Film and TV

9 Famous People Who Went to University of Arizona

Over the past week, proud University of Arizona students have been closing their collegiate chapters in ceremonies all around campus, including Friday, May 13's mega-commencement at Arizona Stadium.

It's been quite a journey for these graduates, now being set out into the world and facing their futures. It's an excitement so many of us can remember, even celebrities. Take a look at these famous Wildcats who spent some of their early days at the UA. 

Kourtney Kardashian
Major: Theatre Arts

It seems hard to believe, but there was a time when the Kardashians weren't a household name. They were not hard up for cash by any means, and did have some notoriety thanks to Robert Kardashian's involvement on O.J. Simpson's defense team and Kris Kardashian's marriage to Olympian Bruce Jenner. However, unlike her little sister Kylie — who bought a house at 17 — the eldest Kardashian Kid Kourtney probably had to consider the prospect of a life less abnormal. First, she headed to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she spent two years. She finished the remainder of her classes at U of A, graduating in 2002 with a degree in theater arts and a minor in Spanish. She spent post-grad life opening up clothing boutiques Smooch and DASH with her family and appeared on a failed reality show.  It wasn't until her sister Kim's sex tape leaked in 2007 that the family was truly launched into infamy. Twelve seasons and five spinoffs later, Keeping Up With The Kardashians may never end. Like it or not, it's the Kardashians' world and we're just living in it.

Kristen Wiig
Dropped Out
Major: Art

When Wiig moved clear across the country from Rochester, New York, to Tucson, it wasn't with the intention of acting. While starting her studies as an art major, she took an acting class as an elective and her typically introverted self began to flourish. Her epiphany happened right before she was supposed to start working at a plastic surgeon's office, illustrating after-surgery bodies for potential patients. She looked in the mirror and realized that it wasn't the life she wanted, and what she wanted was to move to LA and act. The next day, she packed up everything and headed west. She spent several years doing odd jobs while training at The Groundlings school for improv, which eventually paid off when she was cast on Saturday Night Live in 2005. She remained on the show until 2012, while also starring in movies like Knocked Up and Whip It . However, she had her major breakout writing and starring in Bridesmaids in 2011. Her success in comedy has also given her the freedom to explore other types of films, including the pretty twisted Diary of a Teenage Girl and the blockbuster film The Martian. 

Greg Kinnear
Major: Broadcast Journalism

Kinnear spent most of his childhood being shuttled around the world with his family, thanks to his father's job in the U.S. State Department. His last stop was in Athens, where he went to the American School and hosted his own radio show. This led Kinnear to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, landing him at University of Arizona for his studies. After graduating in 1985, he moved to Los Angeles and began working as a marketing assistant at a film production company. During that time, he decided he wanted to be in front of the camera, later auditioning to be an MTV VJ. He didn't get the gig, but they did bring him on to be a reporter. He spent the following years doing bit parts on various shows, but got his big break as the host of E! Network's Talk Soup. He spent a few more years with that and other late night shows before landing roles in films like Sabrina, Dear God, and As Good As it Gets — which landed him an Oscar nomination and cemented him as an A-list movie star. His other hits include Little Miss Sunshine and a starring role on Fox Television's Rake.

Savannah Guthrie
Major: Journalism

Guthrie is a nearly-native Tucsonian, having been born in Australia, but moving to AZ at the age of 3. After graduating from Amphitheater High School, she enrolled at U of A and began taking journalism classes. While in school, she worked with the student production crew at KUAT-TV on the show Arizona Illustrated. She graduated in 1993 and landed her first job at ABC affiliate KMIZ in Columbia, Missouri. She spent two years there, eventually returning to Tucson to work at NBC affiliate KVOA for five years. After that, she moved to Washington D.C. and worked at WRC-TV while earning a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. She passed the bar in both District of Columbia and Arizona; she got the highest bar exam score in the state in 2002. She spent a few years at a law firm and later working a corespondent for CourtTV. Her career with NBC News began in 2007, which led her to NBC Nightly News and eventually a co-anchor spot on The Today Show.

