December 8, 2020
Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Ethan Brown ’94, founder, president, and CEO of Beyond Meat, will deliver the keynote address at the College’s 103rd Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Brown, one of the newest members of the Connecticut College Board of Trustees, majored in Government and History at Conn while competing on the men’s basketball team and serving as publisher of the Connecticut College Review. He went on to earn an MBA at Columbia and a Master of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. This combination of history, policy, business, journalism, and competitive sports would prove to be a formidable foundation for his future career.
Passionate about the environment, Brown first held leadership roles at Ballard Power Systems, the world’s leading hydrogen fuel cell developer. While working in the alternative energy industry, he had a revelation about the environmental impact of livestock production, an insight that led him, in turn, to imagine an alternative meat industry. After discovering a University of Missouri researcher who was re-engineering plant-based proteins to mimic animal tissue, Brown took his knowledge of business and policy to the laboratory. And, with support from Bill Gates and others, in 2009 he created a new company, Beyond Meat.
Ten years later, in May 2019, that company made its public debut. The first plant-based food company to go public on a major exchange, Beyond Meat closed its first day of trading 163% above its initial valuation, making it the best performing first-day IPO in decades. Today, the company’s valuation stands at about $8.75 billion, and Brown has found vindication for his core belief that businesses can be both successful and socially responsible.
Brown’s devotion to creating a better world has been evident in all his commitments. He founded a center for fuel reformation and has served in prominent leadership positions in renewable energy, including as vice chair of the Board at The National Hydrogen Association and secretary of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council. The Aspen Institute named him a Henry Crown Fellow—a distinction reserved for young entrepreneurs who demonstrate leadership driven by a spirit of community. In 2018, he received the United Nation’s highest environmental recognition—the Champion of the Earth award.
His address to the class of 2021 should be a perfect culmination of the work being advanced this year both by the Office of Sustainability, with its theme of “Nourishing Community,” and by students in our new Food Pathway.
During the commencement ceremony, the College will also confer on Brown an honorary doctorate of humane letters honoris causa, an award that reflects his achievements as an entrepreneur and an environmentalist who has fulfilled our mission of putting the liberal arts into action.
I want to thank all who served on the 2021 Commencement committee—co-chairs Bonnie Wells and Madison Smith ’21; Marc Forster, College Marshal and the Henry B. Plant Professor of History; Anne Bernhard, associate dean of the faculty and the Katherine Blunt Professor of Biology; Virginia Anderson, associate professor of theater; Luci Chaplin, associate director of alumni engagement; Tiffany Thiele, national media relations manager; and Cameron Aaron, Koby Giglietti, Nicole Poole, and Sara Topalovic, all from the Class of 2021.
Finally, I want to state my fervent hope to hold our 103rd Commencement on campus. In a year of ongoing uncertainty, all our decisions will continue to be guided, of course, by state and federal public health leaders.
No matter how we choose to celebrate, it will be an honor to welcome Ethan Brown.