For most people winning an Oscar for best actress by the age of 29 might be considered an amazing achievement and the culmination of a life’s work and dedication to a calling. However, for someone like Natalie Portman, who is incredibly talented in so many ways, receiving her well-deserved Oscar is just one more note of recognition in a life full of such kudos.
For instance, when Ms. Portman was still a teenager in Syosset High School in Long Island, New York in the 1990s, she was a serious contender for one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for scientific achievement for aspiring young scientists: the Intel Science Talent Search. In the 69-year old history of this coveted award the winners and runners-up have gone on to win seven Nobel prizes; two Field Medals (the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel); six National Medals in science and technology; and a long list of MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants. What they never had before, however, until Natalie Portman came along, was an Academy Award winner among them.
What is even more remarkable is that while she was preparing her scientific study of a new way to convert waste into useful forms of energy in an environmentally friendly way, she was maintaining her straight A’s in school and performing in a large number of serious films directed by some of Hollywood’s most illustrious celebrities. She is probably most well known for her role as Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequels, which sent her acting career into moon orbit.
What is less well known however is that after she did her thing as Amidala, she attended Harvard University to study “the evolution of the mind” in the department of neuroscience there.
“I’ve taught at Harvard, Dartmouth and Vassar, and I’ve had the privilege of teaching a lot of very bright kids,” said Abigail A. Baird, who was one of Ms. Portman’s mentors at Harvard. “There are very few who are as inherently bright as Natalie is, who have as much intellectual horsepower, who work as hard as she did. She didn’t take a single thing for granted.”