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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

20 Memorable Things That Occurred in 2002, the Year That I Graduated College

Kenneth Flakes, founder of Professional Plus

This fall, December 2022, marks 20 years since I graduated from the University of Houston. I was a first-generation college graduate, and it was the first full year since the Dot-com recession and the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. So, the year 2002 represented a year of recovery. In this blog, I highlight some noteworthy events that occurred the year I graduated and link some of the stories to events that have occurred in the 20 years since.

1. Tuition at the University of Houston in 2002 was approximately $1500.

In-state tuition at the University of Houston for 15 semester hours was about $1500 in 2002. Accounting for inflation that becomes $2,484.81 in 2022. Today, the tuition cost at the University of Houston for 15 semester hours is $6,308.55. That is an increase of 154%. Nationally, in-state tuition and fees at public universities nationwide have increased by 175%.

2. The world population was only 6.3 billion people.

Note that the world population just exceeded 8 billion people last month. It took just 12 years for the global population to go from 7 billion to 8 billion. The global population reportedly will peak at just over 10 billion in the 2080s.

With so many people on the planet, I wonder how extreme poverty will affect those who live in the world's poorest countries: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. Will there be enough natural resources for a sustainable life for everyone? How will climate change affect our population?

3. Black history was made at the Academy Awards, part 1.

At the 74th Academy Awards, Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Monster's Ball. Her Oscar was long overdue, and she delivered a passionate acceptance speech where she dedicated the moment to Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll, and Angela Bassett.

Berry's victory, however, is bittersweet because no other Black woman has won an Oscar for Best Actress since her victory 20 years ago. In fact, since 2002, only one other Black woman, Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, has even been nominated for Best Actress. Berry reflected on this drought in an article published for the New York Times this year.

"It didn't open the door," Berry said. "The fact that there's no one standing next to me is heartbreaking."

I would be remiss not to mention that there was a well-publicized sex scene between Halle Berry and Bily Bob Thornton. In fact, I think I only watched the movie in college to see the scene. The sex and nudity in the film were criticized at the time, but only as an older adult did I realize that the film reinforced stereotypes about Black women who are often oversexualized in movies and television.

4. Black history was made at the Academy Awards, part 2.

Denzel Washington became only the second Black man to win Best Actor for his performance in Training Day. This is another movie that I've only seen once, yet I enjoyed it immensely.

But of all of the great films that Washington led, such as Malcolm X, The Hurricane, and Remember the Titans, it's extremely disappointing that his Oscar for Best Actor was based on playing a corrupt narcotics detective. In the 20 years since Washington won Best Actor at the Academy Awards, three more Black men (Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, and Will Smith) have won.

Interestingly, this year production has begun on a prequel to Training Day, named Training Day: Day of the Riot, which is based on Washington's character. I'm looking forward to this movie as well.

NOTE: Whoopi Goldberg served as the host. It was her fourth time hosting. She also has the honor of being the first person of color to host the awards solo. In her opening monologue, she joked about Will and Jada without consequences!

5. The Wire premiered.

Sonja Sohn, Jamie Hector, and Michael K. Williams from the cast of "The Wire" at an April 12, 2010 presentation on "The Wire" at Charles Ogletree's seminar at Harvard University Law School.

The Wire was an American crime drama television series that premiered in 2002. The series chronicled the Baltimore narcotics scene through the eyes of law enforcers, drug dealers, and drug users. The show starred Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, Michael K. Williams, and others. It is widely acclaimed as one of the best TV shows ever made. Eric Deggans, NPR's full-time TV critic, even argues that The Wire is the greatest TV series of the 21st century.

However, I'm ashamed to say that I've never watched The Wire. I usually try to avoid conversations about The Wire because I get teased for missing out on one of the great cult classics in my community. My excuse is that I didn't have HBO! I will binge-watch it someday.

