University to celebrate 8,700 graduates, salute honorees at 118th Commencement

Three students in purple graduation robes and caps smile at the camera

New grads and an estimated 30,000 family and friends are expected at SF State's 2019 graduation ceremony May 28

Pioneering psychologist Joseph L. White, novelist and feminist Maxine Hong Kingston and businessman and philanthropist Allam El Qadah will be among those receiving special honors at San Francisco State University’s 118th Commencement ceremony May 28 at Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be the keynote speaker, addressing more than 8,700 undergraduate and graduate students and an estimated 30,000 friends and family members.

The University’s President’s Medal will be bestowed on White (who passed away last year) and El Qadah. Hong Kingston will be awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts. Two graduating students — Maria Jose Lozano Sanabria, who’s receiving a B.A. in international relations, and Alexis Adsit, who’s receiving an M.A. in ethnic studies — will be the featured speakers.

The graduate procession begins at 5:30 p.m., with Commencement starting at 6:30 p.m. Live updates and photos will be posted to the University’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.

More details are also available at

Commencement speaker

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi is the 52nd Speaker of the House of Representatives, having made history in 2007 when she was elected the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. Now in her third term as Speaker, Pelosi made history again in January 2019 when she regained her position second-in-line to the presidency, the first person to do so in more than 60 years. As Speaker, Pelosi is working to lower health care costs and increase workers’ pay through strong economic growth and rebuilding America while cleaning up corruption to make Washington work for all. 

For 31 years, Speaker Pelosi has represented San Francisco’s 12th Congressional District in Congress. She has led House Democrats for 16 years and previously served as House Democratic Whip. 

Pelosi brings to her leadership position a distinguished record of legislative accomplishment. She led the Congress in passing historic health insurance reform, key investments in college aid, clean energy and innovation, and initiatives to help small businesses and veterans. She has been a powerful voice for civil rights and human rights around the world for decades. Pelosi comes from a strong family tradition of public service in Baltimore. Married to Paul Pelosi, she is a mother of five and grandmother of nine.

Student speakers

Undergraduate: Maria Jose Lozano Sanabria

Maria Jose Lozano Sanabria

Maria Jose Lozano Sanabria moved to the United States from her native Colombia when she was 14. That experience as a child migrant informs the work and research she does today around migration policies. Sanabria served as managing director of the International Relations Journal as well as the project assistant for the College of Liberal & Creative Arts’ Social Science Alliance.

Her thesis on transformative justice in post-conflict settings explores methods of peace building and conflict resolution. Fluent in English, Spanish and French, she will attend the prestigious Sciences Po University in Paris for graduate school. 

Graduate: Alexis (Lexi) Adsit

Alexis Adsit

As a Mexican American, Alexis Adsit says she chose San Francisco State’s College of Ethnic Studies not only because of its rich history but also the welcoming environment it offers to people of color. Her thesis is a field study that delves into the power of performance for marginalized groups in the LGBTQ community. She has worked with local arts organizations such as Peacock Rebellion, an East Oakland-based crew of artists and activists who are queer and trans people of color.

Adsit also received her undergraduate degree from SF State in women and gender studies, and as a transgender woman she was active with the LGBTQ community on campus, contributing to the creation of the Queer & Trans Resource Center. She has received two fellowships to pursue a doctorate in feminist studies at the University of Minnesota.

President's Medal recipients

Joseph L. White

Joseph White

The late psychologist Joseph L. White was known as “the father of black psychology.” After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at SF State and his Ph.D. at Michigan State, he emerged as a powerful voice for change, challenging psychologists to better understand the unique experiences of ethnic minorities. In 1968, he helped found the Association of Black Psychologists, and his seminal 1970 article in Ebony magazine, “Toward a Black Psychology,” called for the incorporation of black perspectives into mainstream psychology.

White was also a tireless ally to students of color at SF State. He returned to the University as a professor of psychology and was serving as dean of undergraduate studies during the 1968 student strike. In response to the strike, he helped launch the Black Studies Program, the first of its kind at an American four-year college, and lay the foundation for the College of Ethnic Studies. In 2008, he was honored as SF State’s Alumnus of the Year.

Allam El Qadah

Allam El Qadah

Some people love their alma mater so much they come back to visit campus after graduating, but Allam El Qadah went a step further. After earning his degree in economics at SF State in 1994, he returned to put what he’d learned into practice by opening his first business: the Pub in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. Though he sold the Pub in 2001, his other ventures have expanded to include eight unique restaurants and an extensive catering service.

An immigrant to the United States — he was born in the West Bank and left the Middle East when he was 18 — El Qadah knows that higher education is one of the most effective paths to success. As a result, he has consistently invested profits from his on-campus businesses into initiatives that help needy SF State students achieve their educational dreams. These programs include scholarship opportunities within the College of Ethnic Studies as well as longtime support for the Guardian Scholars Program, which helps former foster care youth graduate from college. El Qadah also sponsors and manages special campus-wide events, such as a luncheon fundraiser in response to the 2017 wildfires where his corporation donated the food and matched donations by SF State staff dollar for dollar.

Honorary doctorate degree recipient

Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston’s first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, was a global sensation, winning a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. Four years later, she received the National Book Award for her second book, China Men. Several more books followed, all of them taking deep looks at gender, ethnicity, immigration, prejudice and the individual. Her other awards include the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award, the PEN West Award for Fiction, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, as well as the title of “Living Treasure of Hawai’i.”

Though she achieved fame as a writer, Hong Kingston began her career as an educator. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, she became a high school teacher, following in the footsteps of her scholar father. She eventually returned to Berkeley to teach, and today she’s an emerita faculty member.