Larger-than-life success is usually associated with big-name universities and colleges. But look to any mentor, hero, or celebrity, and you can quickly see that the path to success is not always so clear-cut.
At Pioneer Academics, our top priority is encouraging students to follow their passions rather than doing what they think will automatically equate to success. While most Pioneer Scholars step to top colleges and universities right after high school, we still advocate to our scholars and all students that there is no single formula for success, so you do not need to follow others’ footprints to be successful.
The truth is there are more opportunities to succeed without having to stay on a singular path expected to be the typical one. At any point of your life where a step is labeled as a typical success, you should feel free to measure it against your own passions.
For instance, are you enthusiastic about a college name or what you do at a college? Do you enjoy the job itself at the internship, or do you like to approve yourself by getting an internship that is hard to get? Follow your own passion because that is the best path to success.
To prove you can achieve fantastic success by following your own path, here are several successful celebrities who began their journey at community colleges.
Eileen Collins: Corning Community College
NASA’s first female space shuttle commander
Eileen Collins graduated from Corning Community College in 1976 with an associate degree in mathematics. She then attended Syracuse University, earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics in 1978. Later, she earned a master’s in operations research from Stanford University in 1986 and another master’s in space systems management from Webster University in 1989.
In 1990, Collins became the first woman Space Shuttle pilot, having piloted the STS-63. In 1999, she was the first woman to command a U.S. spacecraft.
Morgan Freeman: Los Angeles City College
Actor, Director, and Narrator
Morgan Freeman began acting at the age of nine in various school plays, but at 12 years old, he won a statewide drama competition in Mississippi that launched his passion for acting.
But he would turn down a partial scholarship to Jackson State University to study drama to serve in the U.S. Air Force. After completing his service in 1959, he moved to Los Angeles and studied theatre and dancing at Los Angeles City College.
Queen Latifah: CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College
Rapper, Actress, and Singer
Dana Elaine Owens, most famously known as Queen Latifah, grew up in East Orange, New Jersey. After graduating high school, she took communications classes at CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College while rapping in the all-female rap group Ladies Fresh.
During her time in community college, she recorded her first demo tape that would eventually lead to her first label signing.
Jim Lehrer: Victoria College
Journalist, Novelist, Screenwriter, and Playwright
Jim Lehrer, executive editor and news anchor of the PBS NewsHour and renowned for being the moderator of 12 debates between U.S. presidential candidates, started his high school journalism career as the school newspaper’s sports editor.
After graduating high school, he earned an associate’s degree from Victoria College and then a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri. But after college, Lehrer enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving the country for three years.
After returning from service, he landed his first journalism job at The Dallas Morning News. He would later work as a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald, where he covered the infamous assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His career involved covering other high-profile stories, such as the Watergate scandal and the impeachment inquiry of President Richard Nixon.
James Sinegal: San Diego City College
Founder and former CEO of Costco Wholesale Corporation
James Sinegal, originally from Pittsburgh, earned an associate’s degree from San Diego City College in 1955. It was also that same year he started a job as a grocery bagger at FedMart, and that is when he discovered his love for retail.
He would earn a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University in 1959 and work his way up the ladder at FedMart, eventually achieving the title of executive vice president of merchandising and operations.
After working at Sinegal/Chamberlin and Associates, he co-founded Costco in 1983 and served as the president and CEO until 2011.
Guy Fieri: American River College and College of the Redwoods
Restauranteur, Author, TV Personality
Guy Fieri, known for hosting various TV shows such as Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, first attended the College of the Redwoods near his hometown. That is where he started to strategize about creating a career around food.
He transferred to American River College and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s in hospitality management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He continues to be an avid supporter of American River College, and has donated money and supporting campaigns to help raise funds for the school’s culinary academy and restaurant.
Steve Jobs: De Anza Community College
Co-founder of Apple
Steve Jobs’s time at De Anza Community College was brief, but this college provided the landscape for a transformational moment in technological history. After studying at Reed College in Seattle for six months, Jobs dropped out. He would then attend De Anza College for two semesters.
In his free time, he would spend hours at Hewlett-Packard, where he met Steve Wozniak, who together would found Apple. In 1984 at the Flint Center located on the De Anza College campus, they introduced the Apple Macintosh and forever changed history.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Miami Dade College
First Cuban-American elected to U.S. Congress
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana, Cuba, and when she was seven years old, her family immigrated to the United States. After high school, she completed an associate’s degree from Maimi-Dade Community College in 1972.
She would then earn a bachelor’s and master’s in 1987 from Florida International University and a doctoral degree from the University of Miami in 2007.
Ros-Lehtinen served on the Florida State House of Representatives from 1982-1986 and the Florida State Senate from 1986-1989. She was then elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 until her retirement in 2019.
Ross Perot, Sr.: Texarkana Junior College
Politician, Businessman, and Philanthropist
Ross Perot, Sr., holds the title of a third-party candidate’s strongest showings in U.S. presidential election history. While the republican and democratic parties have long dominated the political landscape, Perot formed the Reform Party through a grassroots campaign and ran for President in 1992 and 1996.
Perot attended Texarkana Junior College from 1947-1949 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After serving in the Navy, he quickly exceeded expectations at his job as a salesman at IBM. He would leave IBM to found his own company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), to process data for large corporations. Seventy-seven companies turned down Perot’s bids to handle their data processing, but EDS eventually received contracts from the U.S. government to computerize Medicare records. When the company went public, Perot was a billionaire.
Finding Your Path to Success
These are just a few examples of how success is never a straight line, but when you follow your passions, success seems to be the ultimate destination despite the windy, unknown path ahead.
If you find research fascinating and want to see where this passion can take you, Pioneer Academics can help. Sign up to attend a free information session to learn more about our online research program, the world’s only online accredited research program for high school students.