Hello Brown Alumni of Orange County community. Welcome to the local alumni spotlight blog. My name is A.J. Cruz, class of 2013, and I am excited to bring you a monthly series that I hope to continue as the year goes on. I plan to highlight our local alumni so we can learn more about each other and our incredible stories. Especially in this time of Covid, I hope this will help us all stay engaged with each other, and I look forward to your input and participation.
Our First spotlight of 2021 is Darren Rosenberg ’92. I “sat down” via a virtual call with Darren, the founder & CEO of Lens & Frame Co. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his journey from his History degree at Brown, to Law School, to founding his first company (Kaenon Polarized) to where he is at today. Darren shared insight into a what makes Brown so special and why so many have been impacted for life by the 4 formidable years they spent on College Hill. Enjoy the questions and responses we shared below:
What is something you’d like to share, professional or personal, with the local alumni community?
Actually the first thing that popped into mind was [that] this last year has been tough for everyone, and one of the really nice surprises for me personally has been re-connecting with a group of my old buddies from school. They created a weekly “zoom happy hour” call, and it has been really great to re-connect with a group of old friends who all share the same bond of spending four years in college together. It didn’t matter that some called in from New York or California, Washington or Vermont - everytime I’ve joined the weekly call I emerge with a huge smile on my face. And now we’re talking about returning to campus next year for our 30 year reunion!
When you think of your time at Brown and your education, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
“The fact that there were no curriculum requirements. The open curriculum was so exciting to me because I really enjoyed history and I was able to dive right in as a freshman into the courses that I wanted to take and the time periods that I wanted to learn about. I probably should have waited for a year or two before I dug into some of the upper division classes, but it was really fun to dive right in and take the classes that I wanted to take. And I was able to explore art history, history of jazz, architecture, take a language, all kinds of stuff that I don't know that I would have had the opportunity to do elsewhere. That was fantastic that we were able to have that freedom and responsibility and [to be able to] make the choices that we wanted to make.”
Who on campus would you say impacted you the most?
“My first thought would be the friends I’ve made. I was a member of the sailing team during all four years at Brown and loved it. As a team, we spent a ton of time together practicing, traveling and competing up and down the East Coast. The team was made of a great group of people who were focused on trying to get better athletically but also really driven academically. There’s the group of friends we just spoke about … hopping on a call some 30 years later and able to pick up where we left off without skipping a beat. I had a couple of professors who I actually refererence around the house with my wife and kids all the time; not that I got to know them very well, but they made such an impact on me by how they reached out and tried to influence me as a student and as a young man. I still remember some of the things they said and the guidance they offered to me before I went on to law school, and I happily share those insights with my kids.”
If you had to choose one, what was your favorite class from your time there?
“You know, I have such fond memories of my history courses. I went into my freshman year really loving the Italian Renaissance (and) came out as a senior with a deeper and more meaningful understanding of modern US history. Professor Neu taught those classes on modern US history including a seminar about George Kennan who was the US ambassador to Russia during the Cold War. But for his class, I never would have learned about such a fascinating character in history. And I feel like these classes helped me to see the world through an entirely different lens, certainly these classes helped build a foundation of critical thinking that I take with me everywhere I go. Nevertheless, the classes that I reference most often around the house with my wife and kids include art history, history of the blues & jazz, history of architecture - you know those sorts of classes touch me every day in ways I never would have imagined.”
All right, so I have three quick questions, then we'll end with one final wrap up:
V Dub or Ratty?
“Ratty” I didn’t spend summers at camp, so this was the first time I experienced shelves of cereal boxes and soft-serve ice cream on demand!”
What was your freshman year dorm?
The Rock or The Sci-Li?
“The Rock was closer to me and I spent more time there, but Sci-Li is where I went when I actually, really had to kick it into gear and get something done.”
What lasting impact did Brown have that's still prevalent for you today?
“You know, I would have to say it goes back to some of the themes we've touched on, which is that the open curriculum really is a metaphor for life. There's no road map available telling you to go left or go right or which way to choose. You have to make those choices for yourself. The fact that we learned how to make so many choices for ourselves early on proved to be important learning in and of themselves. Some decisions were good some were bad, but like you said, sometimes we learn more from the bad choices. Every choice I’ve made has helped to enrich my life experience – regardless of whether it seemed to make logical sense at the time. I mean, who knew I was going to find myself on an entrepreneurial path involving premium eyewear after practicing law and studying history? But somehow each experience layers on top of the previous experience and helps me to navigate the next experience.”
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