SAN DIEGO — The administration and alumni of San Diego State University came together Saturday to say nice things about one another, and, as it came to pass, they handled their duties with feeling.
SDSU's Eleventh Annual Alumni Awards Gala proved to be a classy reunion, one that gave hope to former B-minus students by celebrating the achievements of 10 distinguished graduates of the university. The formal event drew nearly 500 participants to the ballroom of the Marriott hotel in the Golden Triangle; proceeds are earmarked for SDSU academic programs.
The honorees and university VIPs assembled early in a penthouse suite to share cocktails and cocktail-hour chatter. SDSU President Tom Day waited in the hallway with his wife, Anne, to greet arrivals; they were lucky in their choice of location since the size of the crowd made the relatively spacious suite a fearsome spot for budding claustrophobes.
Day, who will celebrate his 10th anniversary as president June 29, said he took a fair degree of pleasure in the Alumni Assn.'s list of 1988 honorees.
"These alumni typify the spread of disciplines and professions at SDSU," said Day. "They also demonstrate the fact that our graduates are very successful both in society at large and in their professional pursuits."
City Clerk Chuck Abdelnour, who chaired the gala, also stationed himself in the hallway, where, despite the bright lighting, a faint glow seemed to surround his face when he discussed his alma mater.
"I was really happy to see some Imperial County awardees on the list, because that's where I grew up, and the SDSU campus there makes such a difference," said Abdelnour. "The awards sponsored by the alumni associates have reached the same level of prominence and distinction--and I want to stress the word distinction-- as the university itself. They parallel the types of honors that older universities provide their deans and alumni."
It was, of course, impossible to find an honoree who agreed that he deserved the notice, but all of them looked pleased enough by the occasion, as did their spouses. For example, Carol Dobson, wife of restaurateur Paul Dobson, who received the alumni award given by the College of Arts and Letters, freely admitted that her husband was worthy of the honor.
"My husband deserves this award," she said. "He's a fine product of this system, a shining product of SDSU."
Since the evening did, to an extent, take the form of a reunion of former teachers, students and classmates, the guests seemed reluctant to take their seats in the ballroom. They did eventually settle in, though, for a program directed by master of ceremonies Jack White, who teased the crowd by pointing out the absence of several well-known SDSU graduates. Among those he singled out were Stars & Stirpes skipper Dennis Conner and Mayor Maureen O'Connor; White drew amused applause when he said, "Dennis Conner won't be here tonight, because he's taking swimming lessons from Maureen O'Connor."
However, all the honorees were present, with the single exception of art professor John Baldessari, whose award was given in absentia. All made their acceptances in an unusual tandem format that began with videotaped remarks and continued with brief, live acceptances as each was called to the podium.
The awards ceremony took place following a dinner of roast beef and berry pudding; during the meal, outgoing Alumni Assn. President Craig Evanco took care of current alumni business, including the installation of new alumni chief Bernie Rhinerson. "Building relationships is the theme that has guided us through the years," Evanco said as he explained the association's primary mission.
Those enduring relationships became quite evident as the honorees stepped forward one by one. Their acceptance remarks were, without exception, brief but poignant, especially those made by Lorraine Pritchett, who with her husband and fellow Imperial Valley campus graduate, Howard Pritchett, teaches in the El Centro public school system. "Without the Imperial Valley campus," she said quite simply, "I would not have received an education."
Sue Earnest, emeritus professor of speech pathology and audiology and a 1928 alumna, earned a standing ovation when she waltzed to the stage to accept the award given by the College of Health and Human Services. "This award is the culmination of a 70-year love affair with San Diego State," she said.
Other distinguished alumni awards went to banker Robert Beck, honored by the College of Business Administration; former state Sen. James Mills, an alumnus of the College of Education; Hewlett-Packard computer wizard Christian Nagel, who received the award granted by the College of Engineering; and UC San Diego superconductivity research physicist M. Brian Maple, honored by the College of Sciences.