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SF State: outstanding students with outstanding stories



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

Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications


The stories of a few of SF State's 2007 graduates

SAN FRANCISCO, May 23, 2007 -- San Francisco State University will confer degrees on 8,041 students at its 106th Commencement at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, May 26. 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.

Tal Levy-Chen, from Israeli dancer to Oakland entrepreneur and Commencement student speaker
Tal Levy-Chen's business classes have proved to be more than of just academic interest -- Levy-Chen already runs her own company, Food Tree. Her healthy puffed-wheat product Whiffles is now sold in Bay Area markets such as Mollie Stone's. The Oakland resident will be the student speaker at Commencement and is also the hood recipient for the College of Business. A native of Israel, Levy-Chen danced professionally, touring with a folk troupe during her teenage years. After completing her mandatory service for the Israeli Army, she moved to the U.S. to teach at a dance studio in Queens, New York. She later moved to the West Coast, and enrolled at SF State.

Bryan Payne, giving peace a chance
French major Bryan Payne will put his language fluency and interest in community development to work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kingdom of Jordan. Payne continues a longstanding SF State tradition of Peace Corps volunteerism: SF State ranks 16th nationwide for the number of graduates who have served in the corps, for a total of 1,214 volunteers since 1961. The Vallejo native has accepted an assignment working with children with special needs. He departs for Jordan in July, and hopes that, in addition to helping educate others, he will learn some Arabic.

Currently, 25 SF State grads are serving in 19 locations, in every Peace Corps sector: agriculture, business development/IT, education, environment, health and HIV/AIDS, and youth development.

Payne currently lives in San Francisco's Sunset district.

For Peace Corps information, contact Nathan Sargent, public affairs specialist, Peace Corps San Francisco Regional Office at (510) 452-8446 or

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.

Heather Weigand (Behavioral and Social Sciences), helping the previously incarcerated
Heather Weigand is a passionate advocate for former prisoners, especially the wrongfully convicted. She is already working with New Jersey congressman Donald Payne to pass legislation that would increase funding to help the wrongfully convicted rebuild their lives, and working with California assembly member Mark Leno on a State bill that would provide state funded case services to exonerated men and women in California. It's a passion born out of experience. After being incarcerated in the California prison system, Weigand joined the Delancey Street recovery program and two years later enrolled in the University through Project Rebound, which supports former prisoners working on an education at SF State. "A professor told me, 'If you want to create social change, you must speak legalese'," she said. "I changed my major to criminal justice that day." She currently lives in San Bruno and plans on attending graduate school and continuing her advocacy and consulting work.

Belinderjit Kaur "Jeeti" Singh (Creative Arts), questioning the popular depictions of women
Singh's artwork focuses on the media's depiction of women. Born in Hong Kong with parents from Punjab her work is marked by a provocative multi-cultural awareness that examines female sexuality. The Union City resident wants to make a sociological statement with her work. "Women are being sexualized at younger and younger ages," Singh said. "And our generation deals with the highest degree of media influence ever."

Mirabai Oyao (Education), helping children communicate
Mirabai Oyao's education plans changed after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Oyao left school to help care for her. She took a job as a para-educator for a special-needs day class at Benicia Middle School. Oyao is graduating with a degree in communicative disorders and in the fall she will continue her studies at SF State, pursuing a master's of science in speech language pathology. She can hardly wait. "I've seen that helping children with language helps them with their emotional and behavioral difficulties," she said. "This career combines language and children. This is totally what I'm into."

Josue F. Revolorio Illescas (Ethnic Studies), overcoming hardship with a passion for education
The 1976 Guatemalan earthquake that killed 30,000 left 13-year-old Revolorio Illescas and his family homeless for a year and a half. Despite this setback and a heart condition due to lack of medical care, he made it to college. But after organizing student demonstrations against his country's government he began to fear for his life when other student leaders and friends were kidnapped or disappeared. Today the Berkeley resident works with survivors of the Guatemalan civil war and assists other nonprofit agencies as a Spanish tutor and translator. He plans a teaching career.

Oscar Gustavo Macias Martinez (Health and Human Services), seeking to provide refuge from harassment
In 1984 Oscar made the gut-wrenching decision to leave family, friends and Mexican citizenship behind in Guadalajara to pursue a life free of harassment over his sexual orientation. Today, Oscar works full-time for the San Francisco Department of Public Health AIDS office. Previously he worked a range of low-paying jobs as an undocumented immigrant before finding the courage to seek political asylum in 1997. Macias Martinez, who is proud to say that he organized the first ever Latino Gay Pride Day in 2005, said he plans to take a year off from school to work, and then pursue a master's degree in public health.

Brigitte Polianos (Humanities), finding her way back
The Nuremberg, Germany native who dreamed of living in California found herself in San Francisco jobless, with limited in English, without family or other personal support and no clear sense of who she was. After a spiritual awakening she overcame personal setbacks, enrolled in community college and handled a full-time job while attending SF State where she will continue on to a master's degree in comparative literature and teach. "People sometimes feel 'I can't get an education because I have no money, I'm not smart enough'," Brigitte said. "It's not true. If I can do it, anyone can."

Karen Chan (Science and Engineering), from the classroom to professional position
After picking up her bachelor's degree, Chan will leap from the classroom to National Semiconductor in a position often reserved for engineers with PhDs. The South San Francisco native will begin her professional career as a design engineer, improving the electrical power of cell phones, laptops and other devices. "Engineering interests me because there's always so much change," said Chan who also plans to pursue her PhD. "It's an opportunity to innovate and constantly do something new."

Diana Marina (Graduate Studies), a bright future in biomedical research
Diana Marina is excited to be accepted into UC San Francisco's prestigious Tertrad program, which combines courses and research in biochemistry, cell biology, developmental biology and genetics. Marina hopes to become a research professor and, like Biology Professor Leticia Marquez-Magana who served as her role-model, to mentor minority women in science. Marina fled to the U.S. from Indonesia with her parents at the age of 18 after a racially motivated riot against the Chinese-Indonesian minority group in her native Jakarta. Because she was the eldest daughter and had a few English skills, she struggled to help her family navigate a new life in America. Marina lives in Hayward and earned her undergraduate degree from Cal State East Bay.

Jessica Quan (Liberal Studies/Special Programs), focused on teaching
Jessica Quan entered SF State as a Presidential Scholar, the school's highest undergraduate honor, and leaves as a hood recipient, the highest honor for graduates. Along the way Quan never lost sight of her goal -- to become a teacher. Quan grew up in San Carlos, raised by a Japanese mother and Chinese father. Her early love for biology spilled over into her hobbies of gardening and landscape photography. She plans to continue towards a teaching credential and hopes to work with fourth or fifth graders because, as she notes, "That's when they get the foundation for math and science." She also works as an SAT proctor, helps moderate an online anime art community at, and is a member of the City College of San Francisco Dragon Boat rowing team.


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. Photos are available upon request.

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Last modified May 26, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications