From famous alumni to world-renowned students, UC Berkeley offers a legacy for all students to do great things. When you come to Berkeley, you join a long list of stars, past and present. Here are just a few examples.
Joan Didion (author, B.A. ‘56)
Author, essayist, playwright, and journalist Joan Didion best known for her pioneering work in defining the New Journalism literary movement. As the elder stateswoman of cool, analytic detachment, Didion’s work explores the cultural values of California in the 1960s, grief, memory, and the act of writing itself. Her writing has been published in Vogue, Esquire, and the New York Review of Books. She is the recipient of the National Book Award for Nonfiction, the National Book Foundation’s Annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to the American Letters, and was awarded a National Medal of the Arts by President Obama. Didion would go on to write of her personal development at Berkeley, “Would I not be a more finished person had I been provided a chart, a map, a design for living? I believe so. I also believe that the world I know, given such a chart, would have been narrowed, constricted, diminished: a more ordered and less risky world but not the world I wanted, not free, not Berkeley, not me.”
Alex Morgan (athlete, B.A. ‘10)
Alex Morgan is an Olympian and co-captain of the world champion United States women’s national soccer team. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Economy, Morgan played for the Western Flash, Seattle Sounders Women, Portland Thorns, and Orlando Pride clubs. She went on to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic games. In 2019, Morgan and her team won the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Morgan was awarded the Silver Boot Award for her contributions to the victory. Morgan is also a founding participant in the Common Goal Initiative, in which elite soccer players, clubs, and managers pledge 1% of their earnings to a central charitable fund.
Julia Morgan (architect, B.S. 1894)
No relation to soccer superstar Alex Morgan but equally as trailblazing, Julia Morgan is the architect behind countless California architectural marvels, including Hearst Castle, the Berkeley City Club, and the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley. Morgan graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Civil Engineering, and went on to become the first woman to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1898. After returning to California in 1904, she set up her own architectural firm, and received an unexpected professional boon from the 1906 earthquake; in Oakland, standing above the rubble and destruction, the Morgan-designed Spanish Mission-style bell tower at Mills College survived the quake without a crack. What’s more, it was her first major project. Following the earthquake, Morgan enjoyed renown as an architect of incredible style and substance, and was quickly tapped to rebuild the badly damaged and now-iconic Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco. Throughout her career, Morgan designed nearly 800 projects across the American west.
Barbara Lee (U.S. Representative, MSW ‘75)
Prior to being elected to Congress in 1998, Rep. Barbara Lee received her MSW from UC Berkeley in 1975. As the representative of CA-13, Lee’s signature issues include lifting Americans out of poverty and combating the HIV/AIDs crisis. Lee serves on the Congressional Caucus on HIV/AIDS, the Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus, among others. She is the co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, and is well known for casting the sole “No” vote on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists Act, imploring Congress to be “careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target”.
Amber Jackson (conservationist and co-founder of Blue Latitudes, B.A. ‘11)
Conservationist and entrepreneur Amber Jackson graduated in 2011 with a degree in Marine Science and cofounded Blue Latitudes with her business partner Emily Callahan. Blue Latitudes seeks to inform the oil and gas industries about new developments in ocean conservation, and change the way they approach offshore oil and gas drilling. Rather than sealing, capping, and removing tapped out oil and gas wells, Jackson’s company advocates leaving the sealed well in place, as artificial reefs can grow from the well infrastructure. And the world is taking notice: oil companies and governments around the world consult with Blue Latitude on ocean conservation efforts, and Jackson was recently named one of Forbes 30 Under 30!
Steve Wozniak (engineer, co-founder of Apple, B.S. ‘86)
So thoroughly does Steve Wozniak embody Silicon Valley that his hometown of San Jose named a street (“Woz Way”) in his honor. Wozniak was expelled from the University of Colorado for sending prank messages on the school’s computer system, and transferred to UC Berkeley in 1971. While on a leave of absence, Wozniak’s trickster sensibilities and tinkering ways found a kindred spirit in Steve Jobs. Together, they developed the Apple I, and co-founded Apple Computers in 1976, effectively starting the personal computing revolution. Wozniak eventually returned to Berkeley, graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Of completing his Berkeley degree, Wozniak remarked, “My proudest moment of my life…it was my graduation day, right here at this campus.”
Rube Goldberg (engineer, cartoonist, sculptor, author, and inventor, B.S. ‘04)
If you’ve ever visited the Tech Museum in San Jose, CA, played the board game Mouse Trap, or watched the opening scene of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, you’re familiar with a Rube Goldberg Machine: a contraption that uses a series of complex chain reactions to accomplish a relatively simple task. But what about the man behind the machine? Enter: Rube Goldberg, cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, inventor, and Berkeley alum. After graduating in 1904 with an engineering degree, Goldberg took a straightforward job as an engineer with the City of San Francisco’s Water and Sewers Department. It didn’t last long – after six months, he resigned, and became a sports cartoonist with the San Francisco Chronicle. Ever a humorist and absurdist, Goldberg went on to author a comic strip from 1914-1964, The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, inspired by an amalgam of his professors at Cal. Professor Butts often created what would now be called Rube Goldberg Machines. Today, professional engineers and amateur enthusiasts alike compete to design ever more needlessly complicated Rube Goldberg Machines, and there’s even a Rube Goldberg Hackathon.
Paul Merage, (co-founder and former CEO, B.S. Business 1966, MBA 1968)
For every Alice Waters (B.A. ‘67), there is Paul Merage. Born in Tehran in 1934, Paul Merage immigrated to the United States at age 16 and earned his B.A. and M.B.A. from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. From there, he revolutionized the American college student’s diet when he personally developed the frozen food staple Hot Pockets. He eventually sold his company, Chef America, to Nestle for $2.6 billion. An active philanthropist, Merage donated $30 million to the School of Business at UC Irvine (now named the Paul Merage School of Business) and sits on the board of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Leroy Chiao, (astronaut, B.S. ‘83)
Professor, CEO, polyglot — Dr. Leroy Chiao wears a lot of hats, but chief among them is a helmet. Dr. Chiao is a former astronaut and International Space Station commander. Dr. Chiao graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Chemical Engineering, and later went on to join NASA and pilot the Columbia, Endeavor, and Discovery missions, as well as the International Space Station Expedition. Dr. Chiao logged a total of 229 days, 7 hours, 38 minutes and 5 seconds in space, including 36 hours and 7 minutes of spacewalk time. In addition to all these achievements, Dr. Chiao also became the first American to vote in a presidential election while in space in 2004! After leaving NASA in 2005, Dr. Chiao has worked as a professor, consultant, and CEO of OneOrbit.