Gator Greats

More than 240 alumni and friends attended a celebration in San Francisco’s Julia Morgan Ballroom, where President Les Wong presented awards to distinguished graduates

 

ON OCT. 24, SF State welcomed four graduates to its Alumni Hall of Fame: Oscar-nominated actress Margaret Avery (B.A., ’65), Sugar Bowl Bakery CEO Andrew Ly (B.S., ’86), Grammy-nominated producer Steven Miller (B.A., ’78) and Obie-winning writer Michael McClure (B.A., ’55). Two previous inductees were also honored: Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (M.A., ’65) received the President’s Distinguished Service Award, and U.S. Congressman George Miller (B.A., ’68) was named the University’s Alumnus of the Year.

Upon accepting the Alumnus of the Year award, Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, said the campus atmosphere in 1968 honed him for his 40-year-career in public service. “You had tactical squads at SF State, the Black Student Union forming, the Vietnam War and protests on both sides, political speakers every day in the Quad,” he said. “Washington, D.C., is a rough and tumble place, but if you’ve done your training at SF State, you are ready.”

Like Miller, Ammiano was honored in part for his education advocacy. In the 1970s, as a San Francisco public school teacher, he led a successful charge to defeat an initiative that would have banned gay people from teaching in California. After receiving the President’s Distinguished Service Award, he told the audience that his SF State “aha moment” took place inside Burk Hall when he decided to teach English abroad. The assemblymember, also a standup comedian, said teaching in Vietnam “really did change my life,” but that his students learned to speak English with his New Jersey accent.

Another former educator, Hall of Fame inductee Margaret Avery, spoke of SF State as her anchor amid the tumult of the 1960s. The 18 credit hours that demanded her attention along with her determination to graduate, she said, helped her when she was reeling from the horror of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Uncertain of her future, she had heard if you graduated from SF State, “you got yourself a teaching job.” This proved true for Avery, whose work as a teacher in Oakland prefaced her successful acting career.

Andrew Ly, another new member of the Hall of Fame, also spoke of SF State as a place of personal transformation. The CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery recalled arriving in the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee who spoke no English. “I was the poorest of the poor,” he said. “It was the education I received at San Francisco State University that helped me to be who I am today.” Sugar Bowl now supplies major national retailers and has an estimated worth of $60 million.

Though Michael McClure could not attend the Hall of Fame ceremony, the audience paused to listen to “So the Owl Hoots,” his poetry and jazz collaboration with the late Ray Manzarek of The Doors. As Master of Ceremonies Ben Fong-Torres (B.A., ’66) explained, McClure first found fame in 1955 as one of the poets at the seminal Gallery Six reading, which helped launch the literary movement known as the Beat Generation. Fong-Torres also sang a few bars of “Mercedes Benz,” the memorable song McClure co-wrote with Janis Joplin.

Music provided a perfect segue to welcome record producer Steven Miller to the Hall of Fame. Best known for transforming the Bay Area’s Windham Hill Records into a worldwide icon, Miller spoke of the need for passions to be encouraged so people can realize their professional dreams. “Let’s help everyone become a full-fledged and happy member of their own hall of fame,” he said.

The President’s Dinner and Alumni Hall of Fame was part of the 2014 SF State Alumni and Family Weekend, an annual celebration with luncheons, athletic events, lectures, open houses and reunions.

 

Photos by GINO DE GRANDIS and ELI PITTA

 

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