A perfect blend of beauty and brains, Natalie Portman is also one of the most recognizable actresses of the 21st century. She was discovered by a modeling agent in a pizza parlor at the age of 11, but decided that she would rather pursue a career in acting. Prolific in film since her teenage years, Portman is most known for her versatility as an actress, starring in both international blockbusters and smaller critically acclaimed films.
For her many brilliant performances, the Israeli-born actress has received numerous awards including the Academy Award for Best Actress, the Golden Globe Award, the BAFTA Award, and the BFCA Award. In 2017 Portman was awarded Israel’s 2018 Genesis Prize, a $1 million recognition that is widely known as the "Jewish Nobel Prize." Organizers of the prize announced that they were recognizing the actress for her commitment to social causes and deep connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots.
On top of her acting achievements, Portman also has a penchant for education. In 1999, to the surprise of many, she enrolled in Harvard University. Although she reflects fondly on her undergraduate years, she has also admitted to struggling with depression during her sophomore year, blaming it on a combination of heartache, birth-control pills, and a lack of natural sunlight.
Nonetheless, Portman was able to balance career and education with enviable aplomb. Alan M. Dershowitz, who said Portman was in his neuropsychology and law class, reported that "she was a terrific student" who earned "the highest grade in the class." Her writings have been published in various scientific journals. And in 2003, she earned her bachelor's degree in psychology.
Over the years, the Oscar-winning actress has taken a break from Hollywood to reconnect with her alma mater. In early 2015, Portman contributed to an open letter that called for Harvard to fight climate change by divesting from coal, oil, and gas companies. Later that year, Harvard invited Portman back to deliver the keynote address at its Class Day proceedings, explaining how Portman was not only an inspiring actress, but also a committed intellectual and humanitarian. Taking the podium, Portman's self-deprecating speech explored her own experiences at Harvard, while also urging graduates to use their inexperience to their advantage.
"Your inexperience is an asset, and will allow you to think in unconventional ways," she explained. "Each time you set out to do something new, your inexperience can either lead you down a path where you will conform to someone else's values, or you can forge your own path, even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing. You will control the rewards of what you do by making your internal life fulfilling."
As someone who has experienced a lot of success, in a lot of different ways, her words ring true enough. In 2011, Portman became the first Harvard graduate to win an Oscar for best actress.