San Francisco State University, Established 1899, 1600 Holloway Ave. SF, CA 94132

SFSU Public Affairs Press Release

Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.

#053; For Immediate Release
Contact: Ligeia Polidora 415/338-1665

A few among many notable San Francisco State University alumni

San Francisco State University’s alumni are leaders in every facet of the economic, business, cultural, entertainment, social, and political life of the Bay Area region and beyond. As the University celebrates its centennial year during 1999, these brief alumni profiles represent a snapshot, a glimpse of several among many notable SFSU alumni in leadership positions. More than 130,000 alumni worldwide have earned degrees from San Francisco State.

John Burton

Veteran politician John Burton (Class of ’54) currently serves as President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate. In that position, Burton is the Senate’s top strategist on the state budget and serves as chief campaign fund-raiser for Senate Democrats. A native San Franciscan, Burton earned a BA degree in social science in 1954 from SFSU and was the University’s Alumnus of the Year in 1998. He played as an all-league guard on SFSU’s basketball team.

Burton continues the tradition of Democratic political leadership and progressive public service begun by his older brother, the late Rep. Phil Burton. Calling himself "the last of California’s true liberals," John Burton served in the State Assembly for 10 years before winning a congressional seat in 1974. In Congress, his achievements included establishment of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of San Francisco. Burton returned to the Assembly in 1988 and won his State Senate seat in 1996.

Willie L. Brown, Jr.

San Francisco’s charismatic and highly accomplished mayor, Willie Brown (Class of ’55) previously presided as California’s Speaker of the Assembly longer than anyone in the state’s history. Brown grew up picking cotton and shining shoes in Mineola, Texas and arrived in San Francisco in 1951 with dreams of a better life. Although Brown did not meet the formal admission requirements, an SFSU administrator agreed to admit him on a trial basis. Brown graduated with a BA degree in political science in 1955. He was named Alumnus of the Year in 1981 and received the University’s Presidential Medal in 1996.

In 1964, Brown won election for the first of 16 consecutive terms in the California State Assembly. He served as Speaker of the Assembly from 1980 to 1995. Brown’s energy, legislative skill, and love of politics are legend, and he remains a leading force in the Democratic Party. Brown won election to his first mayoral term in 1995, and as mayor he maintains a commitment to improving the City’s business climate and celebrating its rich cultural diversity.

Johnny Mathis

Hailed as "the greatest romantic singer of our time," Johnny Mathis is a beloved and enduring figure in popular music, eclipsed only by Frank Sinatra in three decades of chart-topping success. Mathis has amassed more than 60 gold and platinum albums for such hits as "Chances Are" and "Misty."

Mathis grew up in San Francisco and began singing at church and school functions, and later in local jazz clubs. Honored as SFSU’s Alumnus of the Year in 1997, Mathis attended the University 40 years earlier on an athletic scholarship and set a high jump record as a member of the track team. Mathis received an invitation to compete in the 1956 Olympic high jump trials, but the same week a Columbia Records executive heard him sing in San Francisco and recognized the 19-year-old student’s rare talent. Mathis soon had a record contract and the first of many hit singles. Ultimately, he also performed at two Olympic Games, as a singer.

Tom Ammiano

President of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors since January 1999, Tom Ammiano (Class of ’62) has served on the Board since 1994 and is a leader in the City’s gay community. The New Jersey native took a Greyhound bus to San Francisco in 1962 and that same year earned his MA degree in special education from SFSU, where he has been a part-time instructor. Ammiano taught English to children in Vietnam in the mid 1960s before returning to San Francisco and becoming an elementary school teacher.

In 1975, he and fellow teacher Tim Curbo held a press conference where they declared their homosexuality, and Ammiano has been a public figure ever since. He created the Gay/Lesbian Speakers Bureau to present a variety of gay perspectives to students and helped stop the City’s School District from giving culturally biased IQ tests. After an unsuccessful campaign for School Board in 1980, Ammiano became the City’s first openly gay stand-up comedian. A second unsuccessful School Board campaign in 1988 drew 57,000 votes, but Ammiano won election to the School Board in 1990, finishing first among the candidates. Known for his sharp wit, passion, and the conviction of his principles, Supervisor Ammiano is a champion of gay rights, unions, tenants, and environmental causes.

Kenneth Fong

As CEO of Palo Alto-based Clontech Laboratories Inc., the first molecular biology company founded by an Asian American, Kenneth Fong (Class of ’71) has seen his business grow by 40 percent each year to become the fourth largest supplier in the U.S. of solutions to molecular biology labs. Clontech creates the necessary molecular tools to speed up cutting-edge research in gene mapping and genetic engineering.

Born near Guangzhou, China, Fong soon moved with his family to Hong Kong, while his father supported the family by working as a cook in a San Francisco Chinese restaurant. Fong discovered chemistry in high school and published his first research paper at age 15. After the family immigrated to San Francisco, Fong studied at San Francisco City College before transferring to San Francisco State as a biology and chemistry major. From SFSU, Fong earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Indiana University. In 1983, he gave up a research career with the National Institute of Health and took the risk of starting Clontech. By 1990, Inc. Magazine had recognized Clontech as one of the country’s fastest-growing private companies.

