May 22nd, 2009
09:22 AM ET

Not just for the rich: A degree in opportunity

Sidney Frank getting honorary degree in 2005.

Sidney Frank getting honorary degree in 2005.
49 Sidney Frank scholars graduating Sunday

49 Sidney Frank scholars graduating Sunday

Norman Boucher
Editor & Publisher, Brown Alumni Magazine

Sidney Frank was too poor to spend more than a single year at Brown University in the late 1930’s. But it was through a friend he made at Brown that he got his first job in the liquor industry and over the years wound up making billions off sales of Jaegermeister and, later, Grey Goose Vodka.

Frank had fond memories of Brown, and in 2004, when he was richer than he’d ever dreamed he would be and it was time to unburden himself of some of this wealth, he phoned President Ruth J. Simmons - the kind of call a university president can only fantasize about receiving, she says –to offer some of his fortune to Brown.

With that call began an unlikely friendship between a Jewish, cigar-smoking, rough-voiced liquor baron and an eloquent, Harvard-educated academic who happens to be the great-granddaughter of slaves.

What united them was a childhood of poverty and the hope that education will continue to offer a way out. And so Frank made what at the time was the largest gift ever to Brown: $100 million. But there was one very big string attached: the money could be used only to pay full freight for students, who like Simmons and him, could never otherwise afford an Ivy League education.

And so among the roughly 1550 cap-and-gowned seniors getting their degrees on Brown’s College Green this Sunday will be the first group of 49 Sidney Frank Scholars, young men and women who are helping lead a quietly subversive campaign to nullify the idea that the Ivy League is a club that only the rich can afford to join. More Frank scholars will follow them - 32 every year.

Sidney Frank died in 2006. But somewhere, you can bet, he will be toasting them with a chilled glass of Grey Goose.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Education
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. ABF

    Frank's story is rare and while the effort is admirable, the opportunities given to the less fortunate will still be a lot more rare than for those who are rich.

    May 23, 2009 at 12:02 am |
  2. kickstand

    Making money from Jaegermeister and Grey Goose Vodka is probably not the most honorable way to make money. On the other hand, providing education to people who cannot afford it is probably one of the greatest legacies a person could leave.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:46 pm |
  3. SLM

    People help people on their own. It should not be up to the government to mandate their choice of charity.

    May 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  4. Geoff

    The point of it all is how unlikely any of that is to happen given the circumstances. What circumstances you ask? unlikely people with means are afforded equal footing in top notch education. unlikely people with money to leave/make opportunities for others. Unlikely someone who couldn't afford to finish school would succeed beyond wildest expectations. Unlikely given the history someone could rise to the ranks of university president. All this is very possible but on the day to day unlikely. That is part of what makes this "charitable act" so special.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  5. Theresa

    Anderson was the one who was being polite. I wondered why the Hell she was on the show. Why don't she and her father go away. No one is interested in what they have to say. Cheney is an arrogant, racist and needs to fade into the wood work.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  6. Terry, TX

    Oh...regarding the article and your point is....people helping people...as an American of Mexican descent...I just don't get the racial spin that permeates through some of these articles...who cares what color the recipient of a charitable act is...it was just a kind act.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  7. Chotard

    I like Frank.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  8. vince

    @Betty,I don't the AC hates republicans but if you have an popular views on tv they will flush you...Go AC!!

    May 22, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  9. Terry, TX

    I heard the rudeness also with Cheney's daughter....it's a pattern with the creepy radical left....American Taxpayers protesting taxes and debt also received heinous attacks from CNN.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  10. Betty Heer

    Thursday night I listened to different speakers on the Anderson show ans was appalled with the rudeness he treated Cheney's daughter–not giving her a chance to speak while he kept butting in on her. Other speakers got full time. What gives here? Do you hate Republicans so much that you cant even be polite.????? I felt sorry for her and wonderd how she could be so polite. think about it.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  11. Arie

    caption: The Lambda Lambda Lambda frat photo was disrupted today by one Stan Gable yelling "Nerds!!!!" at the top of his lungs.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  12. marianne flanagan

    My comment is in regard to the discussion about the recession recovery, I believe that many Americans, including myself are going to change the way we live, and shopping will no longer be the national sport.In today's economy, you do not know if you will have a job tomorrow-I know that thanks to Home Depot closing the Expo Design Centers for a tax loss I don't. The credit card companies no longer want good customers who pay bills on time- they want customers who are in trouble so they can make money off of their problems. I have literally let store credit cards go into collection and settled on amounts to get out from under manufactured fees. My sister and I have a new motto-no money no shoppie!

    May 22, 2009 at 10:49 am |
  13. Brooke

    What do you think about the government taking most of the tuition money(almost 43%) going to two year colleges? I had no other option but to head back to school! Right now, My husband and I are both in school, and I feel that these "community colleges" provide just as significant and effective education as the four year college!

    May 22, 2009 at 10:24 am |