Few colleges and universities have the caliber of alumni that Harvard University has produced. This college has an alumni list that any school would be proud of, and that’s not just because it’s the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S.
Every year, thousands of students submit college applications to Harvard, and only about 3 to 4% are invited to attend. Founded in 1636, this Ivy League school also boasts a world-class faculty, superior research opportunities, and traditions that are steeped in as much history and pride as the school itself.
All of these factors combine to produce some of the world’s most brilliant minds and influential people.
Harvard Graduates: Famous Alumni and Their Campus Home
The university’s main campus is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Today, over 7,100 undergraduates make a home there across 5,076 campus acres.
University of Harvard alumni operated on a semester-based calendar, and if they continued past undergraduate programs, they received their post-graduate education through twelve graduate and professional schools.
Some of Harvard’s most notable schools include:
- T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Harvard Business School
- Harvard School of Dental Medicine
- Harvard Divinity School
- Harvard Kennedy School
- Harvard Medical School
- Harvard Graduate School of Education
- Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
- Harvard Graduate School of Design
- John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
- Harvard College
- Harvard Law School
Each Harvard University notable alumni story is filled with recollections of time spent with these schools, the close-knit undergraduate community, and the dreams each alumnus had while they walked the grounds of the esteemed university.
Notable University of Harvard Alumni
If you’re interested in who is included among Harvard University notable alumni, it won’t take you too long to begin recognizing names! The list is an impressive “who’s who” of Harvard graduates.
Famous actors, scientists, politicians, and humanitarians are just some of the types of people you’ll find. Eight presidents of the United States have graduated from Harvard:
- Rutherford B. Hayes
- John Adams
- John Quincy Adams
- John F. Kennedy
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- Barack Obama
- George W. Bush
- Theodore Roosevelt
It’s entirely possible that the next class of Harvard graduates will be filled with future celebrities and influencers. The following is a rundown of some of the most famous University of Harvard alumni to ever walk across the stage.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1969, Maurice Alberto Rocca is a humorist, actor, and journalist who graduated from Harvard University in 1991 with a Bachelor of Arts in literature. He is a regular panelist on the radio quiz show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” and got his start in television writing and producing children’s shows.
Mo Rocca was the president of the school’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals, where he performed in four burlesques and co-wrote one of them. While he attended Harvard University, this alumnus played Seymour in a production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which also co-starred Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Henry Alfred Kissinger graduated from Harvard University in 1950. He is a former secretary of state who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping establish a ceasefire in Vietnam in 1973.
The famous American diplomat and political theorist served as the national security advisor under the Nixon and Ford Administrations.
Conan O’Brien is included among Harvard University notable alumni. He graduated magna cum laude in 1985. He is currently a TV host, writer, producer, and comedian who is well-known for his late-night talk shows, especially “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
While at Harvard University, O’Brien wrote for and was the president of The Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor magazine.
Actor Matthew Paige Damon has been named one of Forbes’ most bankable stars. He dropped out of Harvard University (with just one semester to go) to pursue acting. While he was at Harvard, he studied theater and English.
Films he has appeared in have grossed almost $4 billion at the box office. This makes Matt Damon, who was born in 1970, one of the highest-paid actors ever.
William Henry Gates III was born in 1955 and is the co-founder and chairman of Microsoft. He is a business magnate, philanthropist, and investor. He attended Harvard University from 1973 to 1975 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree in 2007.
Frederick Hubbard Gwynne was a famous actor who was praised for his roles in a couple of hit 1960s sitcoms. Starring in “Car 54, Where Are You?” and as Herman Munster in “The Munsters,” Gwynne also appeared in several later films. These included “My Cousin Vinny,” “The Cotton Club,” and “Pet Sematary.”
Gwynne was also an avid painter, writer, and illustrator of several children’s books. He graduated from Harvard University in 1951; while at the school, he was a member of the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes.
World-famous French-born American cellist Yo-Yo Ma graduated from Harvard University in 1976. He was a child prodigy who began performing at four and a half years old.
He went to Harvard after dropping out of Columbia University and Juilliard. Yo-Yo Ma was also granted an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1991.
Born Neta-Lee Hershlag, Natalie Portman is an Israeli-born American actress. She graduated from Harvard in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
The Academy Award–winner has been acting since her teenage years and is the recipient of several awards. She was also a research assistant to Alan Dershowitz.
American actress Ashley Judd, daughter of country music legend Naomi Judd and half-sister to Wynonna Judd, graduated from Harvard University in 2010. She received her mid-career master’s degree in public administration from the Ivy League college and is an actress and goodwill ambassador.
Rashida Jones is probably best known for her acting roles in “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” and “Angie Tribeca.” She is a 1997 graduate of Harvard University, where she studied comparative religion.
Jones participated in several student organizations during her time on campus, including the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, Harvard Opportunes, Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club, and the Black Students Association.
American actress Stockard Channing is best known for her role as Rizzo in the legendary film version of the hit musical “Grease.” She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1965 after studying history and literature at Harvard’s Radcliffe College.
American actress Amy Brenneman earned her degree in comparative religion from Harvard in 1987. She is best known as Detective Janice Licalsi in the long-running hit television show “NYPD Blue” and as Judge Amy Gray in the show “Judging Amy.”
Born on December 10, 1965, comedian Greg Giraldo graduated from Harvard Law School in 1990. Known as one of the funniest dark humor comedians and greatest American stand-up comics, Giraldo passed away in September 2010.
He is remembered for his work on Comedy Central shows like “Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil” and “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.”
Tommy Lee Jones
This famous American actor graduated cum laude in 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. During his time as an upperclassman at Harvard, Jones was also the roommate of former U.S. vice president Al Gore.
Jones was a guard on the school’s undefeated 1968 football team and was also named a first-team All-Ivy League selection that year. The 1968 game against Yale was dubbed “the most famous football game in Ivy League history” because Harvard came back to beat Yale in the last few minutes from a 16-point deficit.
American actor John Lithgow attended Harvard and graduated magna cum laude with an applied baccalaureate in 1967. Born in Rochester, New York, the actor studied English literature at Harvard and lived in Adams House as an undergrad. Later, he served on the university’s Board of Overseers.
Lithgow credits his performance in “Utopia, Limited” at Harvard with influencing his decision to begin acting. After graduation, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and went on to win numerous awards for acting roles throughout the following decades.
One of the most famous and influential music composers in history, Leonard Bernstein graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1939. He was also an author, music lecturer, conductor, and pianist. He was an activist and the first American to lead a major symphonic orchestra.
How to Become a Future Harvard Alumni
If you have your sights set on attending Harvard University, you will need to do much more than earn top scores, rank high in your class, and earn a superior GPA. Harvard University is looking for students who are not only well-rounded but also leaders.
The school aims to welcome students who show exemplary dedication and passion for the field in which they choose to study. You’ll need to be an excellent writer and interviewee, participate in and lead extracurricular activities, and serve your community.
For the best chance at getting into Harvard University, it’s a good idea to start planning and preparing as early as possible during your high school career!