50 Successful People Who Have A GED

Take a look at this list of 50 successful people who left high school before graduation and got their GED® diploma instead. “Few of our failures are fatal,” Financial Times columnist Tim Harford writes in his new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. 

According to Adapt, “success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right the first time. Often lack of recognition of a learning style leads to not completing high school, too.


Eminem attended Lincoln High School in Warren, Michigan, where he failed the ninth grade three times and eventually quit at the age of 17. Despite being a poor student, Eminem always had a deep affinity for language, devouring comic books, and even studying the dictionary.

“I found that no matter how bad I was at school, like, and no matter how low my grades might have been at some times, I always was good at English … I just felt like I want to be able to have all of these words at my disposal, in my vocabulary at all times whenever I need to pull ’em out.”

In the interview with Josh Eells from the Rolling Stone website, October 17, 2011, he said:

“Josh Eells: More acting? Maybe go back to school?
Eminem: Well, I did go back and get my GED. I don’t know if that counts, but I’m proud of it.”

source: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/eminem-on-the-road-back-from-hell-20111017

Jim Carrey

Age of quitting high school: 16. Reason: The comedic actor was not only a class clown but a straight-A student as well. But times were tough for the young Canadian, who was forced to leave school and find a job to help support his family.

He worked as a security guard and janitor before deciding to try his hand at comedy.

Christian Slater

Christian earned his GED credential to set a good example for his two young children. He even took a class (with much younger students) to prepare for the battery of tests.
He discussed his GED certificate with Ellen DeGeneres in January of 2010. To hear him talking about it just go and fast forward this video to 1:48 minute.

Dave Thomas

The founder of Wendy’s, Dave Thomas started working in the restaurant industry at only 12 years old. His family was constantly on the move and at age 15, he refused to keep moving with his parents.

He was working part-time at the Hobby House restaurant in Fort Wayne and left high school to start working at the business full time.

After working as a mess sergeant during the Korean War, he began working for KFC, where he was able to help turn several of their failing franchises around.

In 1969, he sold off the KFC franchises he owned and opened his restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. He named the restaurant after his daughter, who was called Melinda but was nicknamed Wendy. These days, Wendy’s is the third-largest burger chain in America.

In 1993, Dave decided that he didn’t want to set a bad example for any youngsters out there, so he enrolled at Coconut Creek High School and earned his GED. So you see, you don’t necessarily need a degree from Harvard to be successful in America.

Michael J. Fox

Although Michael was close to finishing high school, he decided to light out for Hollywood, California, to pursue his career.

It was decided that Michael would leave after his 18th birthday, but before graduating from High School. (Michael would not receive his General Equivalency Diploma until 1995.) His father drove him to Los Angeles and gave him $3,000 to get started.”

Actor Michael J. Fox went to high school in his native Canada but never finished. After he got married, had kids, and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he made it a priority to earn his GED.

In the interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, he said:

“I always felt that I came up short in the education department,” Fox tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “But I’ve come to the conclusion that we all get an education. And somehow over the years, I managed to get one.”

Fifteen years after leaving high school, Fox went back and got his GED at the urging of his 4-year-old.

source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126052271 If you want to check your learning style, click here. 

Christina Applegate

“Passed the GED with flying colors toward the end of her Junior Year.”

Richard Carmona

Richard Carmona is an Arizona senator and former U.S. Surgeon General under George W. Bush. Carmona was born in New York City of Puerto Rican descent and raised in Harlem. After quitting Dewitt Clinton high school prematurely at age 16, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967.

While enlisted, he received his General Educational Development (GED ), joined the United States Army Special Forces, became a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, and began his career in medicine as a Special Forces medic.

Nicholas Cage

Left high school early but made earning his GED a priority before he pursued a career in acting.

Cyndi Lauper

Lauper was accepted into a special public high school for students with talent in the visual arts, but she was held back and eventually left school, earning her GED sometime later. At the age of seventeen, she left home, planning to study art.

