• Taught generations of aspiring journalists

  • Class of '46

    Ted Tajima

  • The-Knight-Who-Hits-People-With-a-Chicken

  • Class of '62

    Terry Gilliam

  • NASA’s Inventor of the Year in 1984

  • Class of '62

    George E. Alcorn

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Ted Tajima '46

Ted Tajima ’46’s enthusiasm for teaching belied the difficulties in his past.

Because they were of Japanese descent, Tajima’s sister and parents were interned during WWII, and Tajima’s hopes of becoming a journalist were dashed by racism. Still, “Mr. T” taught journalism to others without a trace of bitterness. During his tenure at Alhambra High School, which began in 1946, the school’s weekly student newspaper earned 26 All-American awards from the National Scholastic Press Assn., and Tajima was named Outstanding Journalism Teacher of the Year by the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. in 1969. Despite his success, the early days of racism haunted Tajima. “Our experience has been to prove we’re American, and I’m still trying to prove it,” he said of himself and his sister in 2005.

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Terry Gilliam '62

Head yell leader, fraternity member, political science major: It’s not the background you’d expect for an acclaimed animator, screenwriter, film director, and member of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

Terry Gilliam '62’s real training ground was as editor of and prolific cartoonist for Fang, Oxy’s now-defunct humor magazine. In its pages--and in the stories his fellow Fang staffers and Swan Hall inmates tell--one can see the origins of such visionary films as Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, and The Cabinet of Doctor Parnassus. “But I don’t encourage anyone to go into filmmaking,” Gilliam told Occidental magazine in 2009. “Spot welding would be better.”

 

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George E. Alcorn '62

What’s on the surface of Mercury and other planets?

We’re able to find out, thanks to George E. Alcorn ’62. He created the imaging X-ray spectrometer, a device that helps scientists explore the chemical composition and geologic history of planets millions of miles away. For this achievement, the Oxy physics major and two-sport letterman was presented with NASA’s Inventor of the Year Award. The spectrometer is just one of more than 20 inventions and at least eight domestic and international patents that Alcorn created. Alcorn worked at companies such as IBM before coming to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 1978, where he has headed the office of commercial programs and served as deputy project manager for space station advanced development.

  • Good friend of Oscar's

  • Class of '95

    Ben Affleck

  • The James Dean of disability studies

  • Class of '68

    Paul Longmore

  • San Francisco County Superior Court judge

  • Class of '64

    Lillian Sing

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Ben Affleck '95

In a house not far from the Oxy campus, Ben Affleck ’95 and longtime friend Matt Damon wrote the script for Good Will Hunting.

The film, directed by Gus Van Sant, made the pair the toast of Hollywood, garnering them the Oscar for best screenplay in 1998. Affleck’s classes in Middle Eastern studies at Oxy helped prepare him to play CIA agent Jack Ryan in the 2002 blockbuster The Sum of All Fears, and again as producer, director, and star of Argo, winner of the 2013 Oscar for best picture. He has headlined many other movies, from 2001’s Pearl Harbor (produced by Todd Garner ’88) to independent films including The Company Men (2010). His recent turns as writer-director of Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2009) helped set the stage for his latest success.
 
 

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Paul Longmore '68

Punching a keyboard with a pen he held in his mouth, it took historian Paul Longmore ’68 M’71 10 years to write his first book.

Then he burned it--a protest against federal policies that discouraged disabled professionals from working. With his arms paralyzed and spine curved by a childhood bout with polio, “In every school and every job, I’ve been the first with a major disability,” he said. A specialist in early American history and the history of people with disabilities, the Oxy history major was a pioneer in the field of disability studies at San Francisco State, winning major prizes for his advocacy and teaching. “I once heard Paul introduced as the James Dean of disability studies,” one colleague said. “That captures the combination of intellectual, rebel, and down-to-earth man he was.”

