Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, Yale, Columbia and UPenn all have the distinction of being named Ivy League institutions of higher education. Since February 1954 these eight universities have been heralded for their academic excellence and standout athletic achievements.
Almost 60 years later, those institutions are still recognized as the most prestigious centers of higher learning nationwide. While the general train of thought would be that the Elite 8 would solely produce cerebral types, some of today’s most notable and creative African American celebrities have walked their hallowed halls as well. With the back to school season in full swing, BlackEnterprise.com highlights 10 celebrities you probably didn’t know attended an Ivy League school. —Amber McKynzie
Johnson is the founder of Black Entertainment Television [BET], which launched in 1980. Starting as just a two-hour program, BET developed into a nationwide television channel, becoming the first African American owned company to be acknowledged by the New York Stock Exchange in 1991. After selling the all-Black television network to Viacom in 2001, Johnson became the first African American billionaire.
Class of ’88
Harvard University Law School
MA and JD, Public Administration
Class of ’92
Pursuing an acting career upon his undergraduate graduation, Harper began making a name for himself in theater and film. First playing an extra in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, the actor became a supporting actor in He Got Game (1998) and The Skulls (2000). Four years later, Harper acquired a leading role in CSI: NY as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes. He also made waves on stage, starring in Off-Broadway shows such as Our Handsome Captain, Freeman, and David Mamet’s American Buffalo. He is also a member Boston’s Black Folk’s Theater Company. But one of the most interesting facts of all, Harper was a classmate of President Barack Obama at Harvard Law.
Scoring a perfect score of 1600 on his SATs at the age of 15, Leslie went on to deliver Harvard’s “Harvard Oration” at his graduation ceremony when he was just 19 years old. Joining Cambridge’s elite jazz group, The Krokodiloes, the child prodigy discovered his love for music. Since then he as written music and produced for Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment, Donnell Jones, New Edition, Cheri Dennis and more. Still recognizing the importance of education, Leslie recently hosted a “mini-music seminar” for Harvard’s Black Student Law Association in 2009 called “The Bizness Behind the Business.”
The daughter of notable director Stan Lathan (Sanford and Son, Hill Street Blues), got her television break one year after her graduation from Yale, landing a one-time role on In The House, which led to cameo appearances on other sitcoms. It wasn’t until 1999 that the budding actress broke into feature films, playing the adult version of Alicia in The Wood. She later emerged as a leading lady in The Best Man and Love & Basketball. Since then, Lathan has played alongside Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Mike Epps, Taraji P. Henson, Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates.
John Legend’s rendition of the National Anthem at the BCS title game received rave reviews.
BA, Religion and Philosophy
Class of ’97
As the daughter of the legendary music producer Quincy Jones, Rashida was introduced to the entertainment industry at an early age. But in 2006, the Harvard grad became a household name when she landed a role on The Office as Karen Filipelli. But TV wasn’t the only thing on her plate. In the last three years Jones has conquered the big screen in three major motion pictures—I Love You, Man (2009), The Social Network (2010) and this summer’s Our Idiot Brother.
BA, African-American Studies
Class of ’80
Bassett applied to Yale University in 1973 and was accepted on a scholarship. Spending seven years at the Ivy League institution, with her final three years focused on a post-graduate study in drama, she acquired her most notable roles in film beginning in 1991 when she played Reva Styles in the classic Boyz n the Hood. Since then Bassett has starred in several hit films, including Malcolm X (1992), What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), Waiting to Exhale (1995), How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) and Jumping the Broom (2011).
COURTNEY B. VANCE
Class of ’82
Class of ’86
Best known for his role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent as ADA Ron Carter, Vance discovered his niche in acting during his time in Yale’s graduate drama program. An accomplished performer, he’s also well known for his roles in Dangerous Minds (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996). Vance married fellow Yale colleague, Angela Bassett, in 1997.
Did not finish
After receiving a full scholarship to attend Yale University, Bryant was discovered by Next Model Management and decided to leave the Ivy League school to pursue a career in modeling. She has now been the face of Tommy Hilfiger and Victoria’s Secret, as well as performing alongside Beyoncé Knowles and Mekhi Phifer in Carmen: A Hip Hopera in 2001, which has been followed by roles in films like Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Antwone Fisher, and a starring part in the TV series Parenthood.