Woodrow Wilson: When I think of Wilson, I picture the principal from The Breakfast Club, a stern and haughty academic. In reality, Wilson was physically and emotionally frail, with illness forcing him to drop out of the University of Virginia School of Law. Eventually, he passed the bar, earned a Ph.D., and became a war-time president.
Lyndon B. Johnson: Like most ambitious Congressional staffers, Johnson attended Georgetown Law. However, he went back to his home state of Texas after a semester. Three years later, he returned to Washington, D.C., as a member of Congress, where he gained a reputation for being a backroom wheeler and dealer. This arm-twisting came in handy as president, when he rounded up votes for the Civil Rights Act.
Karl Marx: Communism has an image problem, no doubt. It is dogged by impressions of dreary, monotonous collectivism. George Orwell’s exposé of communism’s cruel and hypocritical underbelly didn’t help. After Stalin and Mao purged millions, the proletariat grew weary of one-party power. Still, the father of communism was actually a frat boy at the University of Bonn, Prussia’s party school in its day. Alas, Marx’s daddy, despondent over his son’s law school grades, shipped him to a more rigorous school. Lesson to parents: Sometimes, it’s best to let your kids become screwups.
Bernie Madoff: Talk about the poster child for “stay in school!” Madoff dropped out of Brooklyn Law after a semester to head to Wall Street. Fifty years later, he was re-acquainted with the courtroom, after it was discovered that his Ponzi scheme made off with billions of dollars.
Paul Simon: Another Brooklyn Law dropout, Simon studied late in the evening like a boy in a bubble. However, he found his interest in the law was slip sliding away, so he jotted down 50 ways to leave your law school and went off to look for America with pal Art Garfunkel. This spring, he was arrested for disorderly conduct, proving that he’s still crazy after all these years.
Martin Luther: As legend has it, Luther dropped out of law school to join a monastery to thank God for sparing his life during a storm. That said, Luther obviously learned something at the University of Erfurt, as his 95 Theses made a heck of a case against the Catholic Church.
Al Gore: The 43rd President – oh wait. Nope, that was George W. Bush. Gore spent two years at Vanderbilt. However, he dropped out to run for Congress, winning a seat at the tender age of 28. Despite losing out on the presidency by 537 votes, this “crazed sex poodle” managed to nab a Nobel Prize and generate a net worth of $200 million dollars.
Vince Lombardi: “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Remember your coach ripping into you with those lines? Guess what? They came from Vince Lombardi, who quit Fordham Law after a semester due to poor grades. After two Super Bowl wins and a .738 winning percentage, you could say that Lombardi learned from his failures. As he says, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
Diane Sawyer: “I went to law school and didn’t graduate and ended up doing the weather in tight skirts and lamentably pointy bras.” Whoa!
Dropping out to pursue a passion doesn’t always work out – at first, at least. After leaving the University of Louisville School of Law, Sawyer climbed the ladder from Nixon aide to “60 Minutes” correspondent to “ABC News” anchor.
Harry Truman: How is this for putting the cart before the horse? Truman served as a judge before enrolling in law school! Turns out, being a judge was easier as Truman dropped out of the University of Missouri-Kansas City after two years of night classes.
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