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Lillian Sing '64

Lillian Sing '64 brought her passion for activism to the San Francisco County Superior Court bench.

The psychology major has always been committed to community service and social work. Five years out of undergraduate study, she and other leaders in the Asian-American community founded Chinese for Affirmative Action to provide equal employment opportunities for the Chinese-American community. She founded the first Chinese-American bilingual preschool in San Francisco over 30 years ago, and in 1981, she became the first Asian-American judge appointed to the San Francisco Superior Court. In 2001, she was commended by the city and county of San Francisco for her pioneering advocacy on behalf of Chinese-Americans. In her over 20 years on the bench of the San Francisco Superior Court, she developed a reputation for evenhandedness and integrity, innovation in the courtroom and encyclopedic knowledge of the law.

  • Pioneered the field of financial planning

  • Class of '59

    Ben Coombs

  • Social media en español

  • Class of '05

    Zaryn Dentzel

  • From 1600 Campus Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

  • Class of '83

    Barack Obama

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Ben Coombs '59

Ben Coombs ’59 went broke the first time he ventured into financial planning.

“We knew how to spell financial planning, but nobody knew how to do it,” says Coombs, today a much-honored pioneer who helped define a field that has more than 55,000 certified practitioners. After following his father into insurance sales, the psychology major became a member of the first graduating class to receive certification from the College of Financial Planning in 1973. By 1987, he was advising high-level corporate executives and had founded Petra Financial, specializing in asset management. Petra Financial quickly became a household name for professionals in the field. Appointed president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (today’s Financial Planning Association) in 1985, Coombs created a residency program to encourage and support younger financial planners. He was honored with the FPA’s P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award for service to the profession in 2005.

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Zaryn Dentzel '05

Zaryn Dentzel ’05 combined his passions for organizing people and the Spanish language to create the largest social media network in Spain.

Dentzel double-majored in Spanish literature and diplomacy and world affairs after being drawn to Oxy after sitting in on a DWA class taught by Larry Caldwell. While at Oxy, he participated in the Occidental-at-the-United Nations semester, was involved with student government and created Student Event Services, which sent out notices for parties and campus events via a listserve. Though the service was disbanded by then-President Ted Mitchell, Dentzel credits his interest in networking technology to this experience. After graduation, he went to Spain and founded Tuenti, an invitation-only social network with 14 million users, responsible for 15% of all Spanish Internet traffic. Though Dentzel spends most of his time as CEO interviewing potential hires and networking with venture capitalists, he prefers working with Tuenti’s design teams, remarking, “Thank God I took Spanish at Oxy.”

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Barack Obama '83

President Barack Obama ’83 still complains about the “B” politics professor Roger Boesche gave him--but is quick to add that it was his favorite college class.

Although Obama transferred to Columbia at the end of his sophomore year, Occidental is, in his own words, where he grew up and where he began to notice a world beyond himself. “Barack was funny, smart, thoughtful, and well-liked,” remembers classmate Phil Boerner. It was at Occidental that Obama made his first political speech, during a campus protest against South Africa’s apartheid regime. “Oxy nurtured his transformation,” the Boston Globe said. “By the end of his sophomore year, he was on his way to becoming a self-assured, purpose-driven scholar plotting a career in public service.”

 

  • Protected Earth from rogue asteroids

  • Class of '54

    Eleanor Helin

  • Transforming the streets of Manhattan

  • Class of '82

    Janette Sadik-Khan

  • Japanese folktale expert

  • Class of '23

    Fanny Hagin Mayer

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Eleanor Helin '54

For more than 30 years, Eleanor Helin ’54 protected Earth from rogue asteroids.

Helin credited Professor Joe Birman with inspiring her to take up the study of geology, which eventually led to her pioneering career as an astronomer searching for near-Earth asteroids. At a time when few women entered the sciences, Helin landed a job at Caltech as custodian for its meteorite collection, which in turn led to her work at the country’s first lunar laboratory. By 1970, she was a participant in the Palomar Observatory’s Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey, and in 1995 she helped launch JPL’s Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking group. A 1998 inductee into the Women in Science and Technology Hall of Fame, Helin is credited with discovering or co-discovering 872 asteroids and several comets.

