Alumni Hall of Fame at SF State honors graduates' major accomplishments

President Wong enjoys dinner at the San Francisco State University's alumni Hall of Fame dinner with his wife Phyllis Wong (far left) on Friday, March 15, 2013. Photo by Erica Marquez / Xpress

President Wong enjoys dinner at the San Francisco State University's alumni Hall of Fame dinner with his wife Phyllis Wong (left) and Dianne Fong-Torres (right) at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, Friday, March 15, 2013. Photo by Erica Marquez / Xpress

Hundreds of alumni and guests, including SF State State graduate and senior editor for Rolling Stone, Ben Fong-Torres, gathered in their swankiest attire to watch the newest alumni get inducted into the coveted SF State Hall of Fame, March 15.

The SF State Alumni Association created the Alumni Hall of Fame in 1994 to celebrate outstanding graduates who have achieved great accomplishments in their field of work, and this year’s class of inductees was no exception.

For Fong-Torres, the Hall of Fame is personally special, because it can be utilized as a positive example for present day students to see what they are capable of achieving.

“The Alumni Hall of Fame is nice to have, not so much for the inductees as much as to build a wall of potential role models, of inspiration to current students,” Fong-Torres said. “We can’t all be in the Hall of Fame, but we can do good work, and with that will come some recognition, ranging from a pat on the back or a raise to having your photo on a wall at SF State.”

Honorees have a plaque with their face on it in the administration building for the student body to see forever.

Since 1994, the Hall of Fame inductees have received Pulitzer Prizes, Golden Globes, Academy Awards, Grammys, and Lifetime Achievement Awards; but being inducted into the Hall of Fame is an honor that is meaningful to them.

“It’s more of a personal thing; I find some pride in it because it’s my alma mater,” Lisa Cholodenko said. “It has a personal resonance. It brings me to a full circle with my young life when I was getting my foot in the door. I like the whole connection.”

Cholodenko graduated from SF State in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, and is best known for writing and directing the four-time Oscar nominated film, “The Kids are All Right.” The movie follows a lesbian couple whose two children, conceived through artificial insemination, decide they want to contact their sperm donor in turn creating obstacles for the family dynamic.

Naimah Mumin, a 22-year-old computer science major was surprised to learn that Cholodenko was a graduate from SF State, but was ultimately proud to hear that she attended the same school as a talented director.

“I overall enjoyed the movie. I’m always down for a lesbian movie put together by lesbians,” Mumin said. “I did not know she was an alum, and I think she’s a great director. I think it’s cool that someone related to the school is doing amazing things and it makes me proud that she’s an alum.”

As prestigious and successful this year’s alumni recipients seem to us, some of them were shocked to hear that they were being honored by the University.

Cholodenko was initially in disbelief when she received word that she was selected as one of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

“I think I was doing a little head scratching when I first found out. I did not know, I thought it was for people who were older and more accomplished,” Cholodenko said. “I thought it was a nice thing but I was a little confused. Like, why me? I thought well okay, they must like you. I’ll take it.”

When the Hall of Fame alumni attended SF State, they were not concerned with overachieving. They were just average students who were trying to make the most of their college experience.

Deaf theater artist, Bernard Bragg, graduated from SF State in 1959 with a master’s degree in special education, and is most known for his art work in deaf theater and popularizing miming in the U.S. He recalled his days at SF State and how significant it was to shaping his younger years.

“Back in that day, interpreters weren’t in class and I relied on note takers. I remember there was a young pretty girl, and she was happy to take notes for me during lecture, and in a different class another friend took notes for me. I got to learn from different points of views,” Bragg said. “San Francisco State, it was all about building relationships, camaraderie and close friendships. My classmates — we studied together and it wasn’t just in the classroom, we’d go eat, go to the bars, parties. It was an important part to my young age.”

While at SF State, Al Martinez, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his coverage on the 1993 L.A. riots, had a three-part major consisting of political science, criminology and history. He has been a natura-born writer since the age of 12, and wanted to gain knowledge to enhance his writing. But it was his three years writing for the SF State newspaper, the Golden Gater, from 1947 to 1950 that he will never forget.

“I remember in my third year I was nominated to be the editor. I was running against a very capable guy named Bob Donavan and I won. But the summer of that year I was called up by the Marine Corps to go to Korea. I was in the Marine reserves,” Martinez said. “It was my duty to go and carry out that commitment. So I was an editor for only one edition and I turned it over to Bob Donavan. But in the end I achieved the position. While I was in Korea, I wrote about what we did, the conditions, and the terrible tragedies of war. They printed everything I sent.”

New inductee, Judy Marcus, graduated in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and is best known for her 30 years of leadership with local nonprofit organizations, including her position as President of the Board of the Community Services Agency. She described her fondest time as a student at SF State.

“I think my biggest memory would be as a senior I was sent to channel five to help do a show that would be on TV every morning from 6:50 to 7 a.m.,” Marcus said. “I was going to be the person doing an exercise every day to start the program, and many of the elementary and high schools would be previewing their P.E. program in a ten minute segment. This was during President Kennedy’s physical fitness push and everyone was trying to stay in shape. We ended up doing 72 shows. It was great fun.”

This year’s Hall of Fame recipients stressed that part of their present day successes came from their adventurous years at SF State. They want students right now to know that college years are the time to explore your options and figure out what you’re meant to do.

“Follow your passions and follow what you love, even if it isn’t in your practical pursuit. Don’t be concerned to get a job, or a degree,” Cholodenko said. “But use your time as undergrad to explore what you love. Like me, sometimes it’s not an obvious choice. But I think my openness to find myself was truly invaluable.”

Latest comment
  • Thanks for the article and photo. One note: along with Dr. and Phyllis Wong, that’s Dianne Fong-Torres next to the president. Like me, a graduate of SFSU.