14 Examples of Revolutionary Students

Posted on May 04, 2009

Innovation, radical movements, and social change are often instigated on college campuses. This has been the norm for centuries. It makes perfect sense, as college campuses are a breeding ground for idealism, ideas and young ambition. The following is a list of some of the more memorable revolutionary individuals and groups that have helped to change the world we live in – each to varying degrees, and in unique capacities. Some of these examples may be surprising, and others less so:

Karl Marx

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From an early age, Karl Marx seemed to defy authority. This could be said about his decision to shirk his father’s wishes by pursuing philosophy instead of law, or ignoring direction from his doctoral advisers in favor propagating radical theories. When Marx transferred to the University of Berlin, he was introduced to the radical Young Hegelians. From Marx’s interactions with this group the seeds of The Communist Manifesto were born. Due to his controversial and radical philosophical observations, Marx had to submit his doctoral dissertation to a different university to avoid persecution. From these experiences as a student, Karl Marx became one of the most transformational philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Salvador Dali

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Salvador Dali was born to a lawyer and a housewife in 1904. Throughout his childhood his mother encouraged him to develop his artistic abilities. Then in 1922, Dali attended the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. There he experimented with Picasso’s Cubism, and was known by his fellow students for his outlandish eccentricities. By the end of his studies, he began to develop what would inevitably become his trademark, Surrealism. Dalí was then expelled from the Academia in 1926, shortly before his final exams, when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him.

John Forbes Nash Jr.

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John Forbes Nash Jr. was accepted to the doctoral Mathematics Department at Princeton based upon one recommendation letter from his undergraduate advisor. The letter simply read, “This man is a genius.” Nash is most well known from the Ron Howard movie A Beautiful Mind. Nash is known as a revolutionary due his work as a student and academic. Rarely attending class, Nash spent most of his time developing radical economic theories, such as, game theory and equilibrium theory. He was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for his revolutionary work while a student.

Che Guevara

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In 1928, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born to Argentine parents of Spanish and Irish decent. His father was quoted about the nature of his eldest son, “the first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels.” While Guevara was a medical student, he took a motorcycle road trip that changed his life. His experiences and observations during his trip led him to conclude that the region’s ingrained economic inequalities were the result of capitalism and Western imperialism. He eventually concluded that the only way to remedy this situation in Latin America was an armed revolution.

1964 Freedom Summer

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In the summer of 1964, students from universities all over America descended on the South to help register black voters and fight for civil rights. The three most famous students to participate in the freedom summer were James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Unfortunately they became famous after their tragic murders in August of 1964. This horrific act propagated by white supremacists ended up waking the country up to horrible conditions blacks were living in. After this students of all colors increasingly became involved in the nascent Civil Rights movement, becoming activists for the civil rights of all people in America.

Al Gore

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Although Al Gore is not known as the father of the Green Revolution, he has been instrumental for the last 30 years in raising awareness about climate change. As an undergraduate, Gore was introduced to the idea of climate change by his professor at Harvard in 1967. Since his introduction to the realities of climate change, Gore has become the most well known global crusader for the environment. Throughout his public career, Gore has written books and introduced legislation to help combat climate change. Furthermore, he developed a climate change presentation that eventually became the Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

May 1968 Revolt

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‘May 1968′ is the name given to a series of leftist student protests that almost caused the collapse of the De Gaulle government in France. The student movement used these events as an opportunity to shake up the “old society” and traditional morality by focusing especially on a leftist agenda for the education system and employment. The De Gaulle administration’s attempts to quash these protests lead to street battles with the police. Eventually, two-thirds of the French workforce joined the protests by striking, effectively bringing the French economy to a standstill. This movement is attributed as the beginning of decade long socialist reforms in Western Europe.

Thai Student Revolt for Democracy

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For Thailand, 1973 marked the beginning of their modern era. After a decade of fascist rule by anti-communist prime minister Thanom Kittikachorn, University students took to the streets in protest. Workers soon joined the students, and after many bloody bouts with their, Kittikachorn finally left the country. This was followed by three years of unstable democratic rule for Thailand. Then in 1976 a bloody military coup (with the blessing of the King) took control of the government and installed its own regime. Since 1973, Thailand has undergone many coups – some bloody, some bloodless – but for the majority of nearly 40 years ,Thailand has been run democratically and with relative peace.

Bill Gates

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After scoring a near perfect 1590 on his SAT test, Bill Gates was on his way to Harvard. While at Harvard in the mid 1970’s he studied mathematics and computer science. The brilliance of Bill Gates, was his ability to create a simple interpreter for complex computer functions. This basic interpreter became the foundation for Windows, and only after two years at Harvard, Gates left to start Microsoft in New Mexico. Since this move, Gates has become the richest man in the world as well as the world’s leading philanthropist, and he has recently dedicated his life to the world’s poor and combating HIV-Aids.

Iran Revolution

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In most cases, the West generally frowns upon The Iranian Revolution in the late 70’s. This movement was widely led by university students, the most famous of which called themselves, ‘The Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line.’ In November of 1979 they took over and occupied the US Embassy for 444 consecutive days. As apart of their occupation they also held 52 American hostages. This was in protest of the American government providing refuge to the recently deposed and exiled Shah. As part of this situation, they demanded the Shah be returned to Iran to face trial. This event is highly regarded as the beginning of the end for Jimmy Carter as president. On January 20, Ronald Regan’s inauguration day, the hostages were finally released and the crisis was over.

Michael Dell

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Revolutionary ideas don’t always have to be abstract and political, they can also be very simplistic and practical. In 1984, while Michael Dell was in college, he started a computer company. What made his computer company different was that it enabled the consumer to build their own computer and order it through the mail. Because of this business model, Dell was able to sell relatively cheap computers. After his company took off from his dorm room, he dropped out and created one of the most profitable computer companies in the world.

Tiananmen Square

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There is still controversy surrounding this revolutionary event in 1989. The Chinese government continues to report that only 200 deaths occurred as a result of these protests. But human rights and student groups in China report this number to be around 3,000. Nevertheless, the protests were sparked by the death of the pro-market and pro-democracy official Hu Yaobang. Following the democratic protests, the government conducted widespread arrests to suppress protesters and their supporters. The Chinese government then banned the foreign press from the country and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the Chinese press. Members of the government who had publicly sympathized with the protesters were purged, resulting in several high-ranking members being placed under house arrest. Though these events resulted in a horrific conclusion, the protesters who stood against their repressive government have since remained an inspiration to millions facing adversity and oppression.

Invisible Children

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In the summer of 2003, three film students decided to take a trip to the heart of Africa and try to find a story to tell. After some initial disappointments, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole finally found the story they were destined to tell. They returned home and launched the nonprofit ‘Invisible Children’ to tell the world the story about child soldiers in Africa. Their documentary about their experiences has been seen by millions of young people all over the world and has encouraged many to get involved in their cause. Since starting their charity they have raised awareness and millions of dollars to help eradicate the practice of child soldiers from Northern Uganda.

Mark Zuckerberg

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Born in 1984, Mark Zuckerberg is a young computer programmer and a wealthy entrepreneur, best known as the creator of Facebook.com. While an undergarduate student at Harvard he created the college social network, and it has since become arguably the foremost social networking site on the internet. Today, three years after Facebook’s launch, Mark Zuckerberg has became one of the youngest Billionaires in the world, with a net worth of over $5 Billion.