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Alumni honored

June 1, 2007

Photo of alumni honorees at the May 25 reception -- from left: Jan Wahl, Arthur Dong, Gwen Chan and Robert L. HarrisSF State's Alumnus of the Year and three new members of the Alumni Hall of Fame were honored at a May 25 campus reception. Lee Blitch, Vice President of University Advancement, introduced this year's honorees as role models for the 8,041 SF State students who would graduate the next day.

Inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame, and honored as 2007 Alumnus of the Year:

Arthur Dong, documentary filmmaker, received a B.A. in Film in 1982. CEO of DeepFocus Productions, Inc., Dong is the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated filmmaker of such films as "Sewing Woman," about his mother's immigration to the United States from China, which he wrote with his sister Lorraine Dong, a professor of Asian American studies; "Forbidden City," about Asian American nightclub performers, and "Coming Out Under Fire," an investigation of gay and lesbian soldiers during World War II. His new project, "Hollywood Chinese," a visual and cultural film about the Chinese in Hollywood feature films, will be released this fall.

After receiving his award from President Robert Corrigan, Dong commented that growing up in Chinatown, he never imagined what he could accomplish, let alone being honored in such a way by the University he attended. "This honors my family as well because so many of us attended State," he said.

Inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame:

Gwen Chan, who received a B.A. in Chinese in 1966 and a M.A. in Education in 1992, is Interim Superintendent of Schools, San Francisco Unified School District. Also a former Deputy Superintendent, Chan was the first Chinese American to serve in each capacity. She has dedicated her 40-year career to public education, and has been praised by city officials for involving all constituencies in decisions and planning and keeping a steady focus on student success. In 1996 Chan was recognized as the SFUSD School Master of the Year. She was also named the 2006 Outstanding Woman of the Year by the Chinese Consolidated Women's Association and one of the World Journal's Top Ten Asians in 1998.

"It's been an emotional week," Chan said in reference to her recently announced retirement. "I thank SF State for preparing me well. I decided to become a teacher because of inspiring teachers…my spotlight tonight is their spotlight."

Robert L. Harris, who received a B.A. in Sociology in 1965, is a retired Vice President of Environmental, Health, Safety, Technical and Land Services at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). He was the first and only lawyer in the company's 102-year history to argue and win a case in the U. S. Supreme Court. He is also credited for making the company one of the first in the U.S. to establish a corporate environmental policy. Valued by colleagues for his personal integrity, Harris is the recipient of the NAACP's highest legal honor, the "William Robert Ming Award," for litigating civil rights issues and was named one of Ebony Magazine's 100 Most Influential Blacks in America on five different occasions.

"As a student 42 years ago, I learned to relate to different people and understand how that connects to a future where all of us can thrive," Harris said. He credited a number of people who had helped him, including his sister, Jean Blacksher, who provided the opportunity for him to leave his job of picking cotton in Arkansas in 1960 and come to California to attend college. "When you honor me you honor a cadre of people across the nation, who have enabled me to arrive at this high position," he said.

Jan Wahl, who received a B.A. in Radio/Television in 1975, is a film historian and critic with KRON-TV and culture and entertainment reporter for KCBS Radio. Just two years after graduation, she won an Emmy for producing and writing "They Still Say I Do," a humorous documentary on the palimony case of Lee and Michelle Triola Marvin. One of the first women to become a member of the Director's Guild of America, Wahl also won an Emmy for KRON 4's special, "A Filmgoer's Bill of Rights." Wahl's career in broadcasting also included stints as a stage manager or director of ABC TV shows including "Rona Barrett's Hollywood," "The Lawrence Welk Show," "Good Morning America" and such specials as the Oscar and Grammy telecasts.

Wahl credited SF State for turning a shy student into a broadcasting professional. "I came to this campus at a wild time," she said. "A most radical place where students and teachers were working together to reach some kind of understanding over the upheaval." She said that a large part of her professional success belonged to faculty -- including Buzz Anderson and Stuart Hyde -- and colleagues like Marty Gonzales and her mother, who was in attendance at the event. "She taught me that women can do anything and encouraged me to draw outside the lines."

Music for the event was provided by SF State music lecturer Andrew Speight and his quartet. Alumni Hall of Fame member Ben Fong-Torres (B.A. in Radio/Television, 1966) was master of ceremonies.

The SF State Alumni Hall of Fame recognizes alumni who have earned the respect of their peers through professional, cultural and civic achievements. Previous inductees include Paul Ash, director of the San Francisco Food Bank, actress Annette Bening, jazz great John Handy, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and "Frazier" co-creator and executive producer Peter Casey.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified June 1, 2007 by University Communications