By Kelly Parrett
Rivers Cuomo (ΦΒΚ, Harvard University) is best known for the music he has written, performed, and produced with Weezer; however, Cuomo is also an academic. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature, but the path to his degree was rather untraditional.
As he said in his song “Long Time Sunshine,” Cuomo wanted to return to college at “an East Coast college with some history.” He got his wish at Harvard, where he enrolled as a music major after he already established a successful musical career. His goal, in addition to obtaining a degree, was to take a break from the spotlight and his rock star life. As College Consensus put it: “nothing says vacation like the pressures of a 300-year-old Ivy League education.”
Eventually, Cuomo switched his major from music to English literature. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Cuomo explained his decision. “I didn’t know how to play those instruments, and I wasn’t really familiar with modern Classical music, and the little I heard wasn’t appealing to me. I originally got into studying music more because of the music of the 18th and 19th centuries” said Cuomo. “So, at that time, I didn’t really see a place for me in music.”
For Cuomo, English literature was a natural choice. As he stated in The Harvard Crimson, “although I haven’t been playing a serious musical instrument for all my life, I have been working on English. I’ve been in English classes, reading, thinking critically, and so that’s something I kind of have a lot of training in, and I’m relatively good at it, so I decided to do that.”
With intermittent semesters at Harvard in between Weezer tours, it took Cuomo around a decade to graduate. He returned for his final semester after finishing Weezer’s “Make Believe” tour. As The New York Times explained, “shortly after the tour ended on Dec. 22 with a sold-out show in Tokyo, the band’s singer and songwriter, Rivers Cuomo, settled into a tiny, monastic dormitory room at Harvard, from which he will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in English.”
His return to Harvard after gaps in his education was only partially inspired by his desire to finish his degree; as Cuomo told The Harvard Crimson, his decision to finish his English degree came from “a desire to finish what I started, and also just a level of learning. A desire to take a break from music.”
While immersed in literature, Cuomo found new directions for his songwriting. As Brave Words described, “His classes [had] an impact on his brainstorming period because the curriculum he [studied] inspired his writing.” In this way, his liberal arts education helped him advance his music career. When asked in an interview if his degree would influence him, Cuomo said “I’m sure that it will influence me, as everything does.”
The people at Harvard treated Cuomo like an average student, instead of a celebrity; this was exactly what he wanted. As he told The Harvard Crimson “I’m just constantly amazed at how smart everyone is, and how articulate they are, and how insightful . . . it’s very humbling.”
After his graduation in 2006, he boasted about his ΦBK membership to Phoenix New Times: “I attended Harvard University, where I recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa.” Regarding the value of his liberal arts education, Cuomo said in an interview “I feel like my brain is being stretched in new directions, and it’s painful, but I think it’s a great experience.”
Kelly Parrett earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature from SUNY Geneseo, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May 2020. SUNY Geneseo is home to the Alpha Delta of New York chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.