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Record numbers to graduate from SF State on Saturday, May 27



SF State Office of Public Affairs & Publications
(415) 338-1665


Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications


8,000 grads include All-American in speech/debate, rap artist, filmmaker with cerebral palsy

SAN FRANCISCO, May 19, 2006 -- San Francisco State University will confer a record number of bachelor's and master's degrees at its 105th Commencement at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, May 27. The 7,997 graduates -- the largest class in the University's history -- include representatives of 119 countries. Below you will find selected stories of outstanding graduates, including this year's hood recipients, who are top graduates chosen to represent their fellow students from each of SF State's academic colleges, Liberal Studies Program and Division of Graduate Studies. For assistance in contacting any of these students, call the SF State Office of Public Affairs and Publications at (415) 338-1665. The sampling below includes:

  • A self-confessed 'nerdy girl' pursuing a career in biochemistry
  • Two artists with cerebral palsy: a fledgling filmmaker and a future television writer/ producer and Web designer
  • A future pediatrician who helped her mother foster infants born with drug and alcohol dependencies
  • An ethnic studies major who plans a career pursuing social justice

Donis Georgiou, making films that break down stereotypes of the disabled
Throughout Donis Georgiou's life, he has been told that his cerebral palsy will prevent him from realizing his dreams of graduating from college and becoming a filmmaker. He has already proved them wrong. Graduating with a bachelor's degree in cinema, the Cyprus native and San Leandro resident is editing his autobiographical documentary "The Hidden Gift," an earlier version of which screened at the 2003 Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema. Georgiou, 29, travels around the campus in a motorized wheelchair, which will soon have his digital camera attached. He said that students and faculty are supportive of his work and help him, but he is the one in charge. "I do my own work," he said. "I'm not asking for a second hand." Georgiou would like to continue to make films that break down stereotypes of the disabled, as well as write screenplays and direct music videos. "The Hidden Gift" will screen at 3:15 p.m. June 12 at the August Coppola Theatre in the Fine Arts building on the SF State campus.

Edana Contreras, a positive role model for disabilities on television
Edana Contreras, who completed her bachelor's degree in radio and television in January, has conducted research on portrayals of disability on television, a subject previously not explored in depth. She is an ideal researcher for the topic, as she has cerebral palsy and dyslexia. "Only now you are starting to get complex characters who have disabilities," Contreras said, citing the Fox drama "House," in which the title character walks with a cane, as a positive example. Her interest in television and the Internet has led her to pursue a career that combines both media, most likely as a writer, producer and Web designer. "I absolutely love writing and telling stories," she said. Contreras, a 26-year-old Mission District resident and San Francisco native, plans to continue her research in the future as an SF State graduate student in radio and television.

Kevin Briancesco, an All-American in speech and debate
Briancesco received a bachelor of arts (magna cum laude) in speech and communication studies. A native of the San Francisco Mission District, he was raised by his single working mother and grandmother. This All-American in speech and debate often uses the difficulties his mother faced and feminist issues as material for speech competitions. "I want the world to be a better place for my mom," he said. When he's not competing in debate and speech tournaments, Briancesco volunteers and works at several after-school programs. "I like working with kids," he said. "Kids' voices need to be heard, too." The first in his family to graduate college, Briancesco has won a full scholarship to Arizona State University to continue his study in communications and eventually teach it in college.

HOOD RECIPIENTS: One outstanding student from each academic college, the Liberal Studies program and Division of Graduate Studies will receive the symbolic investiture of the hood on behalf of their fellow students. The hood recipients are as follows.

Valerie Francisco (Behavioral and Social Sciences), activism, scholarship and hip-hop
When Valerie Francisco began rapping years ago, she gave herself the stage name Hood Scholar. Now Francisco is the hood recipient for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and a fledgling scholar in sociology and Asian American studies. Francisco, a native of Parañaque, Philippines, moved to the United States at age 9. She spent most of her adolescent years in Concord, in the Latino barrio of Monument. Her life experiences have shaped her academic interests. "When you're growing up in poverty, not having anything, and everybody around you doesn't have adequate housing, I really saw -- as a sociologist -- the inequalities," Francisco said. She is a founder and the mass campaign officer of babae, a San Francisco nonprofit that address the rights and welfare of Filipina Americans. This fall she enters the doctoral program in sociology at City University of New York. She plans to become a university professor and remain active in the Bay Area's Filipino community. Francisco, now known as Sho Shock, performs hip-hop music with Rhapsodistas, a collective comprised of four young Filipinas. "My art is a way to talk to people who wouldn't come to see me give a lecture," she said. "My people, my community and my family are most important to me. They are my bedrock."

