Quick! Which one of the following people is not an alumnus of Berkeley High?

  • Thornton Wilder,  playwright, novelist, 3-time Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Ursula K. LeGuin, science fiction writer
  • Philip K. Dick, science fiction writer
  • Jack Lalanne, fitness expert and bodybuilder
  • Phil Lesh, Grateful Dead bass player
  • Billy Martin, manager of New York Yankees
  • Galen Rowell, nature photographer
  • Timothy Hutton, actor
  • Rebecca Romijn, actor
  • Andy Samberg, comedian on Saturday Night Live
  • Don Barksdale, NBA basketball player, Olympic athlete
  • Ariel Schrag, graphic novelist
  • Je’Rod Cherry, NFL player
  • Sandra Gulland, novelist
  • George W. Bush

Of course, it’s George W. Bush. There is no way he grew up in Berkeley. But the rest of the people on the list did attend Berkeley High and have distinguished themselves in American arts, letters, and sports. (For more accomplished alumni, look here).

Thornton Wilder, BHS alumnus

On Sunday, March 14, the Berkeley High School Development Group will honor the school’s distinguished alumni at their second annual fundraiser, Berkeley High Live! John Sasaki, a reporter for KTVU, will emcee the event, which will take place from 5 to 8:30 at Berkeley Honda on Shattuck Avenue.

The evening will showcase all things Berkeley. The nationally recognized Berkeley High Jazz Combo will play. Restaurants like Picante, Chaat Café, Bette’s Ocean View Diner,  La Note, Poulet, Peet’s Coffee, and Kermit Lynch wines will provide food and drink.

The evening is the Berkeley High Development Group’s major fundraiser, and its organizers hope to bring in $80,000 – double what it netted in 2009 – to augment many of the school’s programs.

Phil Lesh, BHS alum

Every year, the development group hands out around $450,000 to teachers, students, and student groups to enhance the educational experience at the school.

Some of the grants are bricks and mortars, like projectors for the math program or graphing calculators that can be loaned to students.  The group has also purchased equipment for the football team, cameras for photography classes, and CD players for students with learning disabilities.

Every year, the development group gives small discretionary grants to every teacher so he or she can buy anything they want for their classrooms. It also has given funds to students to help them pay for standardized tests, has subsidized some students’ college tours and college application fees, and paid for after school tutoring.

The development group also brings in artists, dancers, and writers into the classroom and has helped school clubs and teams travel around the country for various conferences and contests.

With looming budget cuts, the work of the development committee will be more crucial than ever.

If you can’t make the event but would still like to support the school, you can bid online for items in the silent auction or donate here.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. Interesting thread! Tim Hutton indeed attended BHS for one year, 1976-77, his sophomore year (i.e. he was Class of ’79, not ’78 as Wikipedia say) but did not graduate. Verification available in that yearbook.:-)

    More random thoughts:

    The K in Ursula K LeGuin is for Kroeber, as in the UC anthropologists, her parents, who “discovered” Ishi.

    MoveOn founder Wes Boyd, BHS ’78. His wife and MoveOn co-founder Joan Blades may also be a BHS alum from a few years earlier.

    KTVU anchor Frank Somerville, BHS ’76.

    Jacket editor Andy O’Hehir, BHS ’79, Editor of pre-NewTimes SF Weekly and senior writer at salon.com

    SF PR man extraordinaire Sam Singer, BHS ’76. Anytime there’s a scandal in the Bay Area, Singer is called in to do cleanup.

    Raymond Burr attended Willard but not BHS.

    I’ve seen several elementary school pictures of Daphne Zuniga on the Berkeley Grade School Photos facebook group, but she didn’t go to Berkeley High. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50779711365&ref=ts

    I think “Nina Hartley” (a.k.a. Marie “Mitzi” Hartman), BHS ’77, who is in the Wikipedia list and has a long Wikipedia entry at that link, is probably secretly familiar to more Americans outside of Berkeley than anyone else mentioned so far in this discussion.

  2. I’m not sure how credible the Wapedia entry pointed to by Kate is, given that it includes Josh Kornbluth, but there are some other remarkable people on that list, including Chicago Seven defendent John Froines, actor Robert Culp (I Spy), photographer Galen Rowell, Richard Bolt (whose company, BBN, was instrumental in the invention of the Internet and email), and more athletes and musicians than you could shake a stick at.

  3. I also meant to add to my earlier list the up and coming Brooklyn based playright, Itamar Moses, former editor of the Yellowjacket newspaper and perhaps best known locally for his play about BHS, Yellowjackets, which played at the Rep. for a couple of weeks back in the summer of 2008:


    From viewing that play and from what I read about BHS these days, I can see that precious little has changed there from the earlier epoch in which I attended Berkeley High.

  4. G. W., and G. H-W., both (naturally, where else) attended high school at Phillips Academy, Andover. It’s a very old school and T. Jefferson had a hand in its founding. Indeed, the schools signet was designed by him. It depicts a busy bee-hive and bears the logo “Finis Origine Pendet” for which the proper translation is “The end hangs upon the beginning” and for which the vulgar translation is “Don’t use too much oregano.”

    It also bears the logo “Non sibi” for which the proper translation is “You ain’t in this game for yourself” and the vulgar: “we’re all in it together, so buck up and act like it.” As a matter of practice, the school and its graduates have a considerably uneven record in living up to this principle.

    It was chartered from the beginning as an endowed school to “educate youth from all quarters”. In the earlier years, “youth from all quarters” meant “young white males” and “educate” meant board and teach mainly Greek and Latin.

    At one point, fairly early on, the school became notably over-endowed and spun-off a more practical school next door, teaching whatever practical arts seemed appropriate. Eventually the two merged.

    G. W. attended the boys school and is somewhat famously recorded in his yearbook as a popular member of the cheer-leading squad.

    In the 1970s, amidst rumors among some of the faculty (spread by the young progressives, heard by the old elite) that the boy’s were engaging in too much buggery, the school merged with the Abbot girl’s academy down the street.

    By the 1980s, the school’s endowment was rather impressive and its scholarship programs had expanded considerably, although I