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FAMOUS PEOPLE’S MAJORS

What can you learn from Steve Martin? Quite a bit, actually!

The following list illustrates the fact that, in many cases, one’s undergraduate major ends up having no OBVIOUS or direct connection to one’s career path or future success. That said, there are often very meaningful and less obvious ways one’s undergraduate education informs and shapes one’s career path. Case in point: Steve Martin would not be Steve Martin had he not majored in philosophy. In fact, his absurdist, off-the-wall humor came directly from his undergraduate studies.

According to Martin, college “changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non -sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard – you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up.” In an article for The Smithsonian Institute Martin remembered

in a college psychology class, I had read a treatise on comedy explaining that a laugh was formed when the storyteller created tension, then, with the punch line, released it. I didn't quite get this concept. What if there were no punch lines? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. My first reviews came in. One said, “This so-called ‘comedian’ should be told that jokes are supposed to have punch lines.”

What should you learn from Steve Martin’s example? You should learn that it PAYS to have the courage to follow one’s intellectual curiosity. What if Steve Martin hadn’t had the courage to major in Philosophy because he got tired of people asking him “What are you going to do with that?” What if he had chosen to major in something more “practical”? Answer: Steve Martin wouldn’t be Steve Martin!


Drew Brees
Major: Industrial Management

Drew Brees is the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. Brees has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times in his career. He was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2004, the Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, and the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV.

George W. Bush
Major: History

George Walker Bush was the 43rd President of the United States, serving from 2001 to 2009, and the 46th Governor of Texas, serving from 1995 to 2000. He was head cheerleader during his senior year in high school at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts.

Katie Couric
Major: English

Katie Couric is the anchor of the CBS Evening News. She is the first solo female anchor of a major broadcast evening news program. Couric has interviewed Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Michael Crichton
Major: Anthropology

Michael Crichton was an author, producer, director, and screenwriter. Best known for his work in the science fiction, medical fiction, and thriller genres, Crichton is the author of The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Jurassic Park.

Tina Fey
Major: Drama

Tina Fey is an actress, comedian, writer and producer. Former head writer of Saturday Night Live, creator of the television series 30 Rock, and writer and co-star of the teen comedy Mean Girls, Fey has received numerous awards, including seven Emmy Awards.

Phillip Glass
Majors: Mathematics and Philosophy

Philip Glass is considered one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century and is widely acknowledged for helping bring art music to the public. Glass describes himself instead as a composer of "music with repetitive structures."

Chad Hurley
Major: Fine Art

Chad Meredith Hurley is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of YouTube. In June 2006, Business 2.0 ranked him 28th on its "50 People Who Matter Now" list. In October 2006 he and his partners sold YouTube for $1.76 billion to Google.

Spike Lee
Major: Mass Communication

Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. He wrote and directed Do the Right Thing, She’s Gotta Have It, Jungle Fever and the Katrina documentaries When the Levees Broke and If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.

Peyton Manning
Major: Speech Communication

Peyton Williams Manning is the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. Manning is statistically one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Born and raised in New Orleans, he holds several NFL records and led the Colts to win the 2006 Superbowl.

Ray Manzarek
Major: Economics

Ray Manzarek is the co-founder and keyboardist of the seminal rock group the Doors. “I got a bachelor's degree in economics at De Paul University, and went to law school at UCLA, where I stayed for about two weeks.” Manzarek met Jim Morrison at UCLA.

Thurgood Marshall
Major: Dentistry

Thurgood Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Before becoming a judge, he was a lawyer and is best remembered for successfully arguing before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

Steve Martin
Major: Philosophy

Stephen Glenn "Steve" Martin is an actor, comedian, writer, playwright, producer, and musician. His ascent to fame picked up when he became a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show.

Ralph Nader
Major: East Asian Studies

Ralph Nader is an attorney, author, lecturer, political activist, and four-time candidate for President of the United States, having run as a Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000, and as an independent candidate in 2004 and 2008.

Barack Obama
Major: Political Science

Barack Obama is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama is left-handed and says his alternate career choice would have been architect.

Anne Rice
Major: Political science

Anne Rice is a best-selling American author of gothic, erotic, and religious-themed books from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her books have sold nearly 100 million copies, making her one of the most widely read authors in modern history.

J.K. Rowling
Majors: French and Classics

Her name when her first Harry Potter book was published was simply "Joanne Rowling.” Her publisher, fearing that young boys might be reluctant to buy books written by a female author, requested that she use two initials.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Major: International Economics

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American bodybuilder, actor, businessman, politician, and currently the 38th Governor of California. He has starred in many movies, including Terminator, Predator, and Conan the Barbarian.

Will Shortz
Major: Enigmatology

Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, is the only person to hold a college degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles. He designed his own undergraduate curriculum through Indiana University's Individualized Major Program.

Jon Stewart
Major: Psychology

Jon Stewart is an American political satirist, writer, television host, actor, media critic, and stand-up comedian. He is widely known as host of The Daily Show, a satirical news program that airs on Comedy Central.

Oprah Winfrey
Major: Speech & Drama

Oprah Gail Winfrey is an American television host, actress, producer, and philanthropist, best known for her self-titled, multi-award winning talk show. Oprah Winfrey was originally named Orpah after the Biblical character in the Book of Ruth.

Tulane University Career Center, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5107 csc@tulane.edu