McGill University Notable Alumni
May-Ann Olazo - January 20th, 2023
McGill University has proudly graduated a wide variety of notable alumni. Countless McGill degree holders hold prominent positions in some of the world’s most influential companies. Here are some of the diverse range of accomplished alumni who have used their skills and education to make a positive difference in our world.
Charles Krauthammer is a renowned McGill University alumnus who graduated with a degree in political science and economics. After receiving his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, he went on to become a distinguished political commentator, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. An integral part of the late 1990s’ conservative movement, Charles’ well-crafted writing and analyses inspired millions worldwide. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McGill in 2017 for his lifetime achievements of having inspired many generations’ discourse in politics and international affairs.
Burt Bacharach, one of the most renowned composers of the 20th century, attended McGill from 1949-1951, where he studied classical music and composition. During his time at McGill, he was an accompanist for Harold Grey’s Light Opera Company and began exploring different musical genres. After graduating, he traveled to London to pursue further studies in composition and embarked on a successful career that spanned six decades and made him one of the finalists for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Music. From creating many chart-topping songs to scoring countless motion pictures, there’s no denying his impact on music history. His legacy works as an inspiration for aspiring composers who cross through McGill’s halls today.
Moshe Safdie graduated with a degree in architecture in 1961. After graduating, he continued to hone his craft in Jerusalem and then working with renowned French architect, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, before returning to Montreal. He has since become a renowned name in architecture and urban design worldwide, and his influence can be found across cities around the globe. His works display a combination of complex geometry with the principles of modernism and biophilia to create stunning works of environmentally conscious architecture. From Habitat ’67’s iconic stacked residential units in Montreal to Sky Habitats’ remarkable roof gardens in Singapore, Moshe Safdie’s engineering prowess has captivated smart city architects for decades – all thanks to his solid foundation at McGill University.
James Naismith made an impact that identifies him as one of the world’s greatest inventors. Attending McGill in the late 1800’s, he developed basketball, which quickly rose in popularity across all ages. His ingenuity has led to numerous improvements within and beyond the sport. Rules have evolved over time to increase safety and fairness, while enhancing gameplay and entertainment. Furthermore, the arena concept was developed along with the game itself, enabling basketball to congregate hundreds or even thousands of spectators at once. James Naismith was able to find success during his early career at McGill, leading to tremendous advancements for generations of future athletic fans worldwide.
After moving to Montreal from her hometown of Ostervale, Rachelle Lefevre went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Theatre at McGill. Rachelle has since gone on to become one of Canada’s most respected actresses, having appeared in films such as Barney’s Version, Twilight, Head in the Clouds and The Calling. She has also starred in television series such as Big Wolf on Campus and What About Brian, as well as recurring roles on Off the Map, Under the Dome and Casual. Her dedication to her craft has resulted in numerous awards including a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress.
After obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees in experimental psychology from McGill, Dr. Stephen Pinker moved to the U.S. and attained his PhD at Harvard University in 1979. His research into language development, linguistic nature and communication has earned him worldwide recognition. Dr. Pinker has authored a number of popular science books, including The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works, both of which were both nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He currently serves on the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences. As one of McGill University’s renowned alumni, Dr. Steve Pinker is highly regarded for his groundbreaking work that deepens our understanding of language and cognition.
Jack Layton was a renowned alumnus of McGill University, and left a tremendous legacy after graduating in 1969. He expanded his education by pursuing doctoral studies at York University while beginning to establish himself as an important figure in Canadian political life. After three successful terms as Toronto City Councilor, Layton took leadership of the New Democratic Party of Canada in 2003, where he was instrumental in establishing their relevancy on the Canadian political stage. His passing in 2011 marks one of many legacies that Jack left during his lifetime for future generations to learn from.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier pursued his Law degree at McGill. Laurier was highly involved in extracurriculars including debating, athletics and student politics. His election to the presidency of the Literary and Historical Society was seen as a sign of promise for a political career. He was elected as Canada’s seventh prime minister in 1896. He held office for nearly 15 years, making profound structural changes that are still observed today. As a testament to Laurier’s legacy, McGill established The Wilfrid Laurier Award of Distinction in 1981, recognizing individuals or groups who have made highly significant contributions to Canadian society.
Zbigniew Brzezinski moved to Canada in the late 1950s where he attended McGill University. He earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from McGill, giving him a solid foundation for his political career. As National Security Advisor during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, he worked on numerous pivotal foreign policy initiatives both domestically and internationally—including the Camp David Accords.
Colin Ferguson, a well-known Canadian film actor, attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. After achieving great success in his acting career, he returned to his alma mater as an Artist-in-Residence in the Arts and Letters program ten years after graduating. In this role at McGill University, he has lectured classes on such topics as diversity in media representation and storytelling throughout a variety of mediums. Ferguson is now esteemed as one of the most prominent alumni that has contributed to the university’s rich history of innovative artists and graduates alike.
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