Grinnell-in-Los Angeles: Drag Brunch Connects Young Alumni

October 17, 2023

Yesenia Mozo

Imagine gorgeous drag queens with bright pink sequins, neon tops and skirts, leopard prints, beautiful makeup, and colorful wigs. Around you, a captivated audience, with one person about to get married (and sitting next to their grandma!) while others wave around dollar bills, bopping with excitement. One moment, there is a Barbie drag queen, and the next, a drag queen dressed as the beloved Selena Quintanilla. Not to mention the bottomless mimosas being served in high fashion-pink boots! The most exciting part? You look to the table right of the drag queens, and you see … Grinnellians?! 

Alumni, sitting at a large table, face the camera for a photo. On the table is a bunch of hot purple boots with straws.
Grinnellians never miss an opportunity for a great meal and performance. In Los Angeles, the planning committee hosts 4-7 events for Grinnell alumni each year.

For 15 young Grinnell alums, the venue with glamorous purple and pink lighting, glowing signs, and mouth-watering brunch was an exciting opportunity to reconnect after leaving the small Iowa town. In particular, the event brought together Grinnellians from the classes of 2012 to 2023, all of whom are part of the Grinnell-in-Los Angeles regional community. The brunch, hosted at Hamburger Mary’s, is known for its slogan, “Eat, Drink & Be…MARY!”. The drag brunch was not only a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, but a callback to a Grinnell tradition that alumni remember fondly — Grinnell’s student-run, biannual drag show. 

Joy Sales ’13 and Aaron Mardis ’15, alongside the Grinnell-in-Los Angeles Regional Planning Committee, organized the event after a peer suggested the idea. In true Grinnell fashion, their planning partners were excited to connect and support the LA young alumni community in this way. 

“I was happy to do a drag brunch because of nostalgia,” says Sales, a leader and volunteer within the LA regional committee. She collected everyone’s numbers during a previous Grinnell-in-LA picnic in July. Afterward, she created a group chat for alums to stay connected and updated about future events, including the drag show brunch. “Drag show was one of my favorite events on campus, and Hamburger Mary’s in LA is an iconic drag venue!” 

On a marble table lies a name tag that reads, "Grinnell College," with the Grinnell College logo. Next to the tag is a Hamburger Mary's sign with a QR code.
Grinnell College meets Hamburger Mary’s.

With the support of staff and funds from the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, the planning committee hosts 4–7 events each year for alumni across the greater LA area. The annual summer picnic in Griffith Park is a popular favorite for alumni, students, and parents. LA alums also stay connected via the Grinnell-in-Los Angeles Facebook group. “The Grinnell-in-LA regional committee is very funny and silly, and intergenerational! It feels like a family,” she says. 

Hamburger Mary’s is located in West Hollywood, a major gay enclave in Los Angeles. For many young alumni, the brunch was their first time at the venue. “The performers were extremely talented, charismatic, and showed our table a lot of love. It was a nice surprise that we were seated right where performers would come out,” Sales recalls.  

Three drag queens stand in front of TV screens, a purple sequined background, and Hamburger Mary's sign.

All the performers emerged from a bright red staircase, concealed by a sparkling purple sequined curtain. Throughout their performances, the drag queens fed off the energy of the audience, embodying an alluring, beautiful confidence that celebrated their femininity to the fullest.

“I liked how there was a wide range of young alumni, and we mixed up who sat together,” Sales says. “I met new people and reconnected with folks that I haven’t seen since I graduated.”  

The drag brunch was over an hour of performances, peppered with drastic outfit changes and popular songs from Lizzo, Katy Perry, and Whitney Houston. The drag queens bounced around the restaurant, ruffling people’s hair and dancing with and behind several people, including Grinnellians. “I loved the outfits and how much the performers interacted with the audience,” says Sales. “The crowd had great energy, and I also enjoyed the music. When they played Katy Perry, it brought me back to all the Harris parties I attended (and DJ’d)!”  

After the hit event, the regional committee is planning to discuss future Grinnell-in-LA community events, and perhaps connect them back to more beloved Grinnell traditions.  

About Grinnell Regional Communities

Across the U.S., Grinnell College regional communities have been busy holding events this fall to foster connections and fellowship among alumni and other Grinnellians. Each regional community is led by a volunteer planning committee, which holds meetings, assists with planning and marketing events, and recruits new regional volunteers and community members in conjunction with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations

Alumni interested in joining regional planning committees across the U.S. and helping with events like this one should contact Ashley Renstrom-Schaefer, senior associate director of alumni and donor relations, at or call 641-629-9317. 

We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and how to opt out, please refer to our website privacy policy.