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The UnCollege Blog

Malia & Co.: Political Figures Who Took A Gap Year


Every year, 18-24 year olds delay or temporarily depart college in order to pursue other interests. According to an article published by NPR at the beginning of May, Harvard University alone has seen a 33% increase in admitted students taking time off before their first semester. Some seek out full time employment, others travel the world, and still others get involved with volunteering and local community service projects to help build their worldview. And Harvard University can now add another name to its list of admitted students pursuing a gap year.

Malia Obama.

Recently, the Obama family announced their eldest daughter’s plans for higher education. Malia, 17 and recent high school graduate of Sidwell Friends, will be taking a year off before attending Harvard in the fall of 2017. According to the White House’s statement on the matter, there is no comment on exactly why Malia has decided to take a gap year or what she plans to do over the next twelve months. But if the political industry’s past has anything to show, it’s that Malia isn’t the first to pursue a gap year!

In addition to all the celebrities and cultural icons that have taken time off from school in order to pursue outside careers or travel the world (Emma Watson, J.K. Rowling, Mike Myers, etc.), some prominent politicians have also spent time away from campus investigating other areas of life. Do either of these guys ring a bell?

John F. Kennedy

After graduating from Choate Rosemary Hall preparatory school in June of 1935, the then 18-year-old JFK attended six weeks of his freshman year of college before growing sick enough to postpone his quest for higher education. He left Princeton University in 1936 to undergo tests and be treated for what his doctors thought was leukemia. After taking the rest of the school year to recover his health, Kennedy spent May and June working as a cattle ranch hand in Arizona and two additional months racing sailboats in Hyannisport (talk about turning your summer around!). He returned to school in the fall of 1936, enrolling at Harvard College for a fresh start. During the course of his four years at Harvard, Kennedy swam varsity, graduated cum laude, and wrote a senior thesis that he would later publish as a bestselling book entitled Why England Slept. After graduation in 1940, he went on to audit additional classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and, uh, you know, become a U.S. president. Not too shabby.

Mitt Romney

Romney began his college career as a freshman at Stanford University in the fall of 1965. At the end of his fall semester, he left Stanford to participate in a mission trip to France. He traveled as a Mormon missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a total of two and a half years, taking the spring semester and two additional years off college to do church service. When he returned to the U.S. at the end of the sixties, Romney enrolled in Brigham Young University. In 1971 he was named valedictorian and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English. He went on to become a successful American businessman, acting as the CEO of a management consulting firm, Bain & Company, and co-founding a private equity investment firm called Bain Capital. He oversaw the organization of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games from his seat as President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. He also made a significant run for the U.S. presidency as the republican party candidate in 2012.

If the political industry has anything to say about taking time off from college to explore other avenues of life, it is certainly visible in the lives of these two men. This upcoming year, as Malia adds another prominent political name to the list of gap-year-takers, I urge you to consider your own plans for the future. You don’t have to be destined for politics for a gap year to benefit you. Perhaps Malia will become a movie star or find a comfortable career out of the spotlight altogether. Or maybe she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps and return to the White House some day. Whatever the case, this next year holds so much for Malia, and everyone else pursuing a gap year, to explore both around the world and inside themselves.

And, judging by the accomplishments of these and other gap year veterans, we can expect great things from Malia.

And even greater things from you.

To learn more about other public figures who have taken a gap year, check out this article on Celebrity Gap Years.