Whitman alumni achieve fame, fortune

By Zoe Kaufmann

Whitman has long been regarded as one of the best public high schools in Maryland. Its rigorous curriculum prepares students well for college, and many continue on to achieve great success in the professional world as well. The Black & White reached out to some notable alumni, now at the very top of their fields, to ask about their memories of Whitman.

Richard Berke ‘76: From B&W news writer to national news organization Executive Editor  


Richard Berke is carried, in his editor-in-chief’s chair, by staff writers after the printing of the first issue of the 1975-76 school year. Berke had classmates sign the chair before he took it home after graduation—and he still has it to this day.

Richard Berke (‘76) got his first taste of journalism working on The Black & White; he served as a news writer his sophomore and junior years and as editor-in-chief his senior year. As editor-in-chief, Berke gained international attention for an exclusive story he and classmate Michael Gill wrote. The article publicly revealed, for the first time, that during the famous “kitchen debates” of 1959 in Moscow, then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon was exposed to high levels of radiation. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Associated Press and other popular media outlets then picked up the revelation.


“It was very exciting. I remember being on TV and in the newspapers and in magazines,” Berke said. “Cameras were coming to The Black & White. It was a very exciting experience for me and my colleagues at the paper.”

After graduating, Berke studied at the University of Michigan, where he wrote for the Michigan Daily. He later attended the School of Journalism at Columbia University.

“I remember going to the editor of my college paper at Michigan and saying ‘I’ve had a lot of experience, I broke this national story in my high school paper,’ so I think it served as an inspiring time for me that I kept referring to and building on,” Berke said.

After working at the Baltimore Evening Sun, the Minneapolis Tribune and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Berke began writing for the New York Times in 1986, eventually moving up to assistant managing editor. In 2013, he was named Executive Editor of Politico and is currently the Executive Editor of STAT, a medical news organization affiliated with the Boston Globe. Even now, Berke uses the skills he learned at Whitman.

“A lot of lessons that I took in my whole entire journalism career were building on what I did at The Black & White, only for a bigger audience,” Berke said.

Berke’s time at The Black & White also provided him with a social outlet during his high school years.

“I loved it, and it was central to my Whitman experience. It was where I met many of my friends—I’m still in touch with many of the same people,” Berke said. “For me, it was the best part of those years of my life and in high school. Some people had other activities and sports, but that was my big interest.”

Berke is carried, in his editor-in-chief’s chair, by staff writers after the printing of the first issue of the 1975-76 school year. Berke had classmates sign the chair before he took it home after graduation—and he still has it to this day.


Giuliana Rancic ‘92: From cheerleader to E! TV personality

Giuliana Rancic (‘92) is an entertainment journalist, writer, television personality and co-star of Fashion Police on the E! Network. Formerly Giuliana DePandi, Rancic moved from Naples, Italy to Bethesda at age seven. Rancic graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, and obtained a master’s degree in journalism from American University.

Until last year, Rancic anchored for E! News and appeared on many of the network’s shows. Her reality show “Giuliana and Bill,” which she hosts with her husband, first-year winner of “The Apprentice” Bill Rancic, featured a segment filmed at Whitman Oct. 12, 2009.


Despite her current fame, Giuliana Rancic was known best for being Monica DePandi’s younger sister at the beginning of her time at Whitman.

“My favorite memory was having good times and fun with my friends during school and on the weekends,” Rancic told the Black & White in 2010. “I was a B student, but kind of a rebel. I cut class and I actually had the record for more absences than any other student.”


Rancic was a Whitman cheerleader and was more interested in the social opportunities the school offered than academics, she said.

“I was more focused on my social life than my homework and going to class,” Rancic told the Washingtonian. “I still got a lot out of school. It helped me build my personality, which is what helped me get my job at E! years later when I went to Los Angeles.”

Adam Spiegel ‘87: From skateboarder to Academy Award winner

Better known by his professional name, Spike Jonze, Adam Spiegel is an Academy-Award winning director, producer, and screenwriter. During his high school years, Jonze was usually behind the counter at Rockville BMX, a local skate and bike shop, or riding his BMX bike and skateboarding around DC. His coworkers at the shop called him “Spike Jonze,” a play on the name of ‘40s and ‘50s bandleader Spike Jones, to make fun of his frequently messy and spiky hair.

“He’d come to work without showering, and his hair was usually sticking straight up,”  Jay Metzler, former owner of Rockville BMX, told New York Magazine.

Jonze attended Whitman for his first three years of high school but transferred to the Field School his senior year. As a teenager, he was shy and had a quirky sense of humor, friends said.


Even as a teenager, Spiegel exhibited the trademark humor which would win him awards later in his career.

“He had a pretty dry sense of humor, and you wouldn’t know immediately whether he was joking or not,” high school friend Todd Seligman said. “He was embarrassed about how much money he had, and he drove this old beaten up Chevy. He told me that his sister had given it to him because she’d gone off to join a religious cult, and I never questioned it.”


The day after his final exams, Spiegel moved to California to write and take photos for Freestylin’, a magazine centered around Californian skateboard and BMX culture.

Jonze then began shooting videos of skateboarders, eventually contributing footage to noise-rock band Sonic Youth’s 1992 music video “100%.” At the shoot, he met director Sofia Coppola, to whom he was married from 1999 to 2004. Coppola starred in his 1997 music video for the Chemical Brothers’ “Elektrobank.”

His breakthrough piece, which won him four MTV awards and unexpected media attention, was the music video he directed for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”. Consequently, Jonze became a sought-after music video director, directing videos for Weezer, Björk, R.E.M, Puff Daddy and more in the ‘90s alone.

Jonze was nominated for three Oscars, two Emmys and one Golden Globe, and won a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Among other famous films, he directed Being John Malkovich and Where the Wild Things Are and produced Her.



This story has been updated to clarify the affiliation of STAT with the Boston Globe.