Danny Glover

Actor and activist Danny Glover is a San Francisco native and resident who studied political science at SFSU from 1967 to 1972. As a student, Glover helped to establish the ethnic studies programs and worked with community organizations for displaced residents of the City’s Western Addition. The University conferred an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts on Glover in 1997.

Glover trained at the Black Actor’s Workshop of the American Conservatory Theatre and embarked on a distinguished stage career that included performing in the American premiere of Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys. Glover earned an Emmy Award nomination for his role in the television miniseries Lonesome Dove. He is a three-time nominee and one-time winner of the NAACP Image Award. An international star for his work in the Lethal Weapon movie series, Glover has appeared in numerous films, among them The Color Purple, Witness, The Rainmaker, and Beloved. He has used his celebrity status to promote several social causes and organizations, including literacy, family violence prevention, and the United Negro College Fund.

Kent Nagano

Recently proclaimed by TIME magazine as "the next great maestro," world-class musician Kent Nagano (Class of ’76) mounts the podium before orchestras on two continents as music director of France’s Opera de Lyon and music director and conductor of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. The native Californian grew up on a family farm in Morro Bay and earned his MA in music composition from SFSU in 1976. The University honored Nagano as Alumnus of the Year in 1994.

Nagano assumed the helm of a struggling Berkeley Symphony in 1978 and with energy and flair made it a vehicle for challenging explorations of contemporary music. Since 1988, Nagano has served as music director of the Lyon Opera orchestra and ballet, with whom he has made a series of award-winning recordings. Nagano also holds appointments as conductor of the Halle Orchestra of Manchester, England and as principal guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1993, he was named an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, France’s second-highest civilian honor. Also that year, Nagano received a Grammy Award nomination for his recording of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer. "The music program at San Francisco State really prepared me for the professional world of music," says Nagano. "My transformation took place there."

Dana Carvey

As a boy growing up in San Carlos, Dana Carvey (Class of ’79) practiced comedy routines in his bedroom and performed in front of family and close friends, but he had a bad case of stage fright. During his last year at SFSU, where Carvey earned his BA degree in communications arts in 1979, he overcame his performance anxiety enough to appear at local comedy clubs. In 1980 he won the acclaimed San Francisco Stand-Up Comedy Competition, and like Robin Williams before him, Carvey found a career in television and the movies.

As a fixture on NBC’s Saturday Night Live beginning in 1987, Carvey reinvigorated the show after the departure of its original cast. He created such characters as Garth Algar and The Church Lady and made memorable impersonations of George Bush and Ross Perot. In 1992, Carvey performed his Bush imitation in the White House at the President’s request. Carvey’s cinema career has included starring or supporting roles in Spinal Tap, Opportunity Knocks, Wayne’s World, The Road to Wellville, and other films.

Annette Bening

Actress Annette Bening graduated with honors from SFSU’s College of Creative Arts in 1980 and was the University’s Alumna of the Year in 1995. Born in Topeka, Kansas and raised in San Diego, Bening completed the Advanced Training Program of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre after leaving SFSU and performed with the company for five years in a wide variety of roles. In 1987, she earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance in the Broadway production of Coastal Disturbances.

Bening made her film debut in 1988 in The Great Outdoors. Three years later, she received an Academy Award nomination and was named Best Supporting Actress by the National Society of Film Critics for her femme fatale role in The Grifters. Other film acting credits include Valmont, Regarding Henry, Bugsy, and The American President. Bening received the Peter J. Owens Award for a career distinguished by "brilliance, independence and integrity" at the 40th San Francisco International Film Festival in 1997.

Gilman Louie

What began as a class project for online entertainment entrepreneur Gilman Louie (Class of ’83) and some fellow SFSU fraternity members turned into a multimillion-dollar business. Louie’s Alameda-based company MicroProse created the geometric puzzle Tetris, the flight simulator Falcon 3.0, and other successful, critically acclaimed computer games, including games based on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" that feature complex storytelling and realistic character animation. Hasbro, the world’s second largest toy company, recently bought MicroProse, and Louie now serves as Chief Creative Officer of Hasbro Interactive.

Louie started his company, then called Nexa, in 1983, the year he graduated from SFSU with his BS degree in Business Administration with a focus on business information and computer systems. The fledgling business initially operated out of Louie’s mother’s Richmond District home and went through its first merger four years later with the Colorado company Spectrum Holobyte. Louie is on the boards of the San Francisco School Volunteers, which inspires community involvement in the classroom, and the Asian Pacific American Community Fund.

Caitlin Curtin

She once dabbled with an acting career, and her mother expected her to write novels, but instead Caitlin Curtin (Class of ’86) became founder and CEO of Luminare, a San Francisco multimedia company and one of the Bay Area’s fastest-growing businesses. The National Association of Women Business Owners named Curtin Woman Entrepreneur of the Year for 1995.

Curtin earned her BA degree in international relations from SFSU and then completed an MA degree in educational technology and industrial design in 1986. Curtin, then 25, brought aboard other SFSU graduates to help her start Luminare that year. Both of her SFSU degrees figure intimately in Curtin’s professional life, as she consults with corporate clients throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia on how best to take advantage of today’s technology. Luminare specializes in the design and development of online training and performance support for other businesses. The company’s clients have included Sun, Oracle, Apple, Bank of America, and AT&T.


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