• Brought Presbyterian values to Hollywood

  • Class of '18

    Louis Hadley Evans

  • Popularized the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement

  • Class of '49

    Guy Carawan

  • Mean Girls expert

  • Class of '91

    Rosalind Wiseman

Close

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.

Close

Guy Carawan '49

The year was 1960, and the song was “We Shall Overcome.” Guy Carawan ’49 sang, and the rest of the country united under its message.

At the time, singing at a conference held by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the mathematics major would have no idea that his organization’s favorite folk song would become the song that the American Civil Rights Movement would rally around. Then working at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, Carawan and his colleagues arranged the lyrics and music of “We Shall Overcome,” which has its roots in gospel and slavery and was already a popular protest song. When he took over as musical director at Highlander, he was invited to North Carolina for the meeting that would launch “We Shall Overcome” into popularity. The students attending the conference took the lyrics and message of “We Shall Overcome” back to their communities, where it spread until it was heard all over the world. A lifetime lover of folk music, Carawan would spend the rest of his time at Highlander performing for and inspiring civil rights activists around the country.

Close

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.”

  • Lauded contemporary poet

  • Class of '58

    Kathleen Fraser

  • Outspoken policymaker

  • Class of '59

    Velma Montoya Thompson

  • Wrote U.S. Military Code of Conduct

  • Class of '40

    F. Brooke Nihart

Close

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.

Close

Velma Montoya Thompson '59

Velma Montoya Thompson ’59 is not afraid to speak her mind

As a member of the University of California Board of Regents in 1997, Thompson defied then-Gov. Pete Wilson by declining to vote against health benefits for partners of gay employees. The first to graduate from Occidental with a degree in diplomacy and world affairs, Montoya was a Marshall scholar who went on to receive a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA—one of the first Mexican-American women to do so. She worked at the RAND Corp. as an economist and served in the Reagan and Bush administrations as a member of the White House Coordinating Council on Women and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. She returned to her native California and taught at UCLA, Pepperdine University, and other colleges and universities.

Close

F. Brooke Nihart '40

“I am an American, fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life.” So begins Article I of the Code of Conduct, written by F. Brooke Nihart ’40 in 1955.

During  the Korean War, concern over brainwashed POWs revealing military secrets led the Marine Corps to devise a formal code of honor for all uniformed personnel. The man chosen to write the new code of conduct was Nihart, the decorated war veteran of World War II and Korea. His words remain largely intact today, with just a few minor revisions. After his graduation from Oxy, he joined the Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on the battlefield during the Battle of the Punchbowl in North Korea in 1951. In 1972, Nihart became the deputy director of the Marine Corps museums, writing extensively on military history for journals and books. At Oxy, he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta and competed in baseball, football, swimming, and water polo for the Tigers.

  • Submarine sailor

  • Class of '50

    Steven A. White

  • She does it all: newspapers, television, and radio

  • Class of '74

    Patt Morrison

  • Helped found one of the world’s first gay rights organizations

  • Class of '53

    James “John” Gruber

Close

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.

Close

Patt Morrison '74

If Los Angeles had an official scribe, it would be Patt Morrison ’74.

For more than 25 years, she has chronicled the city and the world as a Los Angeles Times reporter and columnist, public radio and television host, and author. The diplomacy and world affairs major has a share of two Pulitzer Prizes to her credit as part of the Times teams that covered the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and her individual awards include six Emmys as founding host and commentator of KCET-TV’s “Life & Times” nightly news program. She now splits her time between the Times and Los Angeles NPR affiliate KPCC. One of her books, Rio LA: Tales from the Los Angeles River, was a best seller. Pink’s, the famous L.A. hot-dog stand, even named a wiener in her honor: the Patt Morrison Baja Veggie Dog comes with chopped tomatoes and onions and guacamole.

Close

James “John” Gruber '53

James “John” Gruber ’53 was an Oxy sophomore when he and boyfriend Konrad Stevens joined the 6-month-old Society of Fools.

