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Columbia Spectator Staff

In celebration of the University's 250th anniversary, Spectator is ranking the 250 greatest Columbians through the ages, from number 250 to number 1. The project will culminate with the selection of the single most influential alum in May.


Walter Farley, CC 1941
Farley, the beloved author of The Black Stallion, finished his most famous work as an undergraduate at Columbia. He died with 34 works to his name. The book was immensely successful when it was published in 1941 and spawned a Black Stallion series. Famed actor Mickey Rooney was part of the cast of the 1979 Black Stallion movie.


Michael J. Massimino, SEAS 1984
After graduating from SEAS, Massimino literally reached for the stars when he became an astronaut for NASA. He traveled on the 1996 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, performing two spacewalks and spending over 10 days in space. Massimino also holds two patents for his work on human-operator control of space robots at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Georgia Tech.


Rocco B. Commisso, SEAS 1971
Many people in small towns have Commisso to thank for being able to watch MTV and HBO. Commisso is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Mediacom Communications Corporation, the eighth largest cable television company in the country and the leading supplier to rural areas. He was also the chief financial officer for Cablevision from 1986 to 1995, and has won numerous awards for his skills as an entrepreneur and industry innovator.


Jake Gyllenhaal, CC 1998-1999
A graduate of the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal broke through in Hollywood in 1999 with his role as a coal miner's son who takes an interest in rocketry in the movie October Sky. He starred in Donnie Darko with his sister Maggie, CC '99. He is the son of screenwriter Naomi Foner, BC '66, and the nephew of DeWitt Clinton Professor of History Eric Foner, CC '63.


Ronnie Eldridge, BC 1952
Eldridge has been a public service figure in New York for over 30 years, most of which she has spent in women's advocacy. As a New York City Councilmember from 1989 to 2001, Eldridge supported an expansion of childcare and legal protection for victims of domestic violence. She worked in Governor Mario Cuomo's cabinet as the director of the division for women and also was assistant director of public affairs for the Port Authority.


Daniel Tompkins, CC 1795
Tompkins was an advocate for reform and governor of New York for four consecutive terms beginning in 1807. With his support, the legislature passed an act in 1817 that would abolish slavery in New York in 1827. He sought better treatment for Indians as well as prison reform, and championed public education. He also served as vice president under U.S. President James Monroe from 1817 to 1825.


John Berryman, CC 1936
Hailed as "tremendously erudite and a brilliant teacher" by the Academy of American Poets, Berryman won a Pulitzer prize for his 1964 volume 77 Dream Songs. He held positions at both Harvard and Princeton and spent 17 years teaching at the University of Minneapolis. Troubled since childhood by his father's suicide, Berryman was prone to heavy drinking and emotional instability, which ultimately led to his 1972 suicide.


Joan Rivers, BC '54
Perhaps best known for her pre-Academy Awards fashion commentary, Rivers began her comedy career in the 1960s as a guest host on The Tonight Show and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. She later became a permanent stand-in for Johnny Carson and won an Emmy for The Joan Rivers Show, which she hosted in the early '90s.


Isamu Noguchi, CC 1926
A renowned sculptor, Noguchi pursued medicine at Columbia before he discovered that art was his calling. In 1927, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Paris. He worked on a three-dimensional sculpture in Mexico City with Diego Rivera and was invited to create the entrance to the Associated Press Building in New York during the 1930s. He later created ballet sets for Martha Graham.


Seth Low, CC 1870
Low was a New York politician as well as University President from 1890 to 1901. Under his administration, Columbia College became Columbia University and moved to the Morningside Heights campus. Both Teachers College and the medical school became affiliated with the University under Low. Praised for his honesty and efficiency, he served as mayor of Brooklyn from 1881 to 1885 and of New York City from 1901 to 1903.

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