Brandon Lee

He attended high school at Chadwick School but walked to leave for insubordination, more specifically driving down the school’s hill backward, three months before graduating. He received his GED in 1983, and then went to Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts where he majored in theater.

Walter Anderson

You could argue that Walter Anderson is the ultimate GED poster child. After he left high school before graduation, Anderson went on to become the publisher of Parade magazine. He writes about his journey in the autobiography, Meant to Be: The True Story of a Son Who Discovers He Is His Mother’s Deepest Secret, published by Harper Collins.

“Walter Anderson is chairman and CEO of Parade Publications and an Advisory Board member of Literacy Volunteers of America and National Center for Family Literacy.

Michael Chang

Grand Slam champion tennis player earned his GED and is currently at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.

Wally Amos

He earned his GED while in the U.S. Air Force and later became the founder of Famous Amos Cookies.

Jon Huntsman, Jr

2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman could have been president of the United States after earning a GED. He left the presidential race. His bio on his campaign website states: During the 1970s, he left high school prematurely and was the keyboard player in a rock band before eventually resuming his studies. He eventually received his GED.

Christopher Blizzard

Christopher Blizzard is a high-tech guru who contributed significantly to Mozilla and Open Source. He reportedly quit high school without a diploma and later earned a GED. We don’t have a trusted source for this information. If you do, let us know.

Jeremy Bonderman

As he emerged as one of the nation’s best high school pitchers in his junior year, Jeremy said: “I knew if I went to college that it would be in junior college.” Scouts suggested to his parents, Gene and Dory, that if he passed the GED as an 18-year-old junior, he could be eligible for the draft.

The Bondermans worked with the school board, the principal, and the college adviser. They notified Major League Baseball of their intentions, looking not to pull a surprise and try to become a free agent, but simply make their son eligible for the draft.

When Bonderman indeed passed the GED, the commissioner’s office made him eligible for the draft. “I believed this was the best way for me to go,” Bonderman said. “Believe me; I thought it out. We talked my future out with a lot of people, especially everyone at school.”

D.L. Hughley

D.L. Hughley grew up in South Central Los Angeles and had a rough upbringing, getting kicked out of high school and becoming a member of the notorious Bloods gang. After his cousin was shot, D.L. Hughley turned his life around, got a GED and a job and, after prompting by his wife, LaDonna, tried his hand at stand-up comedy.

Stephen Leicht

At the age of 12, he began racing stock cars and got his GED to focus full-time on racing.

Waylon Jennings

“Country music star Waylon Jennings is singing a different tune since gaining a high school equivalency diploma: ‘Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up without a high school diploma.’ Jennings was scheduled to accept his General Educational Development certificate from Kentucky First Lady Martha Wilkinson at the Capitol in Frankfort today.”

Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton’s bio includes this sentence: Her childhood was spent in palatial dwellings in the priciest neighborhoods on both coasts and featured a brief flirtation with the educational system, including high schooling at the ultra-exclusive Dwight School, which she quit prematurely to ultimately earn her high school GED.

Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings started broadcasting when he was only nine years old. He followed the footsteps of his father, a respected radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and operated as the host of a CBC children’s program called “Peter’s People.”

Surprisingly, his father was out on assignment when Jennings was chosen for the gig, and he was furious at the network for hiring his son solely because he was the son of a broadcaster.

When it came to schooling, Jennings was a great athlete, but a terrible student, which he said was due to “pure boredom.” He failed to pass the 10th grade and left school as a result. He tried to attend Carleton University, but “lasted about 10 minutes” before he quit there as well.

After school, he started working at The Royal Bank of Canada, but he dreamed of being a professional broadcaster.

Fran Lebowitz

“After being expelled from high school and receiving a GED, Lebowitz worked many odd jobs before being hired by Andy Warhol as a columnist for Interview.”

Lindsay Lohan

Actor Lindsay Lohan also appears on most GED celebrity lists, but I can’t find a reliable source. I also can’t find any reference to her graduation from high school. If you can help, leave a comment.