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Janette Sadik-Khan '82

Thanks to Janette Sadik-Khan ’82, in 2009 New Yorkers were able to do what few had ever done: walk down the middle of Broadway in the middle of the day.

As New York City’s transportation commissioner, Sadik-Khan is credited with transforming the car-clogged streets of Manhattan. Hundreds of miles of new bike lanes, strategic street closures, fewer traffic fatalities, and the surreal sight of lawn chairs in Times Square are all the products of her leadership. A political science major at Oxy, she worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and was a senior vice president of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff before her appointment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007. The scope and speed of her achievements have led many to hail her as a brilliant innovator and visionary.

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Fanny Hagin Mayer '23

The daughter of missionary parents, Fanny Hagin Mayer ’23 spent her formative years in Japan. She returned to the states for high school, but she never forgot Japan and the culture she grew up in.

So when the English major found herself bored in the States after completing her degree at Occidental, she enlisted in the occupation forces as a civilian and returned to Japan in 1947. There, she taught at various universities and was named professor of English literature at Sophia University in Tokyo. All the while, she translated stories. She eventually translated and collaborated on over 40 collections of Japanese folktales. Her magnum opus, entitled Ancient Tales in Modern Japan: An Anthology of Japanese Folk Tales, contains nearly 350 folktales. Of the 350 stories, more than half were translated into English for the first time. Published in 1985, the anthology has become the foundation of Japanese folktale scholarship and remains a cornerstone of the field.

  • First female military chaplain

  • Class of '64

    Dianna Pohlman Bell

  • First president of Hampshire College

  • Class of '39

    Franklin Patterson

  • Documentarian, television and film director

  • Class of '68

    Jesus Salvador Treviño

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Dianna Pohlman Bell '64

When the Rev. Lt. Dianna Pohlman Bell ’64 was assigned to the Orlando Naval Training Center in 1973, she set a new precedent for women in the military’s religious services.

“But I had never been the housewife type,” she says. Shortly after her graduation from Occidental, the music major found that her love of God was quickly overshadowing her love of the French horn. She followed her sense of duty to the U.S. Navy, which had courted her for service even before her ordination. Her first assignment was counseling the newest recruits at the base, providing them with the crucial support and moral guidance they needed. Since 1973, more than150 women have been admitted to the Naval Chaplain Corps; they owe a debt of gratitude to Pohlman Bell, who blazed the trail.

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Franklin Patterson '39

Franklin Patterson ’39 was a writer, an innovator and even a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, but above all else he was an educator.

Patterson, a firm believer in enabling students to educate themselves and developing their independence in order to help them become responsible citizens, was once quoted as saying, “education is not equal to time spent at college.” But he would make sure that time spent at college would be educational. He helped write the New College Plan, resulting in the formation of the experimental, alternative education college Hampshire College. The history and government major began his teaching career as a professor at Tufts University, teaching political science; he went on to become the first president of Hampshire College, was the first director of the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs, and also taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While at Oxy he was a member of the debate team and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

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Jesus Salvador Treviño '68

Jesus Salvador Treviño ’68 documented the historic East L.A. high school walkouts by 15,000 Chicano students in the spring of 1968 with a Super 8 camera.

That was the opening act in a career that has spanned documentaries (Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement), features (Raices de Sangre) and scores of TV directing credits (from “Star Trek: Voyager” and “ER” to “Resurrection Blvd.” and “Bones”)–-not to mention two collections of short stories and a memoir. While the Oxy philosophy major has never forgotten his roots, his approach to storytelling is universal: “Resurrection Blvd.,” he says, is “a story that involves Latinos, but fundamentally it’s good drama, a good story, and good television.”

