Denzel Washington graduated from high school in 1973, and went to college at Fordham University in New York City, a private university founded in 1841. He enrolled as a pre-med student in 1974. Going in to his sophomore year he was one credit short of the required course load, and decided to take Beginning Acting as an easy elective to fill the credit requirement. It was here that Denzel found his calling and fell in love with acting. He said in 1987 “I think the important thing about being at Fordham and being in the theater department was the foundation, the training it gave me for my future endeavors in film and in television. I think that the theater should be the basis of every actor’s work. I’m eternally grateful to Fordham University for giving me that opportunity.” He earned a B.A. Theater of Arts in the summer of 1977.
Located in New York City, Fordham University is a private university with an undergraduate enrollment of over 8,000 students; 53% female, 47% male. It is ranked #57 in U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 edition of Best Colleges in the National Universities category. Other notable alumni include actors Alan Alda, Raul Julia, Dylan McDermott, entrepreneur Donald Trump, NFL coach Vincent Lombardi, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, news anchor Chris Cuomo, magician David Copperfield, dancer Karina Smirnoff, and author Mary Higgins Clark.
In 2011, Washington gave $2 million to Fordham University to endow the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre, and also a gift of $250,000 which established the Denzel Washington Endowed Scholarship, which is dedicated to an undergraduate student studying theatre. Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad, who played Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, joined the Fordham faculty as the first Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre. Washington explains why this is important to him, saying “Show me a successful individual, and I’ll show you someone who has had positive influences in his or her life. The late Bob Stone, my mentor, was a former actor and professor at Fordham University. Bob was one of those influences in my life. He believed in me and gave me something to live up to. I wanted to create the Denzel Washington Endowed Scholarship and Chair in Theatre at Fordham in order to offer the next generation of students positive influences. Phylicia Rashad, as the inaugural holder of the chair, will provide the care, compassion and that extra push to help take students where they’re meant to go.”
Fordham University faculty and students show their gratitude:
Washington then scored a scholarship to the American Conservatory Theater, and left after a year of study to pursue acting. Located in San Francisco, California, the American Conservatory Theater is a non-profit theater company and acting school. It was founded in 1965 by theater and opera director William Ball. Initially located in Pittsburg Pennsylvania, William Ball relocated the company to San Francisco at the behest of San Franciscan philanthropists and city officials, making San Francisco it’s home. The conservatory currently offers a wide range of classes and is accredited to grant Master of Fine Arts degrees for actors. Its Master of Fine Arts program is very competitive, admitting only eight students per year among hundreds who audition. It is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top five actor-training programs in the nation, alongside schools such as New York University, Carnegie Mellon, Juilliard, and Yale University. Notable alumni include Annette Bening, Elizabeth Banks, Benjamin Bratt, Nicolas Cage, Danny Glover, Harry Hamlin, Omar Metwally, Anika Noni Rose, Milo Ventimiglia, Amy Irving, Teri Hatcher, and many others.
Denzel Washington spent time as a youth with the Boys & Girls Club of America, which he credits as keeping him from getting in to trouble, and to this day he is a large supporter and voice of the organization. In 2006 Denzel’s book A Hand to Guide Me was published, in which he recounts his personal story of the mentors who shaped and guided his life, including mentor Billy Thomas from The Boys & Girls Club. A portion of the book’s proceeds goes to the Boys & Girls Club of America.
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