ALUMNI IN ACTION
Hail, Spartans, Hail
By Julia Halprin Jackson
Proud Spartan alumna Valerie Gonzales now leads the Alumni Association, and three Spartan share about their family legacies at SJSU.
Once a Spartan, Always a Spartan
Built in 1910, San José State University’s Tower Hall is one of the campus’ most iconic landmarks. The view from Valerie Gonzales’ second-story office overlooks the lawn, where students congregate between classes or stroll between blossoming trees.
Gonzales, who started her career in Tower Hall in 2002 as an events specialist for then-university President Robert Caret, moved back into the building exactly 20 years later. It’s a full-circle moment for the first-generation Spartan, who was named executive director for San José State Alumni Engagement and the Alumni Association last fall.
“Amidst all the hubbub of the pandemic and changing offices and assuming a new title, one of my colleagues said, ‘Oh yeah, Valerie bleeds blue and gold,’” laughs Gonzales, ’04 Sociology, ’13 MA Communication Studies. “Yeah, I do.”
Established in 1873 at one of the university’s first official commencement ceremonies, the Alumni Association serves nearly 300,000 graduates around the world by providing a variety of social and networking events. Historically, the association has played a key role in campus initiatives such as renovating Tower Hall and transforming East San Carlos Street into a pedestrian mall. Every year, alumni participate in Homecoming weekend, Classes Without Quizzes and other in-person and online events.
“Every new generation brings people who will change the world.”
— Valerie Gonzales
The first year the Alumni Association participated in Spartan Homecoming
Estimated number of SJSU graduates
First year the Alumni Association offered scholarships
Spartan graduates who live in Silicon Valley
Gonzales is driven by the organization’s mission to serve students and alumni alike. During her more than two decades serving the campus in events, alumni engagement and advancement activities — while pursuing two degrees herself — she’s witnessed the impact of an SJSU education firsthand.
She hopes to create a permanent home for alumni on campus by renovating the second floor of Tower Hall into an alumni center where members can network, connect and attend events. She’s also excited to grow affinity networks such as the Black Alumni Network, the Latino Alumni Network, the Filipino Affinity Network and the International Alumni Network.
She envisions a future where Spartans worldwide can connect in person and online through personal and professional experiences that enhance their relationship to their alma mater. Regardless of age, region or profession, Gonzales has noticed a shared Spartan value: A desire to pay their success forward.
“The students are the reason why we’re here,” she says. “Every new generation brings people who will change the world. It’s a very exciting thing to be a part of supporting those efforts.”
Did you know?
San José State University’s Alumni Association is the largest alumni-supported scholarship program in the California State University system.
The Alumni Association saved Tower Hall from demolition in 1963 by organizing testimonials, sending telegrams and providing member-signed petitions to the State College Board of Trustees. The Tower was refurbished and reopened in 1966, and renovated and restored again in 2007.
The Alumni Association awards over $150,000 in scholarships annually to both undergraduate and graduate students.
My Spartan Generation Story
Three readers tell us about their family legacy of SJSU graduates in less than 100 words.
The Borelli family at 2022 commencement. Photo courtesy of Johanna Borelli.
Three generations of pride
“Growing up in San José, I always knew SJSU was in my future. It is where my parents met in 1969. My dad graduated from SJSU shortly after. My son went to SJSU, too. It makes us all so proud. He is the third generation to graduate from SJSU. We are the class of 1971, 1995 and 2022. Go Spartans!”
—Johanna Borelli, ’95 Hospitality Management
The Baldini legacy
Brian Baldini, ’81 Radio-TV-Broadcasting, attended SJSU 30 years after his father, Julius, and his uncle Edward. Julius, a journalism major, worked for the San José Mercury News for many years, and Brian says his father’s “alumni card number was 2.” Edward got his teaching credential and taught woodshop in Newark, Calif. Brian “spent two years as a clown with the Ringling Brothers Circus” and several years as an actor and performer. He and his brother Christopher, ’95 BFA Photography, “went to SJSU when it was still tuition-free,” and parking was 50 cents a spot.
Harriet J. Graham, '34 Education
Generations of educators
This is Harriet J. Graham. Her maiden name was Grubb. Harriet passed away in 2017 at the age of 101. Her two daughters graduated with a BA and an MA from SJSU. One grandson received a BA at SJSU and the other an MA. Harriet's sisters, Martha Grubb, ’33 Education, and Dorothy Grubb, and other extended family also graduated from SJSU. Harriet's father valued education for his daughters and fostered a multigenerational legacy of higher learning. #SpartanGeneration
—J. Peter Detlefs, ’96 Geography