Kristin Farr (Creative Arts), creating and teaching art
Kristin Farr was too intimidated to pursue art professionally until she enrolled at SF State. Farr, a 1996 graduate of Redwood High School in Larkspur, considered majoring in education or theatre arts, but instantly fell in love with the SF State Art Department. Students and faculty allayed her fears. "My professors encouraged me to be open and take risks in art making and to not be afraid," said Farr, who now lives in Pacifica. "They offered support and shared ideas." Farr, who graduates cum laude, chose a dual emphasis in sculpture and textiles. She has exhibited her work at restaurants and cafes, as well as in a student show that spent one night at the de Young Museum this spring and raised $15,000 for St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco. Farr teaches art at an after-school program at El Dorado Elementary School in San Francisco. She works full time as outreach coordinator for "SPARK," a program on KQED-Channel 9. There, she brings artists featured on the program to speak at Bay Area high schools and colleges. Farr plans to attend graduate school, continue to make and exhibit art, and eventually become an art professor.

Marie Dorcas Brown (Education), Second generation teaching special education
With her graduation, Brown is now a second-generation special education teacher; her mother earned bachelor's and master's degrees in special education in orientation mobility at SF State. While still a teenager, Brown, who was home-schooled, decided to take a special education course at Solano Community College. She showed an aptitude for learning American Sign Language as well as for tutoring those with learning disabilities. In addition to compiling an excellent academic record at State, Brown worked as a speech therapy aide in the Child Development Center at California Pacific Medical Center. She was also a teacher's aide in the South San Francisco Unified School District, working one-on-one with children who have learning disabilities. And, she volunteered her time one day a week in the special education classroom at Francis Scott Key Elementary School, helping students with language, reading and social skills. Marie will begin master's studies this fall in speech-language pathology in the College of Education. She hopes to find work with a school district when she finishes the program and eventually open her own speech pathology practice.

Sonia Elena Mays (Ethnic Studies), inspired by her American Indian heritage
Mays receives a bachelor of arts (summa cum laude) in Raza studies and minor in American Indian studies. The San Francisco native of Bolivian, European and American Indian heritage attended SF State as a Presidential Scholar on a full scholarship. Mays originally planned to major in psychology and become a teacher, but her first class in American Indian studies altered that pursuit. "I found I could apply what I had already been exposed to at home to an academic setting that critically analyzes history," she said. She plans to continue her education in public policy.

Anna Abeyta (Humanities), studying world religion
Moving to San Francisco from Oklahoma has opened Abeyta to the religions of the world. The summa cum laude graduate in philosophy has become fascinated by religion and wants to continue learning about religions for the rest of her life. "I am drawn to the universality of religion as a human experience, the need to ask why and seek a purpose," said Abeyta, a 1999 graduate of Mustang, Okla., High School. Abeyta has found her purpose. She plans to learn Japanese, pursue a doctorate in religious studies and eventually become a professor in the subject, preferably at a public university like SF State. "She embodies everything that a young seeker of truth should be," philosophy Professor Jacob Needleman said. "(She possesses an) excellent academic mind combined with a deep, serious, heartfelt interest in wisdom and truth." Abeyta, a resident of the TenderNob neighborhood in San Francisco, is of Irish and Native American (Cherokee) descent. She is also interested in studying Native American religions and the Cherokee language.

Marlisa Pillsbury (Science and Engineering), a 'nerdy girl' who loves science
Pillsbury receives a bachelor of arts (summa cum laude) in biochemistry. She is the first in her family to graduate high school and college. While other children watched "Ninja Turtles" on Saturday mornings, she preferred "Bill Nye the Science Guy." The self-confessed "nerdy girl" will move on to the Ph.D. program in biochemistry at University of California, San Francisco, this fall. She plans a career in medical research and also plans to encourage more women and minorities to pursue careers in science. "If you keep your head down and really concentrate, you just won't have time to be intimidated," the Emeryville resident said.

TaiJuana Sylvester (Graduate Studies), dedicated to children's health
Sylvester receives a master of science in biology. She lost her mother while pursuing her undergraduate degree at SF State. Though devastated, she discovered in herself the strength and determination she always admired in her mother, and persevered. Sylvester's professional plans are a tribute to her mother, who fostered infants born with drug and alcohol dependencies. She plans to become a pediatrician and a researcher in infectious diseases. The Fairfield resident will enter medical school at either Boston University or Stanford University this fall.

Michelle Reardon (Liberal Studies), a former model and future teacher
Reardon is proud to be graduating from college at age 51. After a brief modeling career in New York, Reardon's life took several twists and turns. Five years ago she decided to go back to school. She was a single mother working as an executive administrative assistant in San Francisco and felt it was time to make a change. To her surprise, she found that she both enjoyed and was very good at academic work. As a liberal studies major, Michelle has a head start on earning a teaching credential. She plans to finish her credential up at SF State and hopes to teach second grade in San Francisco, perhaps even at Claire Lilienthal, the school her daughter attended.


NOTE TO EDITORS: Reporters who cover Commencement must contact the SF State Office Public Affairs and Publications for media credentials. Please call (415) 338-1665 prior to Commencement. A transcript of Commencement will be posted online shortly after the conclusion of the ceremony on May 27 at: Photos are available upon request.

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Last modified June 2, 2006, by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications