SF State graduation to feature philanthropist, 'Frasier' co-creator

About 33,000 are expected to attend Commencement on May 25, which will be held at AT&T Park for the third year in a row.

About 5,000 graduates are expected to participate in SF State’s Commencement ceremony at AT&T Park on May 25.

Famed crooner and Black Lives Matter co-founder among other highlighted participants

Iranian-American philanthropist Neda Nobari, “Frasier” co-creator Peter Casey, singer Johnny Mathis and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza are slated to speak at San Francisco State University’s graduation at AT&T Park on May 25.

Nobari, a 1984 graduate who served as director and vice chair of bebe stores, Inc. for more than 20 years, is the Commencement speaker. Casey, who graduated from SF State in 1975, and Mathis, who was a track-and-field star in the 1950s before signing his first record contract, will receive honorary doctorates. Garza will receive a graduate degree in ethnic studies and will be one of two student speakers. Harvard-bound biology student Talia Hart will be the undergraduate speaker.

More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their degrees, with about 33,000 guests expected to attend. The graduate procession begins at 5:30 p.m., with Commencement starting at 6:30 p.m. Fireworks will close out the event at about 9:30 p.m. 

Live updates and photos from the ceremony will be posted to the University’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat accounts. Graduates and guests can tag their Commencement posts on social media using the hashtag #SFSU2017. A Commencement app will keep graduates and guests plugged in to the latest news and events leading up to the ceremony. Details are also available online at commencement.sfsu.edu.

Commencement speaker

Neda Nobari

Businesswoman and philanthropist Neda Nobari emigrated from Iran to the United States in 1978 at the age of 15. She earned a degree in computer science from SF State and later began working on computerized inventory management for up-and-coming clothier bebe stores, Inc. She remained with the company for more than two decades as director and vice chair, helping to build it into a retail powerhouse. In 2006, she established the Neda Nobari Foundation, which supports organizations and initiatives associated with the arts, film and education in service of social justice and cultural awareness. Her $5 million gift last year allowed the University to establish the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, the first academic center of its kind in the United States.

Student speakers

Undergraduate: Talia Hart, College of Science & Engineering

Talia Hart, who will receive a bachelor’s of science degree in biology, was a communications major until she took “Biology 100: Human Biology,” a class for non-science majors. She was thoroughly captivated and switched to biology. Later, she applied to the Maximizing Access to Research Careers program (MARC), which helps support underrepresented minority undergraduates in biomedical science and prepares them for Ph.D. programs. While in the program she became an active member of the Society for Advancing of Chicano and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and worked to get other Latinos interested in science. During her time at SF State, Hart examined the way embryonic cells use signals from neighboring tissues to develop into muscle cells at different times in development. This research is currently being prepared for publication. She plans to continue studying biology, and specifically stem cells and developmental biology, in a Ph.D. program at Harvard University this fall.

Graduate: Alicia Garza, College of Ethnic Studies

Alicia Garza will receive a master’s of arts degree in ethnic studies. While a graduate student at SF State, she co-founded Black Lives Matter, an internationally recognized organization that began in 2013 to fight violence and racism toward black people. BLM began after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. It has since grown to an international network of more than 40 chapters across North America and the United Kingdom. Garza said it took her eight years to finish her master’s degree, partly because she had so many other projects going on. Her thesis was titled “None of us are free until all of us are free” and looked at how intersectionality has impacted the black radical tradition. Garza’s work “solidifies SF State’s historical legacy as being on the cutting edge of social justice movements,” said SF State Professor of Africana Studies Dawn Elissa Fischer, one of Garza’s faculty mentors.

Honorary doctorate degree recipients

Peter Casey

Peter Casey graduated from San Francisco State in 1975 with a B.A. in radio and television. Inspired by a TV writing course he took during his senior year, Casey moved to Los Angeles and embarked on a path that led to a career writing, creating and producing some of the most beloved TV comedies of all time. He found his first job at the legendary Paramount Studios selling sandwiches, but he also used his time wisely to write spec scripts. Eventually one of those scripts sold to the sitcom “The Jeffersons,” leading Casey to a full-time job as a writer and producer on the show for six seasons. He later wrote for the popular TV comedy, “Cheers,” created the TV sitcom, “Wings,” and co-created and produced the iconic hit TV comedy, “Frasier.” During his career, Casey personally earned 14 Emmy nominations and seven wins, and over the years, he’s remained engaged with SF State. He hosted an alumni event on the set of “Frasier,” speaks to television writing classes and served on the SF State Foundation Board. In 2006, he donated five of his Emmy statuettes, which are proudly displayed in the Administration Building lobby.

Johnny Mathis

One of the most popular recording artists of all time, Johnny Mathis has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. His renditions of songs like “Misty” and “Chances Are” have become standards and his first “Greatest Hits” album (the first Greatest Hits Album of any artist) stayed on the Billboard charts for a record-smashing 490 weeks. Mathis entered SF State in 1954 on an athletic scholarship and became a track star, but two years later chose a recording career after Columbia Records offered him his first recording session. He went on to record 77 studio albums and has received five Grammy nominations. Mathis credits his training as an athlete for the longevity of his singing career. Though today he is best known for his music, his accomplishments as an athlete remain celebrated. Each spring, SF State hosts the “Johnny Mathis Invitational,” a track and field meet that brings hundreds of college athletes to the University. A generous alumnus, Mathis established and supports the Johnny Mathis Track and Field Scholarship to provide scholarships to student athletes.

Additional Commencement information