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Learning means connecting--professors to their classes, students to their classmates, ideas to each other, and everyone to the global community. Moreover, people who learn together stay in touch through alumni groups, professional associations, fraternities, and sororities. In fact, just getting a degree means belonging to the fellowship of educated people.

In the U.S., more than half of us have at least some college-level education. Completing a two-year associate's degree lands you in the top 25th percentile of educated Americans. If you stay on for two more years, your bachelor's degree will put you in the top 9 percent, according to 2001 Census Bureau statistics. A master's skyrockets you to the 97th percentile, while a doctorate makes you one in a hundred. In general, salaries and success tend to reflect educational status and similarly lift your earning power up a few percentiles.

It Is What You Know

The old saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know" isn't just bad grammar. It's bad logic, too, since what you know largely determines who you know. Learning and education are as much about meeting people as collecting knowledge. Learn and you'll find yourself six degrees of education away from people who share your drive for success. Networking like this brings almost any person within six social links away from any other educated person. So let's have some fun connecting the dots between several famous people via their degrees:

At the top of the education and achievement ladder, Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman got his Ph.D. from Princeton. In fact, a Princeton faculty member recruited the graduate student for the Army's top secret Manhattan Project, where he helped create the atomic bomb. Though Feynman's known for his contributions to quantum mechanics, he's loved for his humor and his anecdotes (collected in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?). Raised in New York and proud of his Jewish heritage, Feynman first studied physics at M.I.T. in the Boston area...

...which was also the educational home to another New Yorker who parlayed his Jewish upbringing into such memorable lines as, "I told you not to be stupid, you moron," and "Shut up! Sit down!" Yes, Howard Stern's alma mater B.U. is in Beantown. Stern has leveraged his unique personality and his communications education from Boston University (where he had a 3.8 GPA) into a staggering media success. And he stopped with a bachelor's degree...

...as did another media superstar Tom Brokaw. With a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science, Brokaw anchored the NBC Nightly News for more than two decades. Who knew that Brokaw's name would become synonymous with integrity in journalism when he dropped out of the University of Iowa? Like so many students, Tom Brokaw didn't find success in his first foray into higher education. It took the University of South Dakota to give Brokaw the push he needed. Fortunately, he persevered in his education and went to a second school...

...as did MySpace Website co-creator Tom Anderson, who is both a UC Berkeley and UCLA alum (and who, at this writing, has 75,906,525 friends). Think Anderson's a techie? Think again. His bachelor's degree is in Rhetoric and English; then, he went on to UCLA's film school where he got a master's in criticism. MySpace's co-creator Chris DeWolfe is not a techie by formal education either, though he opted, like both Toms, to study at two schools. DeWolfe got a B.A. Degree in Finance from the University of Washington before heading south to major in marketing and entrepreneurial studies at USC's Marshall School of Business. So California schools have played a big role in educating two shapers of youth culture...

...just as a California education propelled the success of Rolling Stone writer Ben Fong-Torres, whose life and career are depicted in the film Almost Famous. Much as the MySpace creators weren't tech majors, Fong-Torres didn't major in journalism. He earned his degree in Radio-TV-Film rather than print--the medium that eventually made him famous. Fong-Torres, a writer-editor, captured the cultural passions of his generation...

...as did another writer-editor with a bachelor's degree, Hugh Heffner, graduate of the University of Illinois. This icon of twentieth century sexuality has been the king of the Playboy empire since 1952. He claims to have hatched the idea for Playboy while jetting through his undergraduate degree at UIUC in less than three years. So what was Hef's major? Not journalism or writing. Perhaps he fell under the spell of Sigmund Freud--because Hugh Heffner has a degree in psychology...

...as does Desperate Housewife Marcia Cross, who left her successful role as Dr. Kimberly Shaw on Melrose Place to study psychology at Antioch University. Perhaps advanced psych study--Cross has her master's degree--helped Cross create the delightfully obsessive Bree Van De Kamp:

"Okay, time for cobbler. Sorry, one of the dessert plates doesn't match. I tried to replace it, but it's Spode Florence. It's a rare pattern. It belonged to my grandmother. But hopefully once you taste the dessert, you'll forget all about it."

Cross's Bree keeps viewers' eyes glued to her antics, culinary and otherwise...

...just as Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver entertains viewers with his culinary antics. A high school dropout who struggled with dyslexia, Oliver discovered his calling via a culinary education at Westminster Catering College. Then television discovered the cheeky chef via a documentary filmed at River Café, where he worked in London. The Food Network has made him an international cooking star. Dyslexia or not, Oliver has published more than a half dozen cookbooks to date, but it was an early culinary arts education that let Jamie Oliver's talent shine...

...as did the culinary arts education of another TV personality, restaurateur, and super chef, Bobby Flay. He's the owner and executive chef at four top restaurants, including three in New York (Mesa Grill, Bolo, and Bar Americain) and one in Las Vegas (Mesa Grill). Flay also hosts three television shows on the Food Network. Like Oliver, Flay attended chef school in his teens, when his boss Joe Allen sent Flay to the French Culinary Institute. Flay earned the Outstanding Graduate Award, establishing a French connection...

...shared by E-Bay founder and chairman, Pierre Omidyar. An entrepreneur and world-recognized philanthropist, Omidyar emigrated to the States at age six, growing up amid the politics of Washington, D.C. At the age of 28 (so the story goes), he wrote the computer code for his auction Website "over a long holiday weekend." Though the co-founders of MySpace don't have a technical education, Pierre Omidyar graduated with a degree in computer science from Tufts University. Tufts is in the Boston area, where Richard Feynman once studied...

It seems as if we've come full circle; remember that the circle of education better resembles a web of connections. Any of us can enter the web any time anywhere--especially now that education is available 24/7 online. Go to school, get your degree, and join in the six degrees of education. We're waiting, so link up!


  • Ben Fong-Torres (www.benfongtorres.com)
  • Bobby Flay (www.bobbyflay.com)
  • Chris DeWolfe (www.intermix.com/about_corporateinfo_directors_dewolfe.cfm)
  • "Class Matters." (www.nytimes.com/indexes/2005/05/15/national/class/index.html)
  • Feynman Online. (www.feynman.com)
  • Howard Stern (manhattan.about.com/od/citylife1/a/howardsternbio.htm)
  • Hugh Heffner (www.playboyenterprises.com)
  • Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)
  • Jamie Oliver's Website (www.jamieoliver.com)
  • Marcia Cross Fan Website (movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/marciamarciamarcia)
  • Pierre Omidyar, World's Richest People (forbes.com)
  • Tom Anderson (myspace.com/tom)
  • Tom Brokaw (www.museum.tv/archives/etv/B/htmlB/brokawtom/brokawtom.htm)
  • Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)