  • Brought Presbyterian values to Hollywood

  • Class of '18

    Louis Hadley Evans

  • Runs a Nobel Prize factory

  • Class of '53

    Edward Schlag

  • Mean Girls expert

  • Class of '91

    Rosalind Wiseman

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Louis Hadley Evans '18

Louis Hadley Evans ’18 originally turned down the job that made his career.

A star athlete and Glee Club president at Oxy, he served in the Navy during World War I. Ordained after the war, Evans led congregations in North Dakota, California, and Pennsylvania before being called to the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood in 1941--a call he initially rejected. Over the next 12 years, he transformed Hollywood into the country’s largest Presbyterian church, inspiring hundreds of young people including Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Author, co-founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and summer pastor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Evans was profiled by Time magazine and named one of “America’s Twelve Outstanding Religious Leaders” by Life.

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Edward Schlag '53

Some of the brightest minds in science have worked under Oxy chemistry major Edward Schlag ’53.

They include three Nobel laureates and more than two dozen recipients of prestigious Alexander von Humboldt research fellowships. A physical chemistry professor at Munich Technical University, Schlag is a research pioneer in chemical spectroscopy via tunable lasers. Many of his students honored Schlag at a symposium at the Germany Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and he was recognized again at the 2009 national meeting of the American Chemical Society for his research in ZEKE spectroscopy. Much sought after as a lecturer, Schlag has taught in universities around the world, including Caltech, Yale, and Cambridge.

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Rosalind Wiseman '91

Tina Fey’s 2004 film Mean Girls is a comedy, but no one takes teen bullying more seriously than Rosalind Wiseman '91, who wrote the book that inspired the movie.

“I get really mad about people being bullied – boys or girls. And I felt like I could do something about it.” In that regard, Wiseman has succeeded. In the 10 years since the first publication of her New York Times bestseller, Queen Bees and Wannabees has sold more than 400,000 copies, and Wiseman has become the nation’s leading expert on bullying prevention and school violence. In 2011, she was invited to the White House as a principal speaker at the White House Summit on Bullying, and she has developed anti-bullying curriculums at schools all over the nation. The political science major began by teaching girls martial arts, and what started as a way to help victims fight back turned into a lifelong mission of helping girls take responsibility and preventing bullying at its core. Of her life’s work, she says, “I knew no matter what I did, I wanted to do something to make the world a more socially just place.”

  • Advisor to Nixon, he outpolled Reagan

  • Class of '47

    Robert Finch

  • Perfect on the mound

  • Class of '27

    Bud Teachout

  • Loyola Marymount’s first lay president

  • Class of '73

    David W. Burcham

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Robert Finch '47

When Robert Finch ’47 was elected California’s 38th lieutenant governor in 1966, he received 300,000 more votes than Ronald Reagan, who was elected governor.

It all began at Oxy, where Finch, a political science major, served as student body president and organized Young Republican clubs on a dozen local college campuses. As a congressional aide in Washington, he befriended freshman Rep. Richard Nixon; he went on to manage Nixon’s 1960 and 1968 presidential campaigns. Finch turned down Nixon’s 1968 offer to be his vice presidential running mate, but accepted an appointment as U.S. secretary for Health, Education and Welfare. He later served the president as a senior adviser. In 1973, Finch returned to California to practice law, but remained involved in Republican politics until his death in 1995.

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Bud Teachout '27

Bud Teachout ’27 stood 6’2”. From the mound, he looked even more intimidating. And he was.

Teachout was the Tigers’ pitching ace from 1924 to 1927, compiling a perfect 23-0 record in conference play – a record never since repeated. (He would have added a fourth year of dominance had freshmen not been barred from the varsity.) A versatile athlete who led his Franklin High School team to a California state championship, Teachout also played right field to take advantage of his powerful bat. Drafted by Detroit, he played two years for the Chicago Cubs and another for St. Louis, the only Oxy Tiger to win a game in the major leagues. As head baseball coach at Glendale High School, he produced several key players who went on to play for his alma mater. Teachout is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

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David W. Burcham '73

David W. Burcham ’73 broke a century of Jesuit tradition in 2010 when he became Loyola Marymount University’s first lay president.

