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11 High School Dropouts Who Found Success Anyway

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Every year an alarming number of high school students decide to call it quits on their education. While many, if not most, live to regret the decision, quite a few dropouts have done pretty well for themselves. Here’s a look at 11 high school dropouts who went on to find great success. (Film and music are littered with precocious artists whose careers started to take off while they were still just teenagers, so we’ll save them for another day.)

1. Kemmons Wilson

You may not recognize Wilson’s name, but you may have spent a night under one of his roofs at the Holiday Inn chain he founded. Wilson was still a baby when his father died in 1913, and when his mother had financial trouble he left school to supplement her income. Wilson parlayed a movie popcorn concession into a pinball machine business that in turn became a Wurlitzer jukebox franchise until he jumped into the motel game. Wilson later quipped, “When you ain’t got not education, you just gotta use your brain.”

2. Dave Thomas

The affable Wendy’s founder dropped out of high school when he was 15 so he could work in a restaurant. Thomas regretted his decision and worried that he was setting a bad example by not having finished his education, so 45 years later he earned his GED from Coconut Creek High School in Florida. When he graduated in 1993, his classmates went way out on a limb and voted Thomas as Most Likely to Succeed.

3. Peter Jennings

The late anchorman dropped out of school after flunking the 10th grade. He later told Reader’s Digest, “I think it was pure boredom. I loved girls. I loved comic books. And for reasons I don't understand, I was pretty lazy.” He went to work as a bank teller and later jumped into broadcasting.

4. William Faulkner

Like Jennings, the great novelist dropped out of high school in his second year and went to work in a bank. Faulkner eventually resumed his schooling at the University of Mississippi, but he dropped out of college after just a year. He then spent two years as the university postmaster at Ole Miss, a job he lost. (Faulkner said of his canning, “I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son-of-a-b---- who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”)

5. Richard Branson

The “rebel billionaire” behind Virgin wasn’t as successful in the classroom as he’s been in business. Branson’s dyslexia caused him a great deal of trouble as a student, so when he was 16 he left school to go into business for himself. Now he’s got a net worth in the neighborhood of $4 billion.

6. Leon Uris

The author of Exodus earned renown for the painstaking research and detail he put into each of his novels, but Uris wasn’t doing any of his research with the aid of a high school diploma. Although Uris clearly had a gift for writing, it didn’t translate so well into his high school English classes; he failed the subject three times, which later led him to declare, “English and writing have little to do with each other.” When Uris was 17 he gave up high school for good to enlist in the Marine Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

7. James Naismith

The Canadian inventor of basketball had a pretty rough early life. Both of his parents died when he was just nine years old, so he went to work in a lumber camp to help support his siblings and the uncle who was raising them. By the time he was 15, Naismith decided he didn’t need any more schooling to bring home a buck, so he dropped out. After a few years of hard living and hard work, Naismith went back to high school when he was 20 and graduated in two years. He later went on to earn a medical degree and create a certain game that used a peach basket.

8 & 9. The Wright Brothers

Neither of the famous flyboys received their high school diplomas, though Wilbur was close. Orville dropped out of school in 1889 to start a printing business; Wilbur helped him build his first makeshift printer out of odd parts like a discarded tombstone and pieces from broken-down buggies. One of the brothers’ earliest clients went on to earn great acclaim for himself; Orville’s high school buddy poet Paul Laurence Dunbar published his first poems in the Wright brothers’ newspaper. [NOTE: The original version of this story mistakenly identified Orville as the older brother. Wilbur was born in 1867; Orville was born in 1871.]

10. Walt Disney


The cartoonist dropped out of high school when he was 16 to enlist for World War I. The American armed forces rejected him, though, and after a plan to enlist in the Canadian military fell through, Disney spent a brief period of time working for the post office. Eventually he made it to the European fighting as a member of the Red Cross Ambulance Corps, though.

11. John D. Rockefeller

By some calculations, Rockefeller was the richest man in history. He didn’t get around to finishing high school, though. By the age of 16, he was working as an assistant bookkeeper for a produce commission firm, and he quickly began amassing his giant oil fortune. Even though he dropped out of high school, Rockefeller had a keen appreciation for the virtues of education; a large chunk of his legendary philanthropic donations went to schools and universities.

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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