From student to celebrity, know these alumni who made it to the limelight

Considering the quality of education offered and the number of students who pass through this humble institution, it should come as no surprise that many of the University’s graduates have been quite successful. Here are just a few:

Nancy Goodman Brinker

Former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and founder of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation, Brinker graduated in 1968. During her time at the University, she studied sociology, served in the Student Senate and as president of her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi. In 2009, Brinker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian. Currently, she serves as the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control at the World Health Organization. The Susan G. Komen foundation has invested almost $2 billion into breast cancer research, advocacy, outreach and programs.

Steve Chen and Jawed Karim

Co-founders of YouTube, along with Chad Hurley. Both have degrees in computer science from the University; Chen graduated in 2002, while Karim graduated in 2004. All three were early employees of PayPal, which was also founded in part by two University alumni, Max Levchin and Luke Nosek. YouTube is visited by more than 1 billion unique visitors each month, with more than 100 hours of video being uploaded to the site every minute.

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Roger Ebert

A Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert graduated from the University with a journalism degree in 1964. While at the University, he worked at The Daily Illini, where he served as editor-in-chief from 1963-64, and WPGU. Ebert was the first film critic to receive both a Pulitzer Prize and star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1999, he launched Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival, better known as Ebertfest, which takes place every April at the Virginia Theatre in his hometown of Champaign.


Dave Eggers

A writer best known for his best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-finalist memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Eggers graduated with a degree in journalism in 2002, although he took a break from his studies due to the death of his parents — chronicled in the aforementioned memoir. During his time at the University, he worked at The Daily Illini where he served as features editor from 1989 to 1990, directory editor from 1990 to 1991 and inprint editor from 1991 1992. Eggers is also the founder of McSweeney’s, an award-winning publishing house of books, as well as a quarterly journal and monthly magazine.


Hugh Hefner

The founder of Playboy magazine, Hefner graduated in 1949 after two-and-a-half years. He majored in psychology and double minored in art and creative writing. While at the University, Hefner drew cartoons for The Daily Illini and served as a managing editor for Shaft, a campus humor magazine, where he introduced a “Coed of the Month” feature. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises. 

Ang Lee

An Academy Award-winning film director, Lee graduated in 1980 from the College of Fine and Applied Arts, where he studied theater directing. Lee won an Academy Award for Best Director in 2005 and 2012 for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of Pi,” respectively; his 2000 film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He has also won awards from the Venice Film Festival, the British Academy Film Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards, among others.

Nick Offerman

An actor best known for his role as Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation.” He graduated in 1993 from the College of Fine and Applied Arts with a degree in theater, where he also began to work in the Krannert Center’s scene shop. In the fall of 2013, Offerman designed and built a gazebo for the University’s Japan House in honor of Professor Emeritus Shozo Sato, who he worked with during his time at the University. Offerman can also be seen in the films “21 Jump Street” and “We’re the Millers,” among others. 

Suze Orman

A financial advisor and motivational speaker, who previously worked for Merrill Lynch and Prudential Securities. Though Orman should have graduated in 1973, her foreign language requirement was unfulfilled; she graduated in 1977 with a degree in social work. She served as the Commencement speaker in 2009, and also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the graduation. Orman has won two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Service Show Host, written numerous bestselling books and has frequently collaborated with Oprah.