A political science major at Oxy, Burcham graduated first in his class from Loyola Law School and clerked for the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White. He joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 1991 and was appointed dean in 2000. He has no qualms about his groundbreaking role: “The Jesuits have expressed willingness to partner and work with me to preserve and enhance our Catholic and Ignatian identity, as well as to advance our mission. I am committed to that.”

  • Saved 8 million acres of desert

  • Class of '35

    Harriett Allen

  • Represents “Peanuts” and popcorn and Cracker Jack

  • Class of '86

    Shawn Lawson-Cummings

  • Maker of Champions

  • Class of 1902

    Dean Cromwell

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Harriett Allen '35

As a child, Harriet Allen ’35 and her family would often take trips into the desert. This early experience would lead to a lifelong love of the desert and to her extraordinary accomplishments in the field of desert conservation.

In 1954, the biology major was a founding member of the Desert Protective Council, created to protect expanses of land in California from mining. For eight years, she lobbied for the protection of several regional deserts, and her efforts were essential to the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. When then-President Clinton signed the bill in 1994, the Act protected more than 8 million acres of land from developers. Well-known parks including Joshua Tree National Monument, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Torrey Pines National State Reserve can all credit their preservation to Harriet Allen. She continued to take leadership positions in the Desert Protective Council and the Sierra Club and mentored generations of desert activists.

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Shawn Lawson-Cummings '86

From baseball to Charlie Brown, Shawn Lawson-Cummings ’86 has worked with a number of iconic American institutions.

A two-time NCAA heptathlon champion and nine-time All American, Lawson-Cummings designed her own major at Oxy—psychophysiology--and earned an MBA at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. From there she negotiated contracts with major sports clients for General Mills, which led to her “dream job” handling international corporate sponsorships and licensing for Major League Baseball. Most recently, she has served as the Head of Innovation and Market Strategy for Timex Group, working with IRONMAN, the New York City Marathon, and the New York Giants to secure sponsorships and create successful campaign strategies.

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Dean Cromwell 1902

For almost four decades The Dean, as he was affectionately known, inspired hyperbole among American sports writers.

“Sculptor of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history,” Dean Cromwell led USC’s track and field teams to 12 NCAA titles and 34 individual titles from 1909 to 1948. A multi-sport athlete at Oxy  – he competed in track and cycling and played baseball and football – Cromwell’s prowess led the Helms Athletic Foundation to name him Southern California Athlete of the Year in 1901.

Later nicknamed “Maker of Champions,” Cromwell ‘s Trojans teams dominated intercollegiate track and field during his four decades at the helm. He was an assistant coach with Team USA at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics, and head track coach at the 1948 Games. “He was one of the turn-of-the-century men who made Los Angeles a symbol of growth and accomplishment,” the Los Angeles Times wrote of Cromwell, who died in 1962. “Cromwell caught the imagination by fashioning championship teams at an obscure school….Cromwell made his indelible contribution to the Los Angeles-that-grew with the national acclaim accorded his champions.” Cromwell is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

  • Submarine sailor

  • Class of '50

    Steven A. White

  • The first woman to win an Oxy “O”

  • Class of '38

    Patricia Henry Yeomans

  • The LAPD’s best homicide detective

  • Class of '49

    Pierce Brooks

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Steven A. White '50

Steven A. White '50 is a man of many firsts.