At Gruber’s suggestion, the group changed its name to the Mattachine Society--known today as the first modern gay-rights organization. “All of us had known a whole lifetime of not talking, or repression. Just the freedom to open up … really, that’s what it was all about,” said Gruber, an ex-Marine studying English on the G.I. Bill. After working in radio and founding a motorcycle club, Gruber fell in love with teaching and enjoyed a long career as a high school and college teacher. At his death in 2011, he was the last surviving original member of the Mattachine Society.

  • World record pole vaulter

  • Class of '58

    Bob Gutowski

  • One of the country’s leading turnaround experts

  • Class of '68

    Stephen Cooper

  • Created a national model for special education

  • Class of '47

    Alfonso Perez

Close

Bob Gutowski '58

Bob Gutowski ’58 came to Oxy as a basketball player, but legendary track & field coach Payton Jordan had other ideas.

With Gutowski’s natural athleticism, Jordan reasoned, he could learn how to be a pole vaulter. Jordan’s hunch paid off, with Gutowski winning a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics, two consecutive NCAA titles in 1956 and 1957, and a new world record of 15’ 8¼” at an Oxy-Stanford track meet in 1957. Gutowski’s all-time best, a mark of 15’ 9¾” set later that year, remains the greatest height ever achieved on a steel pole, although it was never officially recognized as a record because of a technical violation – the pole passed underneath the crossbar. The North American Athlete of the Year in 1957, Gutowski was an all-rounder who placed in the Nationals in the long jump and triple jump, and was an NAIA champion in the triple jump. Gutowski is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

Close

Stephen Cooper '68

Stephen Cooper ’68 describes his job this way: “I manage and organize trouble.”

For more than 30 years, the Oxy economics major and Wharton School graduate has worked as one of the country’s top turnaround experts. His list of troubled clients is an impressive one: Federated Department Stores, Polaroid Corp., Enron, Krispy Kreme, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Today the crisis management guru is CEO of Warner Brothers Music Group and managing partner of Cooper Investment Partners, a private equity firm. “What I do for a living is different every day of the week,” he once said. “It’s very easy to get stressed out and very easy to get worn out, but almost impossible to get bored.”

Close

Alfonso Perez '47

The son of Mexican immigrants, Alfonso Perez ’47 won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal as an Air Force bombardier in World War II.

What he was proudest of, however, was his 33 years of service to special education students in public schools. As the first Mexican-American to be appointed a high school principal in Los Angeles, Perez, who majored in physical education at Oxy, turned Widney High School into a national model of public education for the handicapped. By the end of his tenure, Widney had been transformed from what Perez called “a holding place” for the disabled to a school that mainstreamed up to a third of its students. The Alfonso B. Perez School for special education students was named in his honor after his 1980 retirement from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

  • Good friend of Oscar's

  • Class of '95

    Ben Affleck

  • Reported from the heart of red Russia

  • Class of 1907

    Bessie Beatty

  • Two-time Olympic gold medalist

  • Class of '43

    Sammy Lee

Close

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.
 
 

Close

Bessie Beatty 1907

When her classmates were preparing for graduation, Bessie Beatty 1907 was covering a Nevada miner’s strike for the Los Angeles Herald.

Early training on the Aurora and the Occidental, predecessors of the modern Weekly, lured her into daily journalism. In 1917, she traveled to Russia to cover the Russian Revolution for the San Francisco Bulletin. Based in St. Petersburg, she witnessed many of the most significant moments of the revolution, which she described in her book, The Red Heart of Russia. She subsequently became a foreign correspondent in Europe, a writer for MGM Studios, and director of the National Label Council to promote union-made goods. She finished her career as the host of the most popular women’s radio show in the country.

Close

Sammy Lee '43

As a boy, Sammy Lee ’43 was once confronted by neighbors who demanded that the Korean boy and his family move out.

