Some Berkeley success stories are cut-and-dry: nab a degree from the world’s #1 public institution, work countless hours over countless years, and get filthy stinkin’ rich. Just look at Steve Wozniak (B.S. 1987), EECS graduate and Apple co-founder or Patrick Lee (B.A. Cognitive Science 2004), co-founder and former CEO of Rotten Tomatoes.
But as this list of five famous UC Berkeley attendees shows, most success stories aren’t one-way tickets to money, fame or prestige — in fact, the tales of the most notable Cal alumni are twisty and unexpected. And, really, what else can you expect from the over-30,000 brilliant Bears on campus?
B.A. English, 2002
This steamy leading man may be the most easily recognizable UC Berkeley alum. After all, Chris Pine stole hearts as the suave debonair in “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” alongside Anne Hathaway — how could anyone resist a charming outsider with a cheesy smirk and deep blue eyes?
But Pine’s a bit of an anomaly compared to other leading men: the B.A. English recipient was a theater geek during his time at Cal, having truly found his niche within Cal’s acting community as expected. No surprises there.
The “Star Trek” leading man actively spurned social fraternities during his time at Cal, calling them “aggressive and violent” in a 2013 interview with Men’s Journal — a true testament to the kinds of eclectic folks you can find here on campus.
Intended B.S., Civil Engineering, began 2001
A true one-hit wonder, William Hung is most notorious for his show-stopping performance of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” on “American Idol.”
But his road to his fifteen seconds of fame was paved during his time at UC Berkeley an aspiring civil engineering major.
Sure, many Cal graduates can brag about landing a job right out of college — but few can say that they’ve been on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and were the subject of a documentary. After his glorious homecoming to Cal (at a volleyball game, no less) he landed $25,000 and a record deal under Koch Entertainment. Not bad for a guy who was motivated to audition for American Idol only after winning a singing competition held by Clark Kerr’s Hall Association.
Hung is content with the brief glory (or infamy) he experienced through American Idol, in spite of abandoning Cal in the process. “It … proves that an Average Joe can make it in the music world, no matter what the odds are,” he said in an interview with LA Weekly.
B.A. Geography, 2008
Adam Lamberg — known for his role as Gordo from the beloved Disney Channel series “Lizzie McGuire” — might have ended up following the most traditional trajectory of anyone on this list.
He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008 with a B.A. in Geography — the same year his last movie, the D-lister studded coming-of-age film “Beautiful Loser,” came out in theaters. He’s en route to completing a Master’s in Public Administration, meanwhile doing good work as a Development Associate at a Irish cultural nonprofit in New York City.
But we’re still hoping that the adorkable Gordo will find his way to Lizzie McGuire’s heart, what with that Geography degree and all.
B.A. Economics, 1976
Beverly Cleary isn’t the only Berkeley alum to become a beloved children’s author — as evidenced by your well-worn copy of “Holes” from fifth grade. Louis Sachar transferred to Berkeley as an Economics major which, after comparing the author to some folks in higher places at Haas, may come as a bit of a shock.
But really, like plenty of us here at UC Berkeley, Sachar may have slacked off a bit as an undergrad. “No homework, no term papers, no tests” were all the reason he needed to take on a teacher’s aide position at Hillside Elementary School.
He probably churned out a couple of units along the way, but more importantly, his stint as “Louis the Yard Teacher” at Hillside directly influenced his debut bestseller, Sideways Stories from Wayside High. And, maybe it’s worthwhile to take Sachar’s lead once in a while — slacking off can lead to bigger things.
B.A., English and Rhetoric, 1998
Your first Internet friend, Tom Anderson of MySpace notoriety, just so happens to be a Golden Bear.
And, if it’s any solace, co-founding one of the biggest websites in the world (at one point) doesn’t require an EECS degree! In fact, Anderson got a degree in the humanities (gasp!), graduating from Cal as a double-major in English and Rhetoric.
Sure, MySpace is now a shell of its past self, a remnant of the early-2000s tech bubble and a mere blip on the Internet after Anderson left the company in 2009. Anderson’s was one of the first success stories of the Web 2.0 era, paving the way for multimillionaire moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and current Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
What does MySpace Tom do now that he’s no longer the overlord of MySpace accounts everywhere? Well, you guessed it: he’s a landscape photographer. While he may travel the world in pursuit of breathtaking views and stunning sights, his time as the Internet’s most popular man continues to leave an imprint on his current persona. After all, he still refers to himself as “myspacetom” on several social media platforms he’s on. (Yes, even Facebook.)
Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected]