9 wildly successful people who dropped out of school

Most people seem to already know that many highly successful people – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs to name a few – dropped out of college prior to achieving fame and fortune. It happens more often than your high school guidance counselor would ever admit. But there are some noteworthy figures who went the extra dropout mile and ditched school before they even managed to get a high school diploma. It is to these unlikely success stories that this list is dedicated.

One quick note before we begin: Since “high school dropout” is almost a prerequisite for success in the entertainment industry, we’re not including actors or musicians. That would be too easy. No, the people on this list managed to succeed in fields in which it is almost impossible for a high school dropout to succeed. So let us celebrate them, these nine wildly successful high school dropouts.

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9 John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Dropped Out: Two Months Before High School Graduation

Yes, John D. Rockefeller, AKA the world’s first billionaire, dropped out of high school just prior to graduation. To be fair, it’s not like he was cutting classes to smoke weed in the parking lot with his boys. No, Rockefeller dropped out because he was sick of waiting around to get started with his life and since back in his day you could just do that sort of thing and be okay, he figured why the hell not? He enrolled in some business courses at a trade school and then went on to found Standard Oil and became so rich that he bought his old high school and turned it into an opium den for him and his buddies. Okay, maybe not, but the point is that he could have if he wanted to and really, isn’t that the American dream?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

8 Larry Flynt

Larry Flynt

Larry Flynt image by s_bukley/Shutterstock

Dropped Out: At Age 15 to Join the Military

Let’s not pretend like those last few years of high school were going to teach him anything useful, okay? I mean, really, how much calculus do you need to take pictures of naked ladies? In an interesting twist, most people don’t know that Flynt, the future Hustler kingpin, was actually the operator on duty for his Naval ship when it was ordered to recover John Glenn’s space capsule after Glenn did his famous flyby of the earth, which I’m pretty sure means that Larry Flynt is the real life Forrest Gump. Or at least the super horny version.

Photo credit: Larry Flynt image by s_bukley/Shutterstock

7 Walt Disney

Dropped Out: At Age 16 to Join the Army

Who knew Walt Disney and Larry Flynt had so much in common? Unfortunately for Disney though he was rejected by the army for being too young. Oops. Since he had already dropped out, Disney did the next best thing and joined the Red Cross and was assigned to Europe, where he served as an ambulance driver as World War I wound down. I know most 16 year-olds can’t wait to get their first car, but that’s taking things a little far. Eventually he returned home, started drawing cartoon mice (you know, as one does) founded a sorta creepy empire and then had his head frozen. You know the story. He later received an honorary high school diploma at age 58 from his high school and then died a few years later, probably of alcohol poisoning at a frat party like all too many recent high school grads. So sad.

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6 Jon Huntsman, Jr.

Dropped Out: At Age 15 to Join a Rock Band

Back in the day, dudes used to drop out to join the army. Jon Huntsman – the future governor of Utah and a Republican candidate for President in 2012 – dropped out to be the keyboard player for a shitty rock band called Wizard. I’m pretty sure that’s a metaphor for America itself. Hunstman would eventually get his GED and somehow ended up getting an International Politics degree from the University of Pennsylvania. You know, just like most people who drop out and have to go the GED route. Then again, all roads remain open when your daddy is a billionaire. Maybe if the Republicans had nominated Hunstman instead of Frankenstein Romney, Hunstman could have just challenged Obama to a battle of the bands, rocked Candy Crowley’s panties off on live TV and won America’s heart. After all, that’s how Millard Fillmore became President.

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5 Col. Harland Sanders

Col Sanders

ell brown, Flickr

Dropped Out: In the Fifth Grade

To be fair, it’s not like you need to finish elementary school to know that fried chicken is delicious. Then again, maybe if he had at least hit junior high the first 65 years of his life wouldn’t have been one shit storm after another. After all, it wasn’t until he was 65 that Sanders managed to get Kentucky Fried Chicken off the ground using his first social security check. Before then he had been beaten by his stepdad, gotten married only for his wife to leave him and sell all his belongings while he was on a trip, been forced to sell chicken out of his tiny apartment attached to a gas station before finally opening his own restaurant, which saw some success – and then promptly failed when a new interstate opened up. If that had been my life, I would have been furiously experimenting with various herbs and spices too. But in the end, it all led to him becoming Fried Chicken Jesus which isn’t bad for someone who probably never learned algebra.

Photo credit: ell brown, Flickr

4 Henry Ford

Dropped Out: At Age 16

Henry Ford is perhaps the father of modern industry. It was his adoption of the assembly line that led to the explosion of the automobile, which isn’t bad for a dude who couldn’t be bothered to finish high school. Of course, high school seems kind of trivial when you’re a bona fide genius, which Ford seemed to be, routinely dismantling and reassembling complex pocket watches as a teenager. Had he stayed in school though he might have taken a few social studies classes and wouldn’t have gone on to infamously support Adolf Hitler or written hate manifestos about Jews like some sort of prototype for today’s racist drop-out Internet commenters. But hey… cars!

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3 Benjamin Franklin

Dropped Out: After Less Than Two Years

The times were certainly different back in Ben Franklin’s day. School – even basic elementary school – was more of a luxury and people valued the school of hard knocks more than anything else. Still, it’s a little surprising that such a brilliant and accomplished dude never made it past the equivalent of the second grade. Then again, maybe it’s for the best. If Franklin had been forced to keep attending school, he probably just would have been bullied for being a nerd and then been concussed playing dodge ball in gym and we’d still be pledging allegiance to King George and wondering who the weird dude with the old lady wig was on our $100 bills.

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2 Thomas Edison

Dropped Out: After Only Three Months

Like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison didn’t have time for any of that schoolyard shit. You can’t really blame him since he was probably smarter than all of his teachers combined. Still, not even making it through elementary school seems unfathomable these days. What the hell does a 10 year-old do all day if he isn’t in school? Well, apparently Edison was taught by his mother at home and I guess she did something right because if it wasn’t for her boy I’d be writing this via candlelight and my Wi-Fi would involve me shouting out the window at my neighbors to pass this along to my editors in the world’s longest game of telephone. Maybe homeschooling isn’t such a bad idea after all. Then again, that lady hollering at her kid inside Walmart probably wouldn’t be quite as good a teacher as Ma Edison.

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1 Albert Einstein

Dropped Out: At Age 15

Albert Einstein is always the first name people think of whenever the word genius is tossed around. Hell, his name is almost a synonym for genius. He was also a notoriously lousy student who was once urged to drop out of elementary school by a frustrated teacher. I’m guessing that teacher never won any Teacher of the Year awards. But Einstein kept at it until finally at age fifteen he said the hell with it and dropped out. A year later he took the entrance exam at the Swiss Institute of Technology and like the big baller genius he was he promptly… failed. But hey, as we have seen, school isn’t for everyone. At least he didn’t drop out to join a band called Wizard, although I’m guessing he would have been the Einstein of keyboard players. Instead he just went on to become the most notable genius of the 20th century and remind everyone that life is weird and sometimes the ones who really make a difference are the ones you’d least expect.

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