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At Commencement, SF State grads encouraged to better society, humankind



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Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications


Jackie Speier, honorees James Brosnahan, Pegi Young, Neil Young speak before 20,000 people

SAN FRANCISCO, May 27, 2006 -- At San Francisco State University's 105th Commencement today, keynote speaker California Sen. Jackie Speier and other honorees urged the class of 2006 to use their talents and skills for the betterment of society, humankind and the environment. Doing so will result in a rewarding, fulfilling life, they said.

In her speech, Speier asked graduates: "What would you do with your life if you knew you could not fail?"

"When you look at the world's problems, from a neighborhood drug dealer to the broad brush strokes of the war on terror, don't rely on others to take action," said Speier, D-San Francisco. "You don't have to personally drive a patrol car or don fatigues, but you should strive to understand why it's so important to find solutions to these conflicts."

Speier recounted the story of how her public sector career began and nearly ended as a legal aide to the late Congressman Leo Ryan in 1978. Speier, who went with Ryan to Jonestown, Guyana, to investigate reports that cult leader Jim Jones was holding constituents hostage, was shot five times and left for dead on the Jonestown airstrip where Ryan died. As she waited 22 hours for help, she decided that should she survive she would dedicate her career to public service.

"I promised God that if I lived, I would make every day count," Speier said.

SF State awarded diplomas to the graduating class of 2006 before a crowd of 20,000 at Cox Stadium. About half of the 8,039 graduates -- comprising the University's largest-ever graduating class -- were in attendance.

SF State President Robert A. Corrigan commended the graduates for their hard work and noted their diversity, describing them as "a virtual United Nations" representing 119 countries.

"We honor all that you students have achieved while you've been here and anticipate with great confidence your future personal and professional success," Corrigan said. "We know that you're ready to contribute to the welfare of the greater world that awaits you."

During the ceremony, SF State honored biotechnology leader Kenneth Fong as its 2006 Alumnus of the Year. Fong, who earned a bachelor's degree in biology from SF State in 1971, is chairman of Kenson Ventures LLC, a venture capital firm in Palo Alto.

"Pursue your core competency with passion. And passion breeds persistence, and persistence breeds eventual success," Fong said.

Three distinguished individuals received honorary degrees at Commencement. Pegi Morton Young, the cofounder of The Bridge School in Hillsborough, for children with severe speech and physical impairments, and her husband Neil Young, the musician-songwriter and member of multiple rock and roll halls of fame, each received an honorary doctor of humane letters from SF State and the California State University (CSU) system. James J. Brosnahan, one of the nation's most respected and recognized trial lawyers, received an honorary doctor of laws from the CSU.

The Youngs' son Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy, was the catalyst for Pegi's founding The Bridge School, with Jim Forderer, another parent of a severely disabled child, and speech and language pathologist Dr. Marilyn Buzolich. Through Pegi's dedication, the school has become an internationally recognized model that conducts cutting-edge research shared with professionals across the nation. She noted that although she has worked in education for 20 years, she never had donned a cap and gown until today.

"(Ben) has opened my eyes to disability, to a world I never would have come to know. And it's been incredibly gratifying," Pegi Young said. "For everything that I have given to Bridge, I have gotten back hundredfold."

Neil Young is the driving force behind The Bridge School's annual fundraising concert. He has performed at the concerts and helped bring to the same stage dozens of musicians including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Dave Matthews. Young's latest album, "Living with War," is a statement against the Iraq war and President George W. Bush.

"Every time you see something that reminds you of war and hurts you, that you're involved in it, that you're responsible for a country that's killing a lot of people, just try to remember peace," he said, fighting tears.

Brosnahan, a senior partner at Morrison and Foerster, has represented some of the largest and most powerful organizations in the nation, but also devoted himself to serving the poorest and least fortunate individuals. Armed with 100 copies of the U.S. Constitution to hand out to graduates, Brosnahan read the First, Fourth and Ninth Amendments. He stressed the importance of the Constitution.

"You must make it clear that you are for this Constitution," Brosnahan said.

Student speaker Valerie Francisco, who graduated with a bachelor's degree magna cum laude in sociology and Asian American studies, had several words of advice for her classmates.

"Our responsibility ... is to the very people and the community who taught us how to expand our ideas of education and intellect," said Francisco, who enters the doctoral program in sociology at City University of New York this fall. "We are accountable to the future graduates who will sit in these seats in 10 years."

SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls about 29,000 students each year and graduates about 7,000 annually. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University's more than 150,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.


NOTE: A transcript of SF State's Commencement is available online at:

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Last modified May 27, 2006, by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications