Bryant alum Kurt Deion holds a copy of his new book.
Alum Kurt Deion, who works as an education specialist for the Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C., visited Bryant and spoke with students about how he turned his love for history into a career.
Working at America’s ‘hippest cemetery,’ alum shares career journey with undergrads
Feb 29, 2024, by Emma Bartlett
Learn About Bryant Apply to Bryant

Kurt Deion ’16 was 15 years old when he and his father found themselves locked in a cemetery at night. Enclosed by seven-foot walls crowned with barbed wire, the Rhode Island natives had stopped by a New Jersey cemetery to visit the gravesite of former Vice President Garret Hobart. The cemetery was closing for the night and while Deion’s father couldn’t convince one of its workers to keep the entrance unlocked, he was able to persuade the woman to lock them inside the burial ground.

“My dad told her, ‘Don't worry about us, we'll find our way out,’” Deion recounted, smiling at the fact that the pair had to climb a tree and swing over a fence like Tarzan.

This was just one of many adventure-filled stories Deion shared with students in Bryant’s “History of the U.S. since 1865” course run by Politics, Law, and Society Lecturer Mary Anne Clarke. Deion, who now works as an education specialist for the Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C., talked with students about how he turned his love for history into a viable career.

"One of the best things students learn from these experiences is the fact that everyone's career journey is different," said Clarke.

Hungry for history

Deion’s passion for history began at age seven when his mom gave him the book, So You Want to Be President?

“At first I wanted nothing to do with it,” Deion, who grew up in Cranston, told students, noting that recess, lunch, and Batman comics were far superior.

Eventually picking up the book, he was captivated by the story’s humorous illustrations. He recalled one page depicting a 60-year-old George Washington shrunken to the size of a 10-year-old; in the image, the president’s nine siblings and half siblings pulled on his wig and coat while the page’s text read something to the effect of: “Do you have annoying siblings?”

“It was funny and made these historical figures relatable,” Deion said.

The next year, he visited Adams National Historical Park and wandered the rooms that former President John Adams walked through when he, like Deion, was eight years old. Stepping into the neighboring church, Deion saw where John and his wife, Abigail, were entombed. Shortly thereafter, he set out to visit all presidential graves and later expanded to first ladies, vice presidents, and pop culture figures. At 14, he created a website documenting his travels.

Bryant and beyond

Making his way to Bryant in 2012, Deion was the only History major in his class. Participating in the university’s Washington D.C. Internship Program, Deion interned with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and later pursued a master's degree in history at UMass Boston. He then took on various history-related roles before landing his dream job in 2023 at the Historic Congressional Cemetery.

Known as America's hippest cemetery, this burial ground runs an annual Dead Man’s Run 5K, “Tombs and Tomes” book club, Soul Strolls, movie nights, and will soon host its inaugural book festival.

“Death is a very difficult topic, but it's something that is going to catch up with us, so we try to make it less of a taboo topic and make the cemetery a cultural center,” said Deion.

When he’s not busy developing educational programming for grades K-12, Deion can be found creating history-based social media content or conducting tours of the historic grounds.

Inspiring future historians

Following his “History of the U.S. since 1865” presentation, students asked about life in Washington D.C., his workplace, and the gravesites he’s visited. Deion has visited more than 2,000 famous U.S. graves and has approximately 2,500 left on his bucket list. In 2023, he published his first book, Presidential Grave Hunter: One Kid's Quest to Visit the Tombs of Every President and Vice President.

“What’s been your favorite historical site?” asked History major Matthew Lachance ’27, leading to Deion’s recollection of his visit to Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois.

Bryant University alum Kurt Deion with Lecturer Mary Anne Clarke.
Deion wrapped up his presentation with an anecdote about running through the archway while doing the double peace sign like Richard Nixon.

Moving onto questions about unmarked graves and how to deal with the flack that modern-day historians can receive, Deion left students with an anecdote from his college days.

“One time, there was a campus tour going on by the archway and the guide said, ‘This is the archway; nobody walks through it,’” he recalled, alluding to the legend that students who pass under the archway prior to Commencement will not graduate.

For someone who would go on to work in intimate quarters with the dead, Deion did not bend to superstition.

“At the time, I was running late to class and went through while doing the double peace sign like Richard Nixon,” he said, laughing. “So, just remember, you can still walk through the archway, graduate, and get your dream job.”

Read More

Related Stories