He remembers a friend, a German immigrant, telling them, “One day, you’ll be proud the Lees were your neighbors.” Lee, a chemistry major and All-American diver at Oxy, went on to become the first Asian-American man to win an Olympic gold medal on the 10-meter platform, in London in 1948. At age 32, he became the oldest diver to win a gold medal, at the 1952 Olympics. A doctor and ear, nose, and throat specialist for 35 years, Lee also had a distinguished Olympic coaching career--his divers included gold medalist Bob Webster and silver medalist Greg Louganis.

 

  • Protected Earth from rogue asteroids

  • Class of '54

    Eleanor Helin

  • Reclaiming the American Dream

  • Class of '48

    Richard Cornuelle

  • Remaking public radio in Los Angeles

  • Class of '80

    Bill Davis

Close

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.

Close

Richard Cornuelle '48

Though often remembered as an early libertarian, Richard Cornuelle '48 defied conventional political definitions.

Frustrated by conservative indifference to social problems and liberal reliance on the federal government for solutions, Cornuelle published a series of books on his belief in social action, starting with Reclaiming the American Dream in 1965. Pollster George Gallup later called the influence of the book “the most dramatic shift in American thinking since the New Deal.” Cornuelle also formed several nonprofit organizations, including United Student Aid Funds to help send impoverished students to college. Six years after the program’s inception, USAF was helping 48,000 students attend 674 colleges. He also founded the Center for Independent Action, which trained previously unemployable workers and helped them find jobs. After graduation from Oxy, Cornuelle studied with the prominent free-market economist Ludwig von Mises at New York University, whose students later founded the modern libertarian movement.

Close

Bill Davis '80

Bill Davis '80 was burned in effigy during his first job.

Not a promising beginning for the young manager of KALX radio, the chaotic Berkeley public radio station where a DJ once overdosed while on the air. But the Oxy English major attracted the attention of National Public Radio executives during his 10-year stint at WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., which he turned into one of NPR’s most popular member stations. Davis has spent the last decade as president of Southern California Public Radio, the parent company of KPCC, the public radio station once based at Pasadena City College. KPCC’s audience has tripled in size during his tenure, and once again he heads one of the country’s most-listened-to public radio outlets--one that has won more than 230 regional and national journalism awards.

  • Trailblazer in the federal courts

  • Class of '87

    Jacqueline Nguyen

  • Taught generations of aspiring journalists

  • Class of '46

    Ted Tajima

  • Transforming the streets of Manhattan

  • Class of '82

    Janette Sadik-Khan

Close

Jacqueline Nguyen '87

Even when she was a federal prosecutor known as the “Smiling Assassin,” Jacqueline Nguyen ’87 worked weekends in her family’s North Hollywood doughnut shop.

It’s the place she and her family rebuilt their lives after fleeing South Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975, and a measure of how far she has come. The Occidental English major is the first Vietnamese-American woman to be appointed to the state judiciary, to serve as a federal judge, and to be appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. “Judge Nguyen has been a trailblazer,” President Barack Obama ’83 said in announcing the nomination to the Ninth Circuit. “I’m confident she will serve the American people with fairness and integrity.”

Close

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.

Close

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.

  • The first prince of Bel-Air

  • Class of 1895

    Alphonzo Bell

  • Helped shape the Aloha State

  • Class of '41

    Herbert Cornuelle

  • Pro quarterback and distinguished statesman

  • Class of '57

    Jack Kemp

Close

Alphonzo Bell 1895

The son of an early Southern California real estate developer, Alphonzo Bell 1895 originally intended to become a minister but went into the family business when he inherited some land.

With the proceeds from his new subdivision, he built a 200-acre estate in Santa Fe Springs, complete with tennis courts (Bell won a silver medal in men’s doubles at the 1904 Olympics). A 1921 oil strike on the property made Bell a millionaire and an inspiration for Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil! He then invested heavily in Westside real estate and developed Bel-Air Estates. Although his 1925 proposal to move Occidental to Bel-Air came to naught, Bell served as chairman of the College’s board from 1938 to 1946.