Tragically, Michael K. Williams died of drug intoxication last year in his penthouse apartment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or visit

Photo credit belongs to Tim Pierce.

6. Serena Williams beat Venus Williams in a Grand Slam tournament (French Open) final for the first time.

Richard Williams with Serena and Venus at the 2012 Women's Wimbledon Final

In 2002 Serena won the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. The next year she won the Australian Open to cap off a non-calendar-year Grand Slam. Coincidentally, each time she beat her sister Venus Willams in the final. (Poor Venus has lost to Serena 7 times in Grand Slam finals.)

As of 2022, Williams has won an Open Era record 23 Grand Slam singles titles and cemented her status, in my opinion, as the greatest women's tennis player ever.

Photo credit belongs to Paolobrad.

7. Kelly Clarkson won the inaugural American Idol.

One cannot overstate the impact of American Idol on music and television. Several contestants have gone on to have successful music careers. I hadn't watched much of American Idol since that first season, although I watched part of Seasons 2 and 3 when Ruben Studdard and Fantasia won. However, my qualm with American Idol is that it probably ushered in the current era of reality TV programming, which I extremely loathe!

8. The Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, and the World Cup was held in South Korea and Japan.

The XIX Olympic Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City. Before the games, however, there was a well-documented 1998 bid scandal regarding the rights to host the games. The irony is that 20 years later, the International Olympic Committee is considering awarding Salt Lake City the Winter Olympics on a rotating schedule.

Also, the 2002 World Cup was held in both South Korea and Japan. This was the first World Cup in Asia. I guess Qatar is considered West Asia, so this year's 2022 World Cup is the second cup held in Asia.

9. WorldCom was the largest bankruptcy ever (at the time).

WorldCom was the second-largest long-distance telephone company, but an accounting scandal led the company to announce that it had overstated its assets by $11 billion. At the time, it was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers have since passed it.

Also of note was the bankruptcy of Kmart. At the time, it was the largest-ever bankruptcy for a US retailer. The bankruptcy interested me because I spent many days in Kmart, Super Kmart, and Big Kmart. You missed out on life if you don't know what a blue light special is!

10. Jay Z and Beyonce released Bonnie & Clyde

This was the first collaboration between Jay Z and Beyonce. Who would have known that 20 years later, the couple would get married in 2008 and have three children together? And who would have known that Jay Z would become a billionaire and that Beyonce would become one of the most celebrated singers and songwriters on the planet?

11. Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears break up.

The former The Mickey Mouse Club cast members began dating in 1998 but ended their romance in 2002 when Spears reportedly cheated on Timberlake. Spears has been tumultuous since, including a well-publicized conservatorship terminated in 2021.

In 2004, Timberlake was involved in controversy when he tore off a part of Janet Jackson's costume that briefly exposed her breast during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. It gave birth to the term "wardrobe malfunction."

12. Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes died in a car accident. R-Kelly was indicted on child pornography charges.

Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes, one-third of the R&B group TLC, tragically died in a car crash while creating a documentary about charity work in Honduras. She was in the process of creating two education centers for Honduran children at the time of her death.

Also, R-Kelly was indicted on child pornography charges. An infamous 27-minute sex tap with a minor led to the charges. This led to a long timeline that ended with Kelly being sentenced to 30 years in prison this year.

13. Alicia Keys won 5 Grammy Awards.

At age 21, Alicia Keys won 5 Grammy Awards on February 27, 2002. She won awards for the following:

  • Song of the Year for "Fallin'"

  • Best New Artist

  • Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Fallin'"

  • Best R&B Song for "Fallin'"

  • Best R&B Album for Songs in A Minor

Later in 2002, the year was defined by hit songs such as:

  • "Hot in Herre" by Nelly

  • "How You Remind Me" by Nickelback

  • "Work It" by Missy Elliot

  • "Ain't It Funny" by Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule

  • "Lose Yourself" by Eminem

  • "U Don't Have to Call" by Usher

  • "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake

14. Nancy Pelosi became House Minority Leader.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California.

Nancy Pelosi was elected House Minority leader in 2002 and officially took office in 2003, becoming the first woman to be a House leader in either chamber of Congress.

