Cool people who went to Brown

andre leon talley

Thanks to our libraries, you probably know that  John D. Rockefeller and former Secretary of State John Hay graduated from Brown.* You’ve likely bragged about eating in the dining halls once frequented by the likes of John Krasinski, Emma Watson, Daveed Diggs, and the current Miss America. But as it turns out, a bunch of lesser-known but equally cool (if not cooler) people went to Brown but don’t get the attention they deserve. Here’s a few of these interesting yet underrated Brown alums:


The inventor of spellcheck: John Seely Brown (A.B. 1962)

Oh, what we owe you, John Seely Brown!

One of the first working female engineers and mother of the family that inspired Cheaper by the Dozen: Lillian Moller Gilbreth (Ph.D. 1915)

Lillian was the first honorary member of the Society of Women Engineers, received 23 honorary degrees throughout her life, and had a postage stamp created in her honor. Does this mean women really can have it all??

Author of The Official Preppy Handbook: Lisa Birnbach (A.B. 1978)

And we thought we were alternative!

The co-founder of Nantucket Nectars: Tom Scott (A.B. 1989)

Fun fact: he’s now studying Divinity and Political Science at Yale.

The billionaire founder of Grey Goose and Jagermeister: Sidney E. Frank (Class of 1942)

Sound familiar, life science concentrators? Sadly, Sidney left Brown because he could only afford one year of tuition. However, he later became the most generous donor in the university’s history, with the aim that no student would ever be forced to leave Brown because of their inability to pay tuition. :’)

Members of the professional a cappella group Rockapella that’s responsible for the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? theme song: Sean Altman (A.B. 1983) and Elliott Kerman (A.B. 1981)

Yes, they did a cappella at Brown.

Vogue magazine editor-at-large and former judge on America’s Next Top Model: André Leon Talley (A.M. 1973)

If only we could get him to come back and provide lively commentary on f@b’s photoshoots.

The film score composer of 13 Going on 30, The Devil Wears Prada, Blades of Glory, Marley & Me, Tropic Thunder, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Theodore Shapiro (A.B. 1993)

From rom-coms to satirical action comedy to soul-crushing dog movies, Theodore does it all,.

The host and producer of the podcast This American Life: Ira Glass (1982) 

Fun fact: Ira Glass transferred to Brown from Northwestern University.

The Emmy-winning executive producer of the TV adaptation of This American Life: Christine Vachon (A.B. 1983)

With fellow alums Todd Haynes and Barry Ellsworth, Christine created Apparatus Productions, a non-profit inspired by the anti-Hollywood New York film scene. Sound like Brown?

The major league baseball player who pitched the first perfect game in history: Lee Richmond (1880)

At Brown, he was class president and also played on the football team. At one point, a physics professor tried to convince him that nothing could make a ball curve in midair. Needless to say, he proved them wrong. Lee graduated four days after his perfect game, which has its own Wikipedia article. Nice.

The cinematographer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Ellen Kuras (1981)

Yes, she did study semiotics – and she was a dual-degree student. Is anyone surprised?

The lead singer and founding member of indie rock band OK Go: Damian Kulash (A.B. 1998)

While at Brown, Kulash played in at least three bands – A La Playa, Calixto Chinchile, and Square. He released three CDs during his last year, including an album of experimental Elvis covers for his senior project.

The namesake of the Heisman Trophy: John W. Heisman (1891)

Does this mean Brown used to be a football school??

The creator of the environmental art installation WaterFire: Barnaby Evans (1975)

Barnaby actually studied biology and environmental science, and was part of a co-op.


Comfortingly, if this list does anything, it proves that you really can do almost anything with a Brown degree. And who knows, if you keep on being smart and weird, you might just end up on this list in 2050.


* Are all famous Brown graduates named John? Answer: No, you will come to learn.


Image of André Leon Talley via.

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