Close

Herbert Cornuelle '41

Ohio native and Oxy commerce and finance major Herbert Cornuelle ’41 didn’t get his first glimpse of Hawaii until 1942, when he was a young U.S. Navy ensign.

Eleven years later, he took a position as vice president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Co.--and just five years later was named president of the company still known the world over as Dole. After a detour to the mainland in 1963 to become executive vice president and later president of United Fruit , Cornuelle found his way back to the Aloha State, where he worked in real estate development and related activities for the rest of his career.

Close

Jack Kemp '57

At 5’10”, Jack Kemp ’57 was supposed to be too small to be a pro quarterback.

But the pugnacious physical education major refused to listen. By the time he retired in 1969, he had led the Buffalo Bills to four division titles and two AFL championships. His second career began on the long flights between games, reading works by major economists and philosophers. Kemp went on to serve nine terms in Congress, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and was Bob Dole's vice presidential running mate in the 1996 presidential race. But his greatest legacy was his pioneering advocacy of tax cuts to stimulate the economy--an issue that has become a central tenet of Republican philosophy.

  • Advisor to Nixon, he outpolled Reagan

  • Class of '47

    Robert Finch

  • Japanese folktale expert

  • Class of '23

    Fanny Hagin Mayer

  • America’s first lady of gastronomy

  • Class of '31

    M.F.K. Fisher

Close

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.

Close

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.

Close

M.F.K. Fisher '31

A self-described “insatiable reader and scribbler,” M.F.K. Fisher ’31’s desire for the written word was eclipsed only by her hunger for food--all of it, whether animal or vegetable, cooked or raw.

The confluence of these two appetites helped make Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher America’s best-known and prolific food writer, and an icon to gastronomes everywhere. Her writing on the slow, sensual pleasures of the table seemed revolutionary to a buttoned-down, mid-century America. In a career spanning 60 years, Fisher’s prolific output included 15 books of essays, such as How to Cook a Wolf and The Gastronomical Me, novels, hundreds of stories for the New Yorker, as well as an English translation of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s classic book, The Physiology of Taste. Poet W.H. Auden called her “America’s greatest writer.”

  • Universal Studios tour guide makes good

  • Class of '77

    Cheri Steinkellner

  • Translator of indigenous languages

  • Class of '18

    William Cameron Townsend

  • From “Clear Skies Ahead” to “It’s All Inside”

  • Class of '84

    Janet Dhillon

Close

Cheri Steinkellner '77

Wacky and funny and smart and fast.

That’s how composer and lyricist Georgia Stitt describes Cheri Steinkellner ’77, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning writer and producer of sitcoms (spending seven years with husband Bill behind the bar at "Cheers"), animated fare (co-creating “Teacher’s Pet” for the Disney Channel, which spun off a feature film in 2004), and now musical theater. The Oxy English major, former Universal Studios tour guide, and Groundlings member is in the midst of a second career, having dropped out of the business in the late-’90s to raise her three children. Today, she is fully re-immersed as the co-writer of the musical Princesses, the Tony-nominated musical Sister Act, and two new collaborations with Stitt: Mosaic and Hello! My Baby.

Close

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.

Close

Janet Dhillon '84

Corporate legal whiz Janet Dhillon ’84 is the executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary for J.C. Penney, one of the country’s oldest department store chains.

Dhillon came to the company after serving as the top lawyer and chief compliance officer for Phoenix-based US Airways. In 2008, while at the airline, Dhillon was named one of the 10 most influential lawyers in Arizona by AZ Business magazine. After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in history from Oxy, Dhillon stormed UCLA Law School, graduating first in her class. She honed her legal chops at New York City-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, one of the country’s most powerful law firms.