Since her election in 2002, she became Speaker of the House in 2006. The Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterm elections, but when they regained the House in 2018, she became the first former speaker to become speaker of the House since 1955. The Republicans regained the House this year, and Pelosi announced her retirement as the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, although she will remain in Congress.

Photo credit belongs to Gage Skidmore.

15. The Lakers completed their three-peat.

The 2001 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers at the White House on January 28, 2002

The Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets, four games to none, to win the franchise's third consecutive NBA championship. Shaquille O'Neal was the NBA Finals MVP.

Also, in 2002, Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl when the New England Patriots upset the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI.

The Anaheim Angels (now Los Angeles) won the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, four games to three.

The Miami Hurricanes won the BCS National Championship against the Ohio State Buckeyes, 31-24, in double overtime. The Hurricanes were so dominant that they had a 34-game winning streak during the season.

The Maryland Terrapins, led by Juan Dixon, defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 64-52.

Photo credit belongs to Tina Hager and the White House archives.

16. The Central Park 5 was exonerated.

The Central Park 5 were five Black and Latino teenagers accused of a brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park, Manhattan, New York, in 1989. I cannot say that the exoneration of The Central Park 5 was on my radar back in 2002, but I learned a great deal about them by watching Netflix's show When They See Us, which was widely acclaimed. The five are now called the "Exonerated Five," and New York City is renaming a gate entrance to the park. The gate will be named "Gate of the Exonerated."

17. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez started dating and got engaged.

The couple's relationship timeline is quite extensive. The couple met early in 2002 and later that year were engaged, but the wedding was postponed in 2003 and called off in 2004. Within roughly 20-year years, Lopez married and divorced Marc Anthony and was engaged to Alex Rodriquez. Also, within that roughly 20-year period, Affleck married and divorced Jenifer Garner. Affleck and Lopez then reconnected in 2022 and are now married.

18. The mother of Queen Elizabeth II died.

I don't recall this being a huge story then, but Queen Elizabeth, the Queen consort of the United Kingdom, died in March. Sadly, this year, 20 years later, Queen Elizabeth II died after 70 years as the longest-serving monarch in British history.

Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth's great-grandson, Prince Harry, has split from the royal family, married Meghan Markle, and created a Netflix documentary about their love story and the challenges that led them to leave the royal family.

19. Lebron James was a high school basketball phenom.

In 2002, Lebron James was arguably the most hyped high school basketball player ever. As a high school senior, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. The next year, he entered the NBA with a lot of hype, and boy, did he exceed expectations. He won Rookie of the Year, and in the 20 years since he was drafted, he has become a

  • 4x NBA Champion

  • 4x NBA Finals Most Valuable Player

  • 4x NBA Most Valuable Player

  • 15x All NBA member

  • 6x All-Defensive Team member

  • 2x Olympic Gold Medalist

I actually think the greatest thing about Lebron is his activism and business work. He supports many non-profit organizations, created his foundation, and takes stances on social issues. He is also the first active NBA athlete to become a billionaire.

I certainly didn't think Lebron would be this great. I've even reluctantly come around to ranking Lebron as better than Kobe in my sports debates with friends. But he ain't better than Jordan, though! Never.

Although I'm stubborn and still drafting Kobe over Lebron, there is no debate about Lebron's significance these last 20 years. The fact that he is still playing today at an All-Star level is remarkable.

20. Groceries were a lot cheaper.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the prices for basic food staples such as eggs, ground chuck, and milk have skyrocketed in price over the last 20 years, even when factoring in the period before the pandemic.

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Correction (02-05-23): No. 19 stated that Lebron entered the NBA in 2002. This has been corrected to state that he entered the NBA in 2003.


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