Ah, the celebrity life. From the outside, it appears to be an endless round of limousines and exclusive parties. However, a growing number of stars from the world of sports and entertainment are opting to become quiet philanthropists, especially in the realm of higher education. Many of today’s celebrities owe their own start to the generosity of benefactors who endowed scholarship or grant programs, and in attempt to ‘give back,’ they are founding their own educational scholarship programs to help a new generation of aspiring students.
So who are these high-profile ‘angels’ who are stepping up to help underwrite the dreams of today’s deserving students? And what is the thrust of their philanthropy? Here are a few snapshots of the scholarship programs that some of these generous celebrities are funding.
- David Letterman, everyone’s favorite late night curmudgeon, is indisputably the most famous alumnus of Inidana’s Ball State University. In the 1985-1986 academic year, Dave established the Letterman Telecommunication Scholarship, which annually awards up to 10K in tuition assistance to three upperclassmen majoring in telecommunications
- .will.i.am, of Blackeyed Peas fame, used the highly visible platform of the Oprah Winfrey Show to announce his scholarship initiative. As currently structured, the singer’s fund will select seven students from College Track, a California-based after school program. Each student will receive $10,000 per year for the duration of their undergraduate education
- Ono founded the John Lennon Scholarships for Songwriters and Composers. The Lennon Scholarships are administered via the BMI Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the music licensing giant, and are awarded to three students annually.
- Alec Baldwin is a bigger-than-life celebrity, with a hit television show, a solid movie career, a weekly podcast on public radio, and an avocation as a political gadfly. However, not too many years ago, he was just another student struggling to make ends meet at New York University. In 2010, he gifted NYU’s Tisch School with a cool $1 million, establishing the Alec Baldwin Drama Scholarship Fund.
- Katie Holmes may have had more than her share of publicity recently, but one of her endeavors flies under the radar. In 2009, Holmes joined with dance heavyweights Nigel Lythgoe, Adam Shankman and Carrie Ann Inaba, to establish the Dizzy Feet Foundation. In addition to sponsoring several initiatives to bring dance awareness and education to underserved communities, DFF awards students enrolled in nationally accredited dance programs up to $10,000 per year in scholarships.
- Under the umbrella of the Tiger Woods Foundation, the Earl Woods Scholarships provide more than just financial support. Named in honor of the golf superstar’s late father, these scholarship come with mentors and internship opportunities
- .Jerry Seinfeld is considered a comic genius, but education is something this native New Yorker takes seriously. Through the Seinfeld Family Foundation, he has established the Seinfeld Scholarships. These four-year college scholarships are awarded to NYC public school students on a borough-rotating basis, with this year’s crop of scholarship winners coming from the Bronx.
Of course, these seven celebrity philanthropists aren’t the only marquee names to use their own good fortune to help others. Sean Penn and Brad Pitt have both committed their energy and fortunes to help disaster torn place like Louisiana and Haiti. George Clooney and Bono are powerful advocates for the people in the developing world, and many other stars regularly devote their celebrity muscle and their own funds to helping others. To all of them, a grateful shout out -- and keep up the good work.