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SF State to award honorary degree to singer, activist Peter Yarrow



Christina Holmes
SFSU Office of Public Affairs
(415) 405-3803
(415) 338-1665

Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


Member of 60s folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary to receive degree at May 24 commencement

SAN FRANCISCO, April 1, 2003 - Peter Yarrow, a member of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary and a longtime activist for the homeless, peace, human rights and education, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of fine arts from San Francisco State University during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 24.

Yarrow, whose career spans more than four decades, has touched the lives of millions through his music and activism. He performed at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic March on Washington, D.C., organized peace events during the Vietnam War and established the "Save One Child" fund at Beth Israel Hospital's Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in New York. In the last five years, the fund has provided free medical care for more than 70 children worldwide whose families could not afford critically needed surgery.

His most recent project, and his most meaningful undertaking yet, involves building safer and more respectful school environments for children. Launched in 2000, Operation Respect: "Don't Laugh at Me" works with schools and youth organizations to reduce the emotional and physical cruelty some children inflict on each other through ridicule, bullying and, in extreme cases, violence.

"Peter Yarrow is a model of the values we hope to strengthen in our students," said SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan. "As exemplified by his long and varied career, he has been committed to social justice and equity. From his years of performing music of conscience with Peter, Paul & Mary to his involvement with the civil rights movement and later to the creation of Operation Respect, Peter's mission in life resonates deeply with us."

Each campus in the California State University system nominates honorary degree recipients to recognize those individuals with meritorious and outstanding service to the CSU, the campuses, the state of California, the United States or to humanity at large. The recipients are individuals whose lives and achievements serve as examples for CSU's diverse student body.

"What makes this honor most meaningful to me is the spirit in which it is offered. To be honored because I exemplify the kind of role model of commitment, humanity, vision and achievement that President Corrigan would like students to emulate is to characterize me so far beyond my own concept of myself that I am truly humbled," said Yarrow, 64.

Born in 1948 in New York, Yarrow was in high school when he heard The Weavers perform "If I Had a Hammer" and "Wasn't That a Time." He immediately realized the extraordinary impact of music of conscience, which he describes as writing from the heart rather than for money and addressing issues of equality, fairness and justice. He went on to study at Cornell University and received a bachelor's degree in experimental psychology.

In 1961 he debuted at a New York coffeehouse with Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers and before long the folk trio known as Peter, Paul & Mary was touring the country, singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Blowin' in the Wind" to crowds. The group's albums went gold and platinum and the musicians won numerous Grammys. The three continue to perform together about 40 times a year.

With music still the backdrop of his life, Yarrow has delved into other projects. He organizes an annual folk concert in Texas that helps launch the careers of budding singers and songwriters. He also sits on the board of the Connecticut Hospice, the first hospice in the country, where he frequently sings for patients and staff.

The Operation Respect: "Don't Laugh at Me" program, which has received funding from corporate, nonprofit and government sponsors, is based on a song performed by Peter, Paul & Mary (the lyrics include such lines as "Don't call me names; don't get pleasure from my pain"). More than 40,000 copies of the curriculum packet, which encourages children and teachers to declare their classrooms into "Ridicule Free Zones," have been distributed to schools.

"The social, emotional and spiritual growth of children, is the only path to world peace. It is the only route to untying the generational knots of hatred that have grown tighter and more fierce, and to finding ways to address today's most formidable challenges," said Yarrow. "It's the only route to proactively bring light and understanding to dark and sinister circumstances, to bring joy to the process of healing, and success to the pursuit of the fulfillment of our dreams of peace and compassion for all of humankind."

Yarrow lives in New York. He has two children: daughter Bethany is a singer, songwriter and award-winning filmmaker, and son Christopher owns an Asian art gallery in Portland, Ore.


NOTE TO EDITORS: For a photo of Yarrow, contact Christina Holmes of the SFSU Office of Public Affairs at (415) 405-3803 or (415) 338-1665 or

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Last modified April 24, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs