But these lists tend not to reflect the people who are currently making headlines.
Here are the 15 New Notable Cornellians, in alphabetical order. I am leaving out plenty of qualified people, so feel free to let me hear about it in the comments.
Bruce Arena '71
One of four sports figures to make the list, Arena coached the U.S. national soccer team from 1998-2006. Arena was named MLS Coach of the Year this season for his work with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and has been credited with smoothing over differences between star players David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Gary Bettman '74
Bettman is in his sixteenth year as NHL commissioner. His tenure has featured plenty of controversy, as he has been unable to expeditiously resolve disputes between owners and players. The most recent one resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. Bettman also oversaw the expansion of the NHL to thirty teams.
Ann Coulter '84
The Cornell alum whom nobody in Day Hall wants to talk about. It seems like Coulter's voice is not as prominent as it once was, perhaps due to the popularity of Glenn Beck and the emergence of Sarah Palin as the preeminent conservative female figure. Still, events like her moronic dispute with Keith Olbermann over the values of their respective Cornell degrees manage to keep her name -- and Cornell's -- in the news.
Ken Dryden '69
I recently finished Dryden's book, and I hope to blog about it over the next couple of days. If Dryden had solely achieved fame through his hockey success, he would join the ranks of Joe Niewendyk and Janet Reno as Cornellians who are famous for what they've done in the past. But Dryden has spun his hockey fame into a relatively successful career as a Canadian MP, and his continued influence and fame lands him on this list.
Gabrielle Giffords M.R.P.'96
One of three Cornellians currently serving in Congress, this Rhodes Scholar (and Democrat) is popular in her home state of Arizona and is a good bet to be Senator one day. Her 2008 campaign website won some praise for photos like this. Oh, and she's married to an astronaut. Talk about a rising political star.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg '54
Concerns about her health mean that Ginsburg is likely to retire before President Obama leaves office, but for now, she may be the most powerful Cornell alum.
Brian Hastings '10
An unconventional choice, but the kid set an online poker record by winning over $4 million in one weekend. His luck may change in the future, but he's become a celebrity in the large, if somewhat reclusive, online poker community.
Matt Moulson '06
What a great story. Cut by his junior hockey team, he works his way to play hockey at Cornell. After a few short stints at the NHL level, he finally breaks through this year with the Islanders. Moulson is playing on the top line and shares the team lead for goals. Every serious hockey fan knows who Moulson is.
Bill Nye '77
It's been a decade since his TV show, but Nye remains extremely popular among my generation. He's Bill Nye the Science Guy!
Keith Olbermann '79
Olbermann's rise to become the face of MSNBC and one of the most prominent critics of the Bush administration mirrored the Democratic Party's return to power. Now if only he hadn't let Coulter drag him into that moronic debate about Cornell.
Michelle Rhee '92
Rhee joined Teach for America after Cornell, eventually went back to graduate school, and was a surprise choice of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty to become superintendent of schools. Rhee has managed to piss off nearly every constituent group, including parents, teachers, and city councilmen. She's closed schools, fired hundreds of teachers, and doesn't seem to care what others think. Her goal is to provide students with the best teachers, and she's prepared to pay high salaries (and fire as many people as it takes) to make it happen.
Michael Ross '81
The other Cornell alum nobody in Ithaca wants to talk about, serial killer Ross was executed by the state of Connecticut in 2005. His execution was the first in New England in 45 years, and helped spur the Connecticut legislature to abolish the death penalty earlier this year. (Our wonderful Governor Jodi Rell decided to veto the bill.) Ross's first murder was of a fellow Cornell student, as we in Connecticut are continually reminded.
Andrew Ross Sorkin '99
One of many Cornell alums doing good work for the New York Times (see Eric Lichtblau) Sorkin's stock rose tremendously this year. His book, Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System–and Themselves, has become the definitive book on the "bailouts."
Sarah Spain '02
Someone you probably haven't heard of, but look for Spain to become the next big Cornellian in the media. She made some headlines back in 2007 for offering herself as a date for the Super Bowl, before Axe stepped in and gave her enough tickets so that she could choose a date. (She chose a young doctor from Chicago.) She's been getting more gigs as an on-camera sports reporter and seems to love being the center of attention.
Ratan Tata '62
He is chairman of the Tata Group, which is the biggest conglomerate in India. Tata purchased Jaguar and Land Rover back in 2008, and he gave a whopping $50 million to Cornell that same year.