Oberlin has a long list of notable alumni who have made their mark in all walks of life. Many people know us for Ed Helms or Lena Dunham, but there are so many more that don’t get the love they deserve. I did some of my own research and found a few alums who I admire and wanted to highlight.
Mary Church Terrell (1884)
Most Obies at least know the name of Mary Church Terrell because they walk past it almost every day on their way into our main library! Terrell was one of the first African American women to receive a college degree and she went on to become nationally known for her work as an activist for civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her activism led her to become a prominent member and founder of many different civil rights organizations including the NAACP, the National Association of College Women, and the National Association of Colored Women, where she also served as their first national president.
William Goldman (1952)
I’m someone who’s watched a lot of movies in my life but one of my all time favorites has to be The Princess Bride (1987). I can recite just about every word in that movie and I have since I was about seven which makes William Goldman my first connection to Oberlin. Goldman wrote the novel The Princess Bride and the script for the film adaptation directed by Rob Reiner and starring Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. He also had a strong relationship with Robert Redford as he wrote both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the President’s Men (1976), both of which starred Redford alongside Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, respectively. The films also earned Goldman his two Academy Awards -- Best Original Screenplay in 1969 and Best Adapted Screenplay in 1976.
Dr. Francois S. Clemmons (1968)
More than just your neighbor! Dr. Clemmons is most well-known for portraying Officer Clemmons on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for 25 years, making him one of the first African Americans to have a recurring role on a children’s show. His recent memoir Officer Clemmons: A Memoir shares more about how the various hardships in his life (including being openly gay) influences his role in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Despite being known as an actor, Dr. Clemmons actually studied opera at Oberlin, winning a Grammy in 1976 and performing with various operas and orchestras including the New York City Opera and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Jerry Greenfield (1973)
As someone who was raised on Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream I was so excited to learn that one of the cofounders of the company was an Obie! Initially, Greenfield had planned to pursue a career in medicine, studying pre-med and chemistry at Oberlin. During his time as a student, he served ice cream in one of our dining halls and took a class on Carnival Techniques where he learned fire-eating. After graduation, Greenfield and his friend Ben Cohen worked together to create their own unique business that now has shops all over the world. In true Obie fashion, Ben & Jerry’s, both the company and founders, have maintained a strong commitment to social justice, working heavily with the global Fair Trade movement and even partnered with Rock the Vote in 2004 to get over 11,000 voters registered on Free Cone Day, the largest one-day grassroots registration in RTV’s history.
Alison Bechdel (1981)
If you like graphic novels, then chances are you’ve heard of Alison Bechdel. She is most well known for her comic Dykes to Watch Out that ran from 1983 to 2008, making it one of the first representations of lesbians in pop culture. Her graphic novels Fun Home and Are You My Mother explore her relationships with her father and mother, respectively, as well as her sexuality. In 2014 Fun Home was adapted into a musical that was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning 5 including Best Musical.
Judy Kuhn (1981)
I, like many kids, grew up loving the Disney film Pocahontas, especially the song Colors of the Wind. Little did I know that I was singing along with an Obie! Judy Kuhn studied vocal performance in our Conservatory and is most well known for being the singing voice of Pocahontas. Her rendition of Colors of the Wind won Best Original Song at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes in 1995. Kuhn is also a four time Tony nominee and has been nominated for Olivier and Grammy awards. Surprisingly, Kuhn has a strong connection to Alison Bechdel as she created the original role of Helen Bechdel in the musical Fun Home.
Ishmael Beah (2004)
There are very few books that have impacted me as much as Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone (2007), a memoir that details Beah’s life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war. It was assigned as required reading when I was in high school, and nearly ten years later I can still remember how powerful his writings and reflections were. A Long WayGone received a lot of acclaim and Time Magazine listed it as #3 on the list of top 10 nonfiction books of 2007. Beah was appointed UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War in 2007, the same year he founded the Ishmael Beah Foundation to help reintegrate children affected by war into society and improve their lives. In 2011, the Ishmael Beah Foundation opened its first college chapter at Oberlin College.
Machmud Makhmudov (2016)
The most recent graduate on our list recently joined us in a webinar on Life After Oberlin. During his time as an Obie, Makhmudov studied politics, competed on the varsity baseball team, and served as the head of student government. Makhmudov previously worked at West Wing Writers where he conducted research and assisted in editing for Vice President Kamala Harris’s book The Truths We Hold (2019) and is now a policy advisor at the White House Office as a part of the COVID Response team.
If you want to know more about recent Oberlin alumni, take a look at our collection of profiles on recent graduates!
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