Jennifer Granholm ’84

The economic battle that rolled across America started in Michigan, and Granholm was one person who took the blows. But as the state’s first female governor from 2003–11, she worked tirelessly to salvage the state’s auto and manufacturing industries and add emerging sectors. After leaving office, she hosted Current TV’s political news analysis show “The War Room” and co-wrote the Washington Post bestseller A Governor’s Story. In a review, President Bill Clinton wrote that Granholm “faced extraordinary challenges with grace, intelligence, and tenacity. … She embraced the challenge of rebuilding Michigan’s economy … with new ideas, new jobs, and new businesses.” Concerned that the United States is lagging behind in energy policy, Granholm is now zeroing in on creating jobs in the clean energy sector. She is back at Berkeley as a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and is being awarded by the Cal Alumni Association in 2014 for Excellence in Achievement. Watch her TED2013 talk on clean energy, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @JenGranholm.

Education, Honors and Awards, Public Service and Activism

Minh Dang ’06, M.S.W ’13

Every April, Dang celebrates what she calls “Freedom Day” — the anniversary of breaking away from a life of being sexually abused and trafficked. Since MSNBC aired the documentary Sex Slaves in America: Minh’s Story in 2010, Dang has become an unbending force in the fight to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children — helping many heal the pain and shame associated with it. She has courageously addressed tens of thousands of survivors, advocates, and other concerned citizens, as well as directed Don’t Sell Bodies, founded by actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Recognized by the White House in 2013 as a Champion of Change, Dang said, “There was a time that I could only imagine breathing beyond the next day, let alone being at the White House.” She credits her Berkeley undergraduate experience for teaching her how to “stand up for justice” and looks forward to April 16, 2026, when her “days in freedom will finally match my days in slavery.” The Cal Alumni Association honored Dang with the 2014 Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement by a Young Alumna. Read her blog Minh Speaks Truth, or follow her on Twitter @minhspeakstruth or Facebook.

Honors and Awards, Public Service and Activism

Rebecca Solnit M.J. ’84

A journalist, philosopher, and activist, Solnit refuses to be confined by anything but her own wildly roaming passions. The author of 13 books and countless essays, she has unraveled subjects as broad as punk, place, walking, ecology, and hope in the face of hopelessness. Her breakthrough book, River of Shadows, raked in the accolades for asserting that the seeds for both Hollywood and Silicon Valley were planted in 1878 when photographer Eadweard Muybridge proved that a Palo Alto racehorse’s hooves left the ground at once — foreshadowing modern cinema and cementing the peninsula as a hub of innovation. Her latest book, Unfathomable City, a companion to the bestselling Infinite City, weaves together brilliantly reinvented maps and essays that challenge our notions of New Orleans, a city defined as much by its crime, corruption, and disasters as it is by its colorful music, food, and cultural history. She said in an interview with Harper’s, “There is a kind of tragedy to all our lives, consisting of failures, of losses, of mortalities — but that sad landscape is salted with pleasures, with unions, with epiphanies and revelations … The trick is to hold both and maybe value both.” Find some of Solnit’s political essays on, or follow her on tumblr.


Public Service and Activism, Writing

Ananya Roy M.C.P ’94, Ph.D. ’99

An unapologetic fan of Bono, Roy is a bit of a rock star herself. A professor of city and regional planning at Berkeley, she is a mighty voice behind connecting students’ passion for service to the skills and fieldwork experience they need to help alleviate global poverty. The global poverty and practice minor — which she founded through the new Blum Center for Developing Economies — is now a top minor. More than 450 students have graduated since 2007, and more than 4,000 students have taken her class on poverty and inequality. Today Roy is leading the #GlobalPOV Project, a groundbreaking teaching experiment that uses Twitter and artful, provocative videos on YouTube to heighten the conversation around this seemingly insoluble problem. The videos steer clear of two extremes: “the hubris of benevolence, young Americans thinking ‘I’m going to solve poverty during my alternative spring break,’ and the paralysis of cynicism.” Students honored Roy with the Golden Apple Award in 2008. One nomination said, “At the end of every lecture, you leave contemplating … the meaning of life and the world around us.” Follow Roy on Twitter @AnanyaRoy_Cal.

Education, Public Service and Activism

John Pérez

Pérez made history in 2010 when he became Speaker of the California State Assembly, the first openly gay person to hold such a position in the nation. Raised in working-class communities, he learned the value of hard work and community service and spent more than 15 years advocating for more jobs, expanded healthcare, and the protection of workers’ rights. A longtime champion for LGBT issues, he was appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to serve on the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. In March 2012, Pérez told a massive rally in Sacramento protesting education cuts that, “California is watching, and the people support you.” Backing their call, he wrote the Middle Class Scholarship Act to lower tuition for students who don’t qualify for financial aid at the University of California and California State University campuses. It was signed into law on July 1, 2013, the same day Congress failed to keep student loan rates from doubling. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @SpeakerPerez.

