6. Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi is one of the top Harvard alumni, though he did not graduate from Harvard. Gandhi is a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has produced several important politicians. He started his undergraduate education at a school in India before transferring.

He was on track to complete his degree, but his father Rajiv was murdered. Out of concern for his safety, he transferred to Rollins College.

He started a career in the private sector, but he followed his family’s calling into politics. He has served as a member of the Indian parliament for nearly 20 years, advocating for women’s rights.

7. Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman is one of the richest Harvard alumni. She got her Master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1979.

She went on to work for a number of successful companies, including eBay and Hewlett-Packard. She has a net worth of several billion dollars, and she has made a run for governor of California.

8. Kenneth Chien

Dr. Kenneth Chien is one of the most important Harvard alumni. He graduated from Harvard in 1973 and embarked on a medical career.

He co-founded Moderna Therapeutics, one of the organizations responsible for COVID-19 vaccines. He has also worked for a number of biotechnology companies, including Pfizer. He is very active as an educator, returning to Harvard in the 2000s to teach biology. 

9. Cornel West

Cornel West marched in civil rights demonstrations before he enrolled at Harvard. He majored in Near Eastern languages and civilization, but he studied a wide range of ideas. He spent a lot of his time volunteering in community initiatives like breakfast programs.

He went on to get a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Princeton. He is now an active philosopher, writer, and political activist. He focuses on racial inequality and socioeconomic injustice.

10. Antony Blinken

Antony Blinken started his studies at Harvard in 1980. He served as an editor for The Harvard Crimson, writing a number of articles on current events. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in social studies.

He continued his work as a writer and journalist before turning to politics. He has served in several administrations before he became Secretary of State in 2021.

The Most Notable Harvard Alumni

Notable Harvard alumni have affected every aspect of life. Conan O’Brien and Natalie Portman are two of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Soledad O’Brien are crucial educators.

Jill Stein is a physician-turned-politician, serving on the local level and then running for President. Rahul Gandhi is a member of parliament in India.

Meg Whitman is a business pioneer, while Kenneth Chien has led major biotech organizations. Cornel West and Antony Blinken are critical figures in American politics.

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