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Oscar winners celebrated by alma maters

Jenna Johnson

In the ever-ongoing battle to be the most interesting and accomplished person featured in college alumni magazines, last night's Oscar winners likely just bumped to the top -- as if they weren't already there. Like college public relations departments like to remind the world, many of the well-known directors, actors, filmmakers and others who gathered Sunday night for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards got their start in college.

Kathryn Bigelow made history when she won the Best Director Oscar for her work on "The Hurt Locker," becoming the first woman to win the coveted award. "The Hurt Locker," a war drama about Army bomb disposal experts in Baghdad, took home a total of six awards and beat out sure-to-win blockbuster "Avatar" for the Best Picture Oscar. "There's no other way to describe it, it's the moment of a lifetime," Bigelow said as she accepted the honor.

Bigelow graduated from Columbia School of the Arts in 1981, and the Columbia Spectator student newspaper has her win as their top story on the Web site this morning.

Last spring when the movie was first released, Bigelow told the Spectator that she can't stand to be pigeonholed as a female filmmaker. "If the politics of gender are at work," she reportedly told the student paper, "I am not dignifying them or acquiescing to them -- I'm just moving forward at what seems right."

Among The Hurt Locker's many Oscars was one for best original screenplay, which was accepted by screenwriter and journalist Mark Boal, who graduated from Oberlin College in 1995.

bullock.jpgThe best actress award went to Sandra Bullock for her role as a suburban housewife who takes in a homeless boy and teaches him how to play football in "The Blind Side." Bullock grew up not far from the District in Arlington and graduated from Washington-Lee High School.

Bullock decided to attend East Carolina University, because her friend had an extra application, according to a 1990 university publication. "At ECU I could go through everything a kid should go through in college," Bullock reportedly told the university. "Some of my best memories are of East Carolina."

A profile of the star by The East Carolinian student newspaper says Bullock dropped out in 1985, when she was just three credits short of graduating with a bachelors in drama. She loaded up her Honda Accord, grabbed her dog and went to New York City to launch her acting career. The university states on its Web site that Bullock earned her degree in 1986.

The Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Mo'Nique for her role as an abusive mother in "Precious." Mo'Nique, also from the area, grew up in western Baltimore County, graduated from Milford Mill High School, and attended Morgan State University but didn't graduate, according to a 1994 profile in the Baltimore Sun.

The article recounts a radio morning drive-time talk show that featured Mo'Nique and then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who interrupted the comedian and actress towards the end of the show. She put him in his place: "Baltimore! The City That Reads?!?!?" she asked him. "Naw! No way! Baltimore, the city that needs to be polite! You're the mayor doesn't mean you can interrupt!"

The Oscar for best cinematography went to Mauro Fiore for his work on "Avatar," which perfected 3-D camera systems and revolutionized modern film making. Fiore is a native of Italy who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, attended Harper College in Palatine for two years and then graduated from Columbia College in Chicago in 1987. Recently Fiore was back in Chicago to speak to students at his alma mater and do an interview with Time Out Chicago, which wanted to know what he would say in his acceptance speech. Fiore told the magazine, "Oh, I don't think I'm gonna win." Fiore lives outside Omaha with his wife and three children.

And reporting on the entire night was E! hostess Giuliana Rancic, who has journalism degrees from the University of Maryland and American University. Rancic is known for being a bit crazy on and off camera -- like the time she ran screaming for George Clooney at the Golden Globes. "Anything could happen to me on live television," she told The Post, "and I sincerely don't care."

Updated March 9 to include Mark Boal, Mauro Fiore and Giuliana Rancic. Special thanks to everyone who sent me e-mails and tweets!

I am still trying to research some other college-ties to Oscar winners, so help me out and shoot me an e-mail if you know of any more.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  March 8, 2010; 9:54 AM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags: Columbia, Eastern Carolina University, Morgan State University  
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