Everyone wants to be valued, and to yield some sort of power. In many ways, the most respected, idolized, and powerful people in America, if not the world, reside within the U.S. government – although the power they do hold is constrained and checked in many fashions. Still, these figures are some of the most hated and reviled, yet at the same time beloved and appreciated, in the public sphere.
There’s good reason for that, too. Public service is a tough gig. It requires an immense amount of time and effort, not to mention talent and charm, and skin thick enough to withstand a consistent and thorough flaying in the media and at water coolers nationwide.
That scrutiny is one of the reasons that many talented, brilliant people avoid politics altogether. It’s hard to blame them.
But for those who do enter the fray, it’s no easy journey. Some head to Washington D.C. reluctantly, perhaps being asked to take on a position after a successful career in the private sector. Others find their way there through decades of public service, working their way up the ladder from local governments to the big stage. But they all had to start somewhere, and for most, it began during their college years.
So, what was the very first step these people took? For America’s most powerful political figures, choosing the right major or focus while in college set them on the right path. You don’t accidentally fall into positions of high power, typically, and a good education was the bedrock by which almost all of our leaders built their careers (with the exception of a handful, like Scott Walker).
Here are where and what some of our most powerful leaders studied, and how it helped them attain tremendous heights later in life.
1. President Barack Obama
The current Commander in Chief Barack Obama spent a good deal of time, previous to his political career, in and around some of America’s most hallowed universities. He himself is a graduate of both Columbia and Harvard, and was even a college professor at the University of Chicago for a number of years. As for what he majored in – he earned his B.A. from Columbia in political science, and a law degree at Harvard.
2. Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden has had a long and successful political career, first being elected to the U.S. Senate at the ripe age of 29. His educational background started at the University of Delaware, where he double-majored in both history and political science. A few years later, he went to Syracuse University to earn a law degree.
3. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Another long-time politician, Republican Kentucky Senator and current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attended the University of Louisville, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. Like Biden and Obama, he then pursued a law degree, graduating from the University of Kentucky a few years after getting his B.A.
4. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Leader for the Republicans in the House of Representatives, isn’t quite a household name like his counterpart McConnell, but he’s still in a position of considerable power and influence. He represents the California’s 23rd district, which encompasses the Bakersfield area where he was born. McCarthy’s early years saw him attend California State University – Bakersfield, where he earned an undergraduate degree in marketing, and later an MBA.
5. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan, a one-time vice presidential candidate, was made Speaker of the House after John Boehner’s resignation in late 2015. Ryan, a Wisconsin native, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Miami University, located in Oxford, Ohio. He’s also a pretty good negotiator – which bodes well for a gridlocked political system.
6. Secretary of State John Kerry
John Kerry, who currently holds the title of Secretary of State, was also the Democratic presidential nominee during the 2004 election cycle, losing to George W. Bush who won his second term. Kerry previously served 28 years in the U.S. Senate, as a member of many important committees. Kerry got his start by majoring in political science at Yale, and then following that up with a law degree from Boston College.
7. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Former Speaker of the House and current Democratic Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is yet another long and storied politician. She’s the only woman to ever have served as Speaker, and the highest-ranking female politician in the history of the Republic. The daughter of a congressman and one-time mayor of Baltimore, Pelosi earned her undergraduate degree in political science from what is now Trinity Washington University, formerly Trinity College.