Ruth Ann Minner

“Minner did not have an easy life as a youth and left school at age 16 to help support her family. Later she qualified for a GED and attended the Delaware Technical and Community College.”

George Bernard Shaw

Famed Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw held an outright animosity towards schooling that he maintained throughout his life. He was quoted as saying, “Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parent.”

Not surprisingly, the writer never completed his education, having quit the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School prematurely.

His main complaints about schooling were the standardization of the curriculum, which he believed deadened the spirit and stifled the intellect. He also deplored the corporal punishment being used in schools, although most modern teachers and parents would agree with him on this issue.

George Eastman

The creator of the Kodak Camera Company, George Eastman, was forced to stop attending high school due to financial circumstances.

At only 14, his father died, and the only way George could keep his two sisters and mother alive was to quit school and begin working as an office boy full time. By the age of 26, Eastman found his true calling and began working to improve the emulsion process involved in photography.

He thought the liquid emulsions proved quite a problem as they were excessively sticky and had to be used quickly before they dried. In only three years, Eastman had perfected his dry emulsion plates, and he started his own photographic business in 1880.

Quentin Tarantino

While a lot of famous directors hone their skills during college, Quentin Tarantino built up his film knowledge by working in a video rental store in Manhattan Beach, California.

He not only never went to college, but he quit going to Narbonne High School in Harbor City, California in his freshman year. He started learning the acting craft in acting school at the James Best Theatre Company in Toluca Lake, but it wasn’t until he started working at Video Archives with Roger Avery, also a director these days, that he began sharpening his future skills.

Some people complain about Tarantino’s movies having too much focus on the dialogue, but for someone who quit high school prematurely, I’d say that’s not such a bad thing.

Richard Pryor

If comedy is born from tragedy, then it is only logical that Richard Pryor became one of the top comedians of the seventies. Pryor had anything but an easy life.

He was raised in his grandmother’s brothel, where his mother “worked” and his father served as her pimp. At only ten, his mother abandoned him, and his strict grandmother took over his care, beating him whenever she thought he was acting “eccentric.” With a home life like this, it’s not all too surprising that he ended up being expelled from high school at 14.

In the end, Pryor ended up proving the adage that “whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”, and his comedy career was one of the longest-lasting and most successful of the last fifty years.

Peter Jackson

Before he directed the Lord of The Rings or even his cult classics like Meet the Feebles, Peter Jackson was just a film-obsessed kid. He was trying to make his film by the age of nine, complete with the special effects he loved to see in shows like “Thunderbirds.”

After he has seen the original King Kong, he started trying to mimic the stop-motion from the film. He spent his entire childhood and all of his teenage years making short films and developing his special effect techniques, which even included making his minuscule models.

When he was 16, he left high school and started working as an apprentice engraver in a newspaper photography department. He kept living with his parents so he could save money for film-making supplies, which he soon used to begin production on what would become his first full-length film, Bad Taste. When you know that your future is the film you don’t have a real need for the three Rs of “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

50 Cent

50 Cent quit school as a sophomore in high school after he was expelled for drug possession. He earned a GED while at boot camp.

Avril Lavigne

Quit high school at the age of 15

Reason: After an impromptu performance for a music producer on a weekend trip in New York, the Canadian singer-songwriter landed a record deal. She admits her family did have plans for homeschooling her, but those fell through as her music career took off.

Cameron Diaz

Left high school prematurely at age 17

Reason: Turns out the actress wasn’t just a “Bad Teacher,” but she was a pretty poor student also. The longtime Hollywood starlet admits that school just wasn’t her thing and left Long Beach Polytechnical High School after being offered a modeling contract.

Charlie Sheen

Left high school while in 12th grade

Reason: The actor may have done some serious “winning” in the past couple of years, but he certainly never received any accolades for attendance. Just a few weeks short of graduation, Sheen was expelled from Santa Monica High School for never coming to class and having incredibly poor grades. Had he made it, Sheen’s coaches say he could have gone on to play baseball in college, but it looks like he’ll just have to stick with portraying athletes in movies like “Major League” instead.

