Where Did Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Go to College?

The independent candidate for U.S. president followed his family's "Camelot" legacy to Harvard University and the University of Virginia School of Law.
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Published on October 24, 2023
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  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is leveraging his family's famous name for an independent run for U.S. president.
  • He is part of a Harvard dynasty highlighted by his father, former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy.
  • So far, Robert Kennedy Jr.'s campaign has been focused on environmental issues and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. used his famous name to advance environmental law and promote anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Now, he's leveraging it to run for U.S. president as an independent candidate.

While Republican contenders such as Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis have made higher education reform a big part of their campaigns, Kennedy has not mentioned it in his campaign policies. A few of his main priorities include environmental justice and improving Native American lives.

It could be that Kennedy understands the role legacy and his family's "Camelot" brand played in his education and success: He is part of a dynasty of Harvard graduates that include his uncle and former President John F. Kennedy and his father and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and his uncle and former U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, his uncle.

As The New Yorker Editor David Remnick put it in a profile/interview of the aspiring politician: "As a young man, he was kicked out of prep schools, got arrested for marijuana possession, was addicted to heroin, and still managed to graduate from Harvard."

Harvard and the University of Virginia School of Law

New York Magazine's Rebecca Traister wrote a profile that revealed Robert Kennedy Jr.'s rocky academic career.

Kennedy entered Harvard as a legacy admit in 1972 and graduated in 1976. During this time, he dealt with a substance use disorder that lasted past his time at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Law.

He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's degree in American history and literature, but one conspiracy theory continues to dog the presidential dark horse to this day.

Biographer Jerry Oppenheimer alleges that Kennedy's roommate, Peter Kaplan, may have written his high-performing thesis. Kaplan, who was Kennedy's roommate for all four years at Harvard, went on to a highly distinguished New York journalism career, writing and editing for Time, The New York Times, and The New York Observer.

Kennedy's Harvard friends told Oppenheimer how Kaplan would help his friend with writing. They said despite being exploited to some degree, he enjoyed being Kennedy's friend and "the excitement, and the fun and the glitter of the Kennedy family.”

"But Bobby saw Peter as a great asset academically, and whenever he could make use of his terrific mind, he certainly would, like penning all or some of Bobby's thesis," a close friend of the duo from Harvard claimed in Oppenheimer's book. "Peter was to Bobby what Google is to anyone today."

Kaplan passed away in November 2013 prior to the publishing of Oppenheimer's unauthorized biography and never publicly addressed the rumors; Kennedy has likewise never commented on the allegations.

Beyond academics, during his time at Harvard, Kennedy took up activism that would continue for his career into his candidacy. On Oct. 24, 1974, he spoke at the Catholic Youth Convention reflecting on the Vietnam War and the economic repercussions.

"We've just come out of a war that did no good for anybody. It killed more people than a mind can imagine, over 40,000 of them Americans. Even those that defended it then can find no joy in its memory now," Kennedy said.

"One-third of the country is at the poverty line or below. Another one-half, more than one-half, is made up of people who are doing the work that makes this the country (that) is called the richest in the world. And yet who could say that, that many are appreciated with an appropriate and just due?"

Little Known of RFK Jr.'s UVA Law School Days

While not much is known about Kennedy's time at the UVA law school, he continued the strong legacy that his father and his uncle, longtime Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, began there — graduating and then going into public service.

In fact, the law school hosts Robert F. Kennedy '51 Public Service Fellowships for Juris Doctor (JD) graduates starting public service attorney careers.

RFK Jr. met his first wife at the law school where he graduated with a JD degree in 1981.