He was aboard the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, when it became the first craft to reach the North Pole in 1958. For this achievement, he, the crew, and the ship were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first award ever given for peacetime operations. He was also aboard the USS Ethan Allen when it conducted the first and only complete test of a submarine launching a strategic missile with a warhead. In his later career, he was promoted to admiral in 1983 and worked as the chief of Navy material, where he was in charge of the Navy’s $30-billion annual procurement budget. After retirement from the military, White went to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, where he reformed and restructured the federal government’s largest regional planning agency with the intention of reopening its closed power plants, a goal he eventually accomplished before his retirement.

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Patricia Henry Yeomans '38

In her first year at Oxy, Patricia Henry Yeomans ’38 worked her way to No. 1 on the men’s freshman tennis team before being banned from competition.

Undaunted, she won the national juniors title for women in 1935 and the College Girls’ Invitational in 1936 and 1937. She became the first woman in Oxy history to win a block “O.” After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in history and government, she helped organize the first sanctioned women’s collegiate championship and pioneered tournament play for 50-and-over players. With former champion Jack Kramer and tennis official Joseph Bixler, she successfully lobbied to bring tennis back as an Olympic sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

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Pierce Brooks '49

When asked what his hobbies were, Pierce Brooks ‘49’s answer was short and to the point: “Catching felons.”

At age 41, Brooks already was reputed to be the LAPD’s best homicide detective when he headed the investigation of the kidnapping and killing of a fellow officer in 1963. It became his most famous case, immortalized in Joseph Wambaugh’s best-selling account, The Onion Field (1973), and in the 1979 movie of the same name. Today, though, the Occidental political science major is perhaps best known as the man who pioneered the profiling and tracking of serial killers. Brooks is regarded as the father of the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a national database for tracking serial killers that he first proposed in 1957. According to true-crime writer Anne Rule, Brooks “was one of the greatest homicide detectives of them all.”

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

  • Translator of indigenous languages

  • Class of '18

    William Cameron Townsend

  • Where she leads, others will follow

  • Class of '68

    Marsha Evans

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Kathleen Fraser '58

Kathleen Fraser '58 originally wanted to be a journalist. Instead, she found that poetry was a better medium for exposing the truth.

Encouraged to pursue poetry by a professor at Oxy, the English literature major went on to write for Mademoiselle magazine straight out of college. In 1964, she won the Frank O’Hara Poetry Prize from The New School, and the American Academy’s Discover Award; by 1973, she had published her first book of poetry, What I Want. She has since published over 15 books of poetry. In 1981, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts. She taught at San Francisco State University from 1972 to 1992, and during her time there she was the director of the Poetry Center. Her work, which has been described as “brutally honest,” “detail-oriented and bursting with images,” and “emotionally accurate,” has been featured in Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, and The Nation.

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William Cameron Townsend '18

As a missionary hoping to empower the indigenous peoples of Latin and Central America, William Cameron Townsend ’18 traveled, and where he traveled he translated.

Townsend believed that if an indigenous population was given the ability to organize themselves through study of the Bible, it would help them to achieve self-esteem and dignity. He eventually was able to establish schools to train translators to become teachers, promoting literacy and enabling a self-sustaining system of education in these small populations. During a brief period of living in the United States, he founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a training school where young people learned necessary linguistic skills in order to eventually work with him in Latin and Central America. Over the last 60 years, the SIL has analyzed 1,724 languages and is currently working on 1,053 more. During his lifetime, he lived in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia and translated the New Testament into over 150 languages.

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Marsha Evans '68

Just before Commencement, amid anti-war protests, Marsha Evans ’68 announced her post-graduation plan: She was joining the U.S. Navy.

“There was this collective gasp” at the senior women’s lunch, she remembers. “I created an amazing stir.” Evans has created an amazing stir ever since, becoming only the fifth woman to attain the rank of rear admiral. After a 29-year Navy career that included stints as a presidential aide, a White House Fellow, and as commanding officer of the Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco, the diplomacy and world affairs major went on to head the Girl Scouts of the USA and serve as president and CEO of the American Red Cross and acting commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.