Reach for the Stars: Celebrity-Inspired Scholarships


Any time there is a natural disaster or tragedy, you can bet Hollywood’s brightest stars will use their connections to help those in need. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are well known for their generosity and compassion, especially for those still struggling in New Orleans. When Super Storm Sandy struck the East Coast, several big name celebrities opened up their pocket books and even their homes to help complete strangers. Lady Gaga has made it her personal mission to end bullying; the list goes on and on.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many celebrities also contribute large sums of cash to help struggling college students. Alec Baldwin, who set up a scholarship fund at the Tisch School of the Arts several years ago, recently made another $1 million gift to continue his support of talented students through the Baldwin Drama Scholarship Fund. Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z, generously provides scholarships ($1,500 to $2,500 each) to help students achieve their college dreams. The students can re-apply for the grants every year until they finish college. Through the United Negro College Fund, Michael Jackson and little sister Janet have set up scholarships for students pursuing careers in music, art, theater and, of course, vocal performance. Here are a few other celebrity-inspired scholarships that are open to a variety of students.

1. The Christopher Reeve Award

Each year, The Heart of America Foundation honors Christopher Reeve (better known as Superman to most of us) by presenting this award to an extraordinary youth who has demonstrated compassion and caring through service to his or her community. Recipients must be high school seniors or younger. Nominations are accepted annually from September 1 through October 31. One winner receives a $1,000 scholarship for his or her post-secondary education.

2. Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarship

Some of you may be too young to remember who Mister Rogers is, but your parents probably spent a considerable amount of time watching his show when they were children. To celebrate his work with children’s programming and entertainment, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation provides four $10,000 scholarships each year to students pursuing careers in early childhood education, psychology, film/television production, animation and music.

Bruce Lee Scholarship
3. Bruce Lee Foundation Scholarship

The original Kato in the Green Hornet television series (1966) and well-known for his martial arts skills, Bruce Lee’s legacy continues through the generosity of the Bruce Lee Foundation, which seeks to preserve Lee’s undaunted optimism in the face of adversity and work toward the betterment of a global community. Each year, one or more students will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help cover tuition, books and other college-related expenses. High school seniors and current college students may submit applications until 5 p.m. on Friday, June 14.

The U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce also offers a Bruce Lee Scholarship. High school seniors and college students, who are of Asian Pacific Island heritage and have a grade point average of 3.3 or higher, may apply. One $5,000 scholarship will be provided. Applications will be available early next year.

4. Letterman Telecommunications Scholarship

David Letterman graduated from Ball State University in 1970. After carving out his niche on television, he established a scholarship program at his alma mater in 1985. Students, who are currently pursuing degrees in telecommunications at Ball State, now have the opportunity to win a $3,333, $5,000 or $10,000 scholarship thanks to Letterman’s generosity. Students must submit an original, creative project and a copy must be sent to Letterman, as well. I guess we know where he’s been getting some of his material lately!

John Lennon Scholarship
5. The John Lennon Scholarship

Established in 1997 by John’s wife, Yoko Ono, this scholarship program honors the memory of one of the best songwriters of the 20th century. His songs, such as ‘All You Need is Love’ and ‘Imagine,’ continue to inspire and uplift people across the globe. Each year, three scholarships, totaling $20,000, are awarded to the best original songs submitted to the competition. Students between the ages of 17 and 24 are eligible to apply. Applications are available at the beginning of the year and must be submitted by April (TBD).

Most celebrities are known for their work on television or the movies; some are even famous for their bad behavior, but thankfully, many choose to use their good fortune to help others realize their academic dreams. The next time you download a song or head to the theater, Google the actors’ names to see what they are doing to give back. It might make that $15 movie ticket seem a little less painful.

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