Glenn Close reveals how she broke out of a cult to attend the College of William & Mary

Due to her upbringing in a “cult-like” society, she was 22-years-old as a freshman, after she finally broke away from the group and her parents.

William & Mary

Actress Glenn Close has been nominated for the Academy Award seven times, won three Golden Globes, and nabbed three Tony Awards. But when she graduated from the College of William & Mary 45 years ago, “I was the first woman in my family to earn a college degree,” she told the 2019 graduating class in a commencement address.

The actress’s path to college was far from traditional. Due to her upbringing in what she described as a “cult-like” society, she was 22-years-old as a freshman, after she finally broke away from the group and her parents and set out on down her own path.


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“I just want to mention briefly why I happened to end up at William & Mary,” Close told the graduates. “I won’t go into the complexities of the story, but the first time I saw this campus was in the late 60s when I sprinted off the girls’ bus, in my cheery travel uniform, as a member of a singing group for which I wrote songs and performed for five years after high school. The show was the offshoot of a cult-like group that my parents fell prey to when I was seven-years-old.”

Close has spoken publicly before about her complicated upbringing: her father worked for Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko and then pulled his family into a restrictive religious cult called the Moral Re-Armament, starting when she was seven.

“Once off the bus, we enthusiastically set up our mics and speakers in the old Student Rec Center on Dog St. and proceeded to sing our hearts out for whatever students paused to listen,” Close continued. “As I sang the simplistic songs and did the regimented choreography, I studied the students who were lounging on the furniture or leaning against the walls, and there came a moment when I knew that I had to somehow leave the group and come get my education here. And you want to know why? It was because, almost to a person, they were looking at us … as if they were thinking — “Really?”  That’s what I’d been secretly feeling for a long, long time, but I hadn’t had the courage to face it and do something about it.”

And so she found the courage to leave the group and her parents. Close said she felt that the William & Mary campus would be a welcoming place – that she would “find kindred souls” there.

And so, “against their wishes, and with no encouragement whatsoever, I left the group and, 49 years ago, I entered the College of William & Mary in Virginia, a 22-year-old clueless freshman, with an essentially empty toolbox and a passionate determination to get a liberal arts education and become an actress.”

She got cast in the first play she auditioned for and found a mentor. She learned how to question things for the first time in her life. And eventually, for the first time in her life, Close said, “I started to bloom.”


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.