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At Commencement, SFSU grads urged to make a difference in challenging times



SFSU Office of Public Affairs
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Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


Keynote speaker Vartan Gregorian tells crowd of 20,000 that higher ed is backbone of U.S. society

SAN FRANCISCO, May 29, 2004 -- Honorees at San Francisco State University's Commencement ceremony today had similar themes in their speeches to the class of 2004: leverage your skills and knowledge to make a positive difference in the world, especially in the international climate of struggling economies, corruption and war.

"I hope your education will help you to develop a distinct attitude about life, an attitude that persistently seeks meaning and perspective, especially in places where none seem to exist," keynote speaker and Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian said at the University's 103rd Commencement. "It's an attitude that exudes adaptability in a perplexing world. It's an attitude of courage and steadfastness in a world of overwhelming human need and suffering."

SFSU awarded diplomas to the graduating class of 2004 before a crowd of 20,000 at Cox Stadium on a sunny, calm afternoon. About half of the 7,500 graduates were in attendance.

Gregorian, who received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, discussed the importance of public funding for higher education. He noted that U.S. colleges and universities enroll more than 15 million students, grant 2 million diplomas annually, and comprise a $200 billion enterprise.

"For more than two centuries, American colleges and universities have been the backbone of our nation's progress, helping make it an economic, scientific, cultural, technological, social and even military power," said Gregorian, who taught European and Middle Eastern history at SF State from 1962 to 1968. "Sometimes we take the American university for granted and forget its central role in our society."

SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan commended the graduates for their hard work and noted their diversity, as 25 percent of them were born outside of the United States.

"Your varied life experiences, cultural backgrounds and unique perspectives have made this campus a richer, more exciting place for all of us," Corrigan said.

During the ceremonies, SFSU also honored E-LOAN CEO and co-founder Chris Larsen as Alumnus of the Year, former San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. received an honorary doctor of laws degree, and SFSU business Professor Gary Selnow received the President's Medal for Service.

Selnow, who founded and runs WiRED International, uses information technologies to help countries disrupted by war, conflict or rampant illness to rebuild community and health. Having traveled frequently to such countries as Kosovo, Kenya and Iraq, he has observed that there are two ways to fight terrorism -- with the clenched fist of a solider or the outstretched hand of a humanitarian.

"In the global war on terror, you might not take up the sword, but you can offer up your human talents, your professional skills, your youthful energies and enthusiasm in this new world," Selnow said. "The battlefields are the clinics and shops, the classrooms and the operating rooms, the stadiums, and the union halls."

Larsen, who earned a bachelor's degree in international business and accounting in 1984, joins an illustrious roster of SFSU alumni to be named Alumnus of the Year, including journalist Ben Fong-Torres, actress Annette Bening, "Frasier" executive producer Peter Casey, singer Johnny Mathis and physician and astronaut Yvonne Cagle.

One of the state's most outspoken advocates of legislation to protect financial data, Larsen encouraged graduates to fight corruption in business and politics.

"Keep your eyes open. Try to get angry when you see things that aren't right," Larsen said. "And just know that it's never too late to cut the life boats and venture out on your own and make your fortunes and reform the system, all at the same time."

Brown, who first won elective office to the California Assembly 40 years ago, later became Speaker of the Assembly and then mayor of San Francisco. He graduated from San Francisco State in 1955 and is a prior recipient of both Alumnus of the Year and the President's Medal.

"Your prospects are virtually unlimited," Brown said. "It simply means the same energy, the same involvement you had through the class process of achieving the goal of a graduate, that must be applied in every aspect of your lives."

Antoinette Ball, a 21-year-old Oakland resident earning a bachelor's degree in political science, delivered a speech on behalf of her fellow graduates encouraging them to view life as a journey not a destination.

"We have not only helped this school become what it is, but we have helped each other find our own truth in our own destinies," said Ball, who will pursue a master's degree in mass communications at Florida State University this fall.

One of the largest campuses in the 23-campus CSU system, SFSU was founded in 1899 and today is a highly diverse, comprehensive, public, urban university.


NOTE: A transcript of SFSU's Commencement can be found online at:

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Last modified May 29, 2004, by the Office of Public Affairs