Denise Austin
Transferred to California State University Long Beach
Major: Gymnastics Scholarship

Austin was born in San Pedro, California, where she began taking gymnastics lessons at age 12. This landed her a scholarship to UA. While she was on the team there, she ranked ninth in the NCAA on balance beam. She wound up transferring to California State University in Long Beach, completing her degree in physical education and exercise physiology in 1979. She spent a few years as an aerobics teacher before landing a co-hosting gig on The Jack LaLanne Show. A year later, she had her own show and released her first workout tapes. She also became The Today Show's fitness corespondent from 1984 to 1988 and had daily shows run on both ESPN and Lifetime for more than two decades. As of 2003, she had sold more than 20 million workout videos and written more than 10 books. 

Geraldo Rivera
Major: Business Administration

Rivera was born and raised in New York City and attended the State University of New York Maritime College until 1963. He relocated to Arizona and played goalie on the lacrosse team while earning his degree in business administration in 1965. He returned to New York and worked as an investigator for the NYPD, but soon enrolled in law school. He earned his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 1969 and began work in advocacy while starting his own private practice. It was his work with Puerto Rican group The Young Lords that exposed him to WABC-TV, who would go on to secure Rivera's spot in an introductory journalism class and bring him on as a reporter in 1970. On ABC, he appeared on 20/20 and Nightline and later hosted Good Night America. He was fired in 1985 after controversy over criticisms he made against ABC's Roone Aldrege. He bounced back in 1987, debuting his talk show Geraldo, which ran for the next 11 years. In 2001, he moved to Fox News as a war correspondent. He currently hosts Geraldo at Large on the network and his own talk show on WABC 770 AM.

Nicole Richie
Dropped Out
Major: Media Arts

Richie spent her early years in upheaval, having been adopted by musician Lionel Richie and Brenda Harvey Richie from her birth parents, who were friends with the couple. She lived with them from age 3 on, graduating from Montclair College Preparatory School in 1999. She started that fall as a freshman at University of Arizona, focusing on media arts. She spent two years in school, but eventually dropped out and moved back to California. That set the stage for her breakthrough on The Simple Life, with best friend Paris Hilton. Having both grown up around tremendous privilege, the two were placed in "normal" rural situations, causing all kinds of shenanigans. The show ran for five seasons, but clashes between the two as well as their individual troubles with the law eventually buried it. She made guest appearances on other shows, but shifted her focus to fashion with her own House of Harlow 1960 line and contributions to retailers like A Pea in the Pod.

Joan Ganz Cooney
Major: Education

Cooney is a native Phoenician, with her grandfather Emil Ganz serving three terms as mayor. After graduating from North High School, she spent a year at Dominican College before transferring to U of A in 1948. She wanted to become an actress, but settled on a degree in education as her parents were more supportive of that path. She graduated in 1951, and moved to Washington D.C. to work at the State Department. Inspired by the religious tolerance movement, she decided to pursue television and media, landing a reporter role at The Arizona Republic in 1952. The following year, she moved to New York City and spent the next several years working at RCA, NBC, and CBS. A colleague at CBS left to work on an educational network in Boston, which intrigued Cooney. In 1963, she was hired by Channel 13, the newly-minuted first public broadcasting network in NYC, producing Emmy-award winning talk shows and documentaries. In 1966, she proposed the idea that television could be used to educate children. She spent the next few years researching and compiling her case for the programming and establishing the production company, Children's Television Workshop, becoming one of the first female TV executives. Sesame Street premiered in 1969 and continues to run to this day. She was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center was established in 2007, promoting children's literacy.

John Hughes
Dropped Out
Major: Unknown

John Hughes was born in 1950 in Lansing, Michigan, eventually moving to the suburbs of Chicago. He graduated from Glennbrook North High School in 1968 and started as a freshman at University of Arizona that fall. He dropped out his junior year, returning to Chicago to work in ad copywriting. While working, he wrote comedy, later landing a staff job at National Lampoon Magazine. It was there that he wrote what would become National Lampoon's Vacation, released in 1983 and a major hit for the company. In 1984, he made his directorial debut with Sixteen Candles, the start of his "quintessential teen movie" empire that included The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He tried to "grow up" a bit, releasing more raunchy comedy like Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck. In 1990, he created the family-friendly Home Alone, which was nothing short of a phenomenon. Just four years later, Hughes retired and moved back to the Midwest, keeping away from the spotlight. He died of a heart attack in 2009 at age 59. 

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Ashley Harris is a longtime professional fangirl. You can usually find her out at concerts, movies, and live theatre, or glued to the latest Netflix revival.
Contact: Ashley Harris