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SFSU Campus © Michael Ocampo/Flickr
SFSU Campus © Michael Ocampo/Flickr

Famous San Francisco State University Graduates

Picture of Vicky Choy
Updated: 19 December 2016
A part of the California State University system, San Francisco State University (SFSU) offers students a wide range of academic studies. SFSU has attracted many artists who have gone on to successful careers in music, film, television, creative writing, and theater. Nestled in the southwest part of the city, next to Lake Merced and the Stonestown Mall, SFSU has gone through its own evolution, much like the city it represents. Despite the numerous changes, the university still offers a great value in education in one of the best cities in the world.

Margaret Avery

Nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1985 for The Color Purple, actress Margaret Avery graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in Education. She now has a reoccurring role on Being Mary Jane, a drama on BET.


Annette Bening

Annette Bening earned a B.A. in Theater Arts in 1980 and is a four-time Oscar nominee. She’s also been nominated for an Emmy and a Tony, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.

Kent Nagano

Kent Nagano received a Master of Arts in Music in 1976. He has been the Music Director and Principle Conductor for the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, the Opera de Lyon in France, and is currently the Music Director for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra and The Hamburg State Opera.


Peter Casey

A television and film writer, Peter Casey graduated in 1975 with a B.A. in Radio and Television. Along with his writing partner, David Lee, and producing partner, David Angell, Peter wrote and produced the TV sitcom Cheers and created, wrote, and produced Wings and Frasier. He is a multiple Emmy nominee and winner.


Lisa Cholodenko

Writer-Director Lisa Cholodenko earned a B.A in Interdisciplinary Studies from SFSU in 1987. Along with her writing partner, Stuart Blumberg, she was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for the 2010 film, The Kids Are All Right. Lisa directed the film, which won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. 


Ben Fong-Torres

Journalist Ben Fong-Torres graduated in 1966 with a B.A. in Radio, TV & Film. He is one of the original writers for Rolling Stone magazine and later became its editor. He’s also a radio host and wrote for the SF Chronicle. Ben is the last U.S. journalist to have interviewed Jim Morrison of The Doors before he died in Paris.


Jeffrey Tambor

Actor Jeffrey Tambor graduated in with a B.A. in Acting in 1965. He is a four-time Emmy nominee for his role as Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show. Jeffrey is also known for playing the Bluth Brothers on the critically acclaimed Arrested Development. He won an Emmy and Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 2015 for his role as Maura Pfefferman on the Amazon series Transparent.


Steven Okazaki

Filmmaker Steven Okazaki graduated in 1976 with a B.A. in Cinema. He is a three-time Oscar nominee and won an Oscar for Documentary Short Subject in 1990 for his film Days of Waiting, which also won a Peabody Award. In 2008, Steven received an Emmy for the HBO documentary White Light/Black Rain.   


Anne Rice

Although known for her affiliation with New Orleans, author Anne Rice graduated from SFSU with a B.A. in Political Science in 1964. She is best known for her series of novels, The Vampire Chronicles, from which two films have been adapted: Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned.


Dana Carvey

Stand up comedian and actor Dana Carvey earned a B.A. in Broadcast Communications in 1979. Best known for being a cast member on Saturday Night Live and his role as Garth in Wayne’s World, he is a five-time Emmy nominee. Dana eventually won an Emmy for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for his work on SNL.


Notable Attendees Who Did Not Graduate:

Danny Glover

The star of the Lethal Weapon movie series, actor and activist Danny Glover studied Political Science in the late 1960s and was awarded an honorary degree by the university in 1999.


David Carradine

Best known for his starring role in the TV show Kung Fu, actor David Carradine studied Drama and Music Theory at SFSU, writing music for the drama department before dropping out of school.

Peter Coyote

TV and film actor Peter Coyote studied for a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing in the 1960s before leaving to work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe and joining the counterculture community.


Johnny Mathis

In 1956, Grammy Hall of Fame singer Johnny Mathis was a student athlete excelling in high jump. He was invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team, but as he was also a talented singer, Mathis had the option to go to New York to record his first songs. Johnny chose New York, and the rest is history. He now hosts the annual Johnny Mathis Invitational Track & Field Meet at SFSU.