Education, Public Service and Activism

Tom Bates ’61

The starting right end for the last Bears team to play in the Rose Bowl (1959), Bates has pursued a lifelong career of visionary, socially responsive public service. A former captain in the U.S. Army, he served in the California State Assembly for 20 years, passing 220 bills that included legislation for children and families, mental health services, the environment, and civil rights. Berkeley’s mayor since 2002, his successes include the establishment of the David Brower Center, a home for environmental and social action; the Ed Roberts Campus, a fully accessible transit hub dedicated to disability rights; and the relocation of the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, a traditional music venue, to downtown Berkeley. Green at heart — he doesn’t own a car and composts his coffee grounds — Bates told the LA Times that recycling is his religion. “I want to do what I can for climate change and global warming,” he said. Follow Bates on Facebook or Twitter @MayorTomBates.

Public Service and Activism

Barbara Lee M.S.W. ’75

Growing up in Texas, Lee encountered “whites-only” drinking fountains, segregated schools, and denied entry to public places — discriminations that fueled her lifelong dedication to public service. Today, whether the Democratic congresswoman is fighting for HIV/AIDS legislation, an end to poverty, or equal rights for all minorities, everything she does is informed by the values she learned at Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. She is best known for her actions on Sept. 14, 2001. As the World Trade Center still smoldered, Lee was the lone voice out of 421 in the House of Representatives to reject the use of military force against the terrorists. Reflecting on the recent end to the global war on terror, the Daily Beast called her “the most prescient person in Washington.” Her memoir, Renegade for Peace and Justiceis a candid look at the whole person behind the politics and the issues she so intensely champions. Follow Lee on Facebook or Twitter @RepBarbaraLee.


Public Service and Activism

Kevin Johnson ’97

A natural leader, Johnson moved from calling the shots on the basketball court to being a political playmaker — and found great success in both arenas. K.J. earned two All-Pac-10 Conference player honors at Cal and an honorable-mention All-American nod from the Associated Press. When he left Cal, he ranked as its all-time leader in assists, steals, and scoring. As a professional, the point guard was named an NBA All-Star three times and set numerous team scoring records during nearly 12 years with the Phoenix Suns. Johnson established a nonprofit in Sacramento after retiring, and in 2008 he was elected the city’s mayor, launching initiatives addressing everything from homelessness to literacy to keeping the city’s NBA team, the Kings, from moving to Seattle. “I want to be remembered,” says Johnson, now in his second term, “as someone who gave his life fighting for those who did not have a voice.” Follow him on Twitter @KJ_MayorJohnson.


Public Service and Activism, Sports

Ritankar Das ’13

Little did Das know as a pre-teen that his makeshift experiments using kitchen gadgets would lead to becoming Berkeley’s University Medalist — the top graduating senior — a few years later. Now 18, Das founded an undergraduate research journal, wrote and taught poetry, and brought science to underserved middle and high school students, among a whirlwind of successes that earned him more than 40 awards. A double major in bioengineering and chemical biology and a minor in creative writing, he is the youngest medalist in at least a century. “In my 30 years at Berkeley, I cannot think of a single undergraduate student who would match Ritankar’s accomplishments,” wrote chemistry professor Marcin Majda. Headed to the University of Oxford and MIT for his master’s and Ph.D., Das spoke at the Class of 2013 commencement. He said society tends to put everything into boxes labeled “success or failure. But I believe there’s a third box, and it’s called ‘not trying.’ … We must follow our ideas, even if they sound crazy or impossible.”

Honors and Awards, Public Service and Activism, Science

George Takei

Best known for playing Sulu on the original “Star Trek” TV series and the six movies that followed, Takei is unlikely social media royalty. Unofficially dubbed the King of Facebook, he counts 4 million fans in his online empire — including “Trekkies,” Howard Stern listeners, and the LGBTQ community — who devour his quirky mix of kitten jokes, “Star Trek” references, heartfelt messages, and sci-fi/fantasy memes. An outspoken advocate for civil rights, Takei has used his unmistakable baritone in several satiric PSAs, including one in response to Tennessee’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill that encourages viewers to say, “It’s okay to be Takei.” His current projects include the musical Allegiance, drawn from his experience of growing up in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, and the recently published Oh Myyy! There Goes the Internet. Follow the king’s rule on Facebook or Twitter @georgetakei.

Arts and Entertainment, Public Service and Activism