Famous Stanford students you’ve never heard of

April 14, 2017, 12:13 a.m.

Stanford has accumulated an impressive collection of celebrity attendees and graduates over the years, from John Steinbeck to Reese Witherspoon to Chelsea Clinton. You know that collection of sunken rooms in Otero? Apparently that’s where Chelsea’s bodyguards slept, while she slept on the second floor behind bulletproof glass. But that’s just lore, so don’t take my word for it.

Do you ever look around your classmates and wonder which of them are going to be famous one day? Well, some of our classmates are already famous (classic Stanford), but some of the rest of us are going to be über successful in the future. Somewhere on campus, the next founder of SnapChat or Supreme Court Justice lies dormant.

Some of us, however, choose different paths. Some people don’t want the traditional definition of success — fame, money, stability — and choose quirkier paths instead. Others try to pursue normal lives, but infamy chases them down anyway. Others are famous in their own niches, but maybe not well-known to the general public.

So here’s a list of some Stanford graduates who you have not heard of before. The ones I found by searching through some question/answer sites and that time-swallowing pit known as Google. 

Famous for all the wrong reasons

First, there’s Alan Cranston, a U.S. politician who is most famous for being the only American who was successfully sued by Hitler. Yes, the Nazi actually won a lawsuit against an American citizen. In a perhaps well-meaning attempt to present the true atrocities propagated in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” Cranston published a different English translation after the original translation removed Hitler’s anti-Semitism and militancy. He was sued for copyright violation in 1939, and the judge actually ruled in Hitler’s favor and publication on the book was halted.  I know 1939 was before the U.S. was at war with Germany (and also that judges aren’t supposed to only follow the law), but who rules in favor of an evil dictator when you live in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

In the spirit of the “flower child” attitude of the 1960s, a Stanford student named Vicky Drake promoted her campaign for ASSU presidential candidate by employing her experience as a topless dancer. She even posted photos of herself posing — in the nude — on the Stanford Mausoleum, a move that hasn’t been repeated, at least not in this year’s ASSU elections.

Unfortunately, Miss Drake did not win the race.

Notorious Stanford students (that you haven’t heard of)

Intelligence doesn’t automatically make you a decent person, and though Stanford criminals are thankfully rare, there have been a few over the years.

In 1978, Theodore Streleski was informed by his advisor that he could not receive a Ph.D. in mathematics after 19 years of failing to complete his research unless he finished writing his dissertation. Reasonable request, no? Well, Streleski didn’t agree, because he went on to stab Karel deLeeuw — a professor of mathematics at Stanford — to death. Talk about needing to relax about grades.

And scarily enough, Streleski isn’t the only murderous Stanford student! Dennis Sweeney attended Stanford and went on to become a civil rights activist and protégé of Allard Lowenstein, a politician in New York. Wonderful, right? Sweeney, however, was plagued by mental illness, and he was convinced that Lowenstein was plotting against him and ended up murdering him. Sweeney was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had to be institutionalized for eight years.

Successful, but not so well-known

Most students at Stanford are thankfully not murderous. Our classmates are extraordinary, but usually for good reasons, rather than illegal ones. That’s why I want to end with a few people that were immensely successful in their fields, but not incredibly well-known. They were famous enough that I could find them on the Internet (it turns out that writing an article about insanely successful people that aren’t famous is pretty hard when, by virtue of not being famous, they have no digital footprint), but not so famous that you would recognize them if you were to see them on the street.

To start, there’s Edith Head, who won the most Oscars of any woman, was a prolifically talented costume designer and who – you guessed it! – went to Stanford. Ms. Head received a master’s in Romance languages in 1920 before heading to Hollywood. She won Oscars for her costume design on movies like “Roman Holiday,” “All About Eve” and “The Heiress.”  

Then there’s Elie Ballas, a Stanford grad who put all that techie start-up culture to use by advising his childhood friend, Elliot Tebele, on how to turn his viral Instagram account into a business. Tebele and Ballas now both work on the “@FuckJerry” team (excuse my language, but that’s the actual Instagram name). This account — essentially a collection of both topical and nonsensical memes — has 11.7 million followers. You’ve probably heard of the Instagram account, maybe heard of Tebele, but probably not (unless you’re super knowledgeable about start-up culture) the start-up brains behind the business, Ballas.

Finally, there’s James Franco’s parents. Obviously Franco is a successful movie star (has anyone not heard of him?!), but his parents aren’t particularly famous (besides for blessing the world with the Franco brothers, that is). And they met at Stanford!

So just think. You could meet your future spouse at Stanford and raise the next mega-celebrity. 


Know any other (in)famous alums? Contact Caroline Dunn at cwdunn98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Login or create an account