University of Southern California: Notable Alumni You Should Know
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- Hollywood legends and award-winning celebrities went to USC.
- The private university also has sports stars, musicians, and scientists among its most famous alumni.
- USC was a turning point in the careers of many of these notable alumni.
The University of Southern California is known for its rigorous academic programs, palm-tree-filled campus, and Hollywood connections. And USC also has hundreds of famous alumni.
Which Western movie star dropped out of USC after losing a football scholarship? Which Academy Award winner studied as an opera singer? And who’s the most famous Trojan athlete alum? Discover the University of Southern California notable alumni that you should know.
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13 Famous USC Alumni
There are a lot of famous USC alumni in Hollywood. But USC alumni have also had a major impact on other fields, such as sports, science, and music. Here are some of the best-known people who went to USC.
1. Shonda Rhimes
Before Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Bridgerton, Shonda Rhimes went to USC. The producer and CEO broke boundaries, becoming the first woman to create three TV dramas that surpassed 100 episodes.
How did USC shape Rhimes? After earning a bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College, Rhymes enrolled at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and earned her MFA with a focus on television. That helped Rhimes launch her record-breaking career.
2. Neil Armstrong
After Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon, he returned to Earth to earn a degree at USC. In 1969, the astronaut reached the moon on the Apollo 11 mission. A few months later, Armstrong visited USC, where he gave a seminar on his extraterrestrial experience.
The seminar examined the technical process of landing a lunar module on the moon. When Armstrong concluded the seminar, USC awarded him a master’s in aerospace engineering.
3. George Lucas
Before Star Wars, George Lucas was a film student at USC. And Lucas was also a transfer student. After attending a Modest Junior College, a California community college, the future filmmaker joined the film school at USC. He even took the top prize at the National Student Film Festival for one of his short films.
After Lucas graduated, he worked as an assistant to director Francis Ford Coppola and then went on to write and direct Star Wars.
4. Jane Goodall
Not only did she revolutionize the study of primates and apply her research to human behavior, but Jane Goodall is also a notable USC alum. Known as the
Einstein of behavioral sciences, Goodall is one of the most famous scientists in the world.
Although she graduated from Cambridge University, Jane Goodall taught at USC in the 1990s. Today, the USC Jane Goodall Research Center carries on the anthropologist’s academic legacy.
5. Forest Whitaker
A lot of actors attended USC. So, you might not be surprised to see Forest Whitaker on a list of notable alumni. But Whitaker’s time at USC might surprise you.
Whitaker started his college years on a football scholarship to Cal Poly Pomona. But then he transferred to USC to study opera. The musical conservatory accepted Whitaker as a singer, but he eventually switched his focus to drama.
6. Will Ferrell
He’s a comedy legend, but before he launched his career on SNL, Will Ferrell attended USC. And he didn’t focus on acting.
Instead, Ferrell studied journalism with a plan to work as a sports reporter. But Ferrell took improv comedy classes on the side. Although he worked in sports broadcasting for a short time after graduation, Ferrell’s future was clearly in comedy.
7. Regina King
An Los Angeles native, King loved to visit Hollywood’s Walk of Fame before she enrolled at USC. After two years, King left to pursue her acting career, which netted her an Academy Award, four Emmys, and a Golden Globe.
8. Gene Roddenberry
The Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate goes all the way back to USC. Both George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry are USC alumni.
Roddenberry studied political science and aeronautical engineering at USC. He ultimately left before graduating to serve in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Then Roddenberry became a television writer before ultimately creating Star Trek.
9. John Wayne
Before he became the biggest star in Western movies, John Wayne attended USC. But he wasn’t involved in acting during college. Instead, he was a football star.
USC gave John Wayne a football scholarship in 1925. But an injury changed the course of Wayne’s life. After breaking his collarbone while body surfing, USC pulled Wayne’s scholarship. Unable to pay for school, Wayne left college and looked for work at the local movie studios.
10. Lisa Leslie
She has four Olympic gold medals and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star. And Lisa Leslie’s basketball career started at USC.
Leslie grew up in Compton and had more than 100 recruiting letters when it came time to choose a college. She chose USC, where she led the team to four NCAA tournament appearances. After earning a degree in communications, Leslie went on to play for the Olympic team and joined the newly established WNBA in 1997.
11. Macy Gray
Singer-songwriter Macy Gray almost didn’t become a singer — until a single moment at USC changed the course of her future.
Gray studied script writing at USC, where she also wrote songs on the side. One day, Gray’s vocalist friend missed a recording session, so Gray stepped in. After that, the future Grammy winner focused on music.
12. America Ferrera
It took actress America Ferrera a decade to graduate from USC. That’s because she left school to pursue her acting career before returning to earn an international relations degree.
Ferrera was 18 when she enrolled at USC in 2003, but she left to star in movies and take on the lead role in Ugly Betty. In 2013, Ferrera graduated and said,
I am using so much of what I learned in the School of International Relations in my life.
13. Reggie Bush
In 2003, Reggie Bush joined the Trojans football team, where he played for three years before heading to the NFL. Since he shared a last name with the president at the time, Bush’s teammates started calling him
After leaving USC, Bush played for the New Orleans Saints for 11 years and worked as a sports commentator.
Frequently Asked Questions About Famous USC Alumni
Who are the most famous people who went to USC?
The most famous people who went to USC include celebrities like John Wayne, Will Ferrell, Regina King, Tom Sellek, and LeVar Burton. Other alumni include directors and producers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Shonda Rhimes, Ron Howard, and Gene Roddenberry. Neil Armstrong also holds a degree from USC, and Sasha Obama graduated in 2023.
Who are the most famous USC alumni in sports?
The most famous USC alumni in sports include WNBA all-star Lisa Leslie, NFL running back Reggie Bush, and baseball player Mark McGwire. O.J. Simpson also played football as a running back at USC.
Compared to other universities, USC’s athletics programs have produced the most Olympians, medalists, and gold medalists.
How many USC alumni are there?
There are currently 480,000 USC alumni. Notable alumni include actors, directors, producers, athletes, business leaders, and musicians. The USC Alumni Association celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2023 and offers career services, networking opportunities, and discounts.
Who are the most famous celebrities that went to USC?
Many famous celebrities went to USC, including Regina King, Bob Saget, Forest Whitaker, Kelly Preston, Cybill Shepherd, and Will Ferrell. Many children of celebrities have also attended USC, including Lily Collins, Rumor Willis, and Rob Kardashian.
What is USC best known for?
USC is best known for its School of Cinematic Arts and its strong programs in business, engineering, communication, and tech. The private university also boasts a number of notable alumni, including celebrities, athletes, and business leaders.