Catherine Zeta-JonesFamous People with GED

Quit high school at the age of 15

Reason: Most people who have an Oscar on their shelf wouldn’t regret trading in their high school diploma for their Screen Actor’s Guild card, and we bet this successful actress is one.

Before pursuing a long marriage with fellow Hollywood star Michael Douglas, she was pursuing her acting dreams on the British stage beginning with a revival of “42nd Street.”

Elton John

Left high school at 16

Reason: After entering London’s Royal Academy of Music on a piano scholarship at age 11, the now Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member became bored with classical compositions and quit school to do some rock’n’roll piano playing at a local pub.

Joshua Leonard

By the time he hit puberty, though, Leonard had decided that acting “was the last thing I wanted to do with my life.” Instead, he pushed to obtain his GED at age 16 and underwent survival training with Outward Bound as preparation for a year and a half stay in Mexico where he volunteered with a youth services organization.

Greg Mathis

After attending Herman Gardens Elementary School, Peterson Seventh Day Adventist School, and Wayne Memorial High School, Mathis earned his GED through Operation Push while on juvenile probation in 1977.

Michelle Rodriguez

Though she quit high school before graduation, she earned her GED and briefly attended business school. She eventually quit pursuing a career in acting, hoping to become a writer and director as well.

Bo Bice

He tried enrolling himself, but was stopped by a staff member at the school and questioned about his rocker looks with long hair and piercings.

“This guy says, “Excuse me. Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to enroll in school. He said, ‘Not looking like that you’re not. Cut your hair, take your earrings out, get that shirt tucked in and you come back tomorrow.'”

“The long and short of it, I did not end up finishing school, but I got my GED,” Bice said.

Jay Z and Beyonce

Jay Z and his wife Beyonce topped the Forbes list of highest-earning couples recently. The Knowles-Carter family has a reported combined net worth of over $600 million.

Jay Z has successfully transitioned from being just a rapper to a bonafide business mogul. He signed a 10-year, $150-million Live Nation deal in 2008, and his “Watch the Throne” world tour brought in $1.4 million per night in the U.S., while Beyonce’s ” The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour” grossed an average $2 million per night, according to Forbes.

Then there are their other interests. Jay Z briefly owned a minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets but dumped his share because he started his sports agency: Roc Nation Sports, which represents star athletes like Kevin Durant and Victor Cruz. Beyonce has several fragrance collections and a clothing line, House of Dereon. The couple also manages a handful of lucrative endorsement deals for major companies including L’Oreal, Dell, and Budweiser.

Jay Z attended several schools in Brooklyn and reportedly last attended Trenton Central High School in Trenton, N. J., where he did not graduate. Reports vary on whether Beyonce obtained a high school diploma. Some claim she received a diploma via homeschooling while working with the successful girl group Destiny’s Child.

Two years ago, rumors swirled that Beyonce was getting a GED when she was photographed entering an Alternative Education Complex in New York. Neither has attended college.

Ruth Ann Minner

“Minner did not have an easy life as a youth and left school at age 16 to help support her family. Later she qualified for a GED and attended the Delaware Technical and Community College.”

Britney Spears

Britney Spears also quit high school early to pursue a music career. She was attending Kentwood High school in Louisiana before she quit high school. There is no word as to whether Brit did get a GED. With some of her life decisions, we have to wonder really.

Bill Cosby

More interested in sports than academics, Cosby played on his school’s track and football teams. He was placed in a high school for gifted students after scoring high on an IQ test.

But Cosby failed to apply himself and ended up falling behind in his classes. He switched to Germantown High School, and even there he learned that he would have to repeat a grade. In frustration, Cosby left school.

He worked several odd jobs before joining the U.S. Navy in 1956…. Regretting his decision to leave school without graduating, Cosby earned his high school equivalency diploma while in the service. A well-known advocate for education, Bill earned his GED and later went on to earn his doctor of education degree from the University of Massachusetts, though we now may have doubts about his real intentions.


Last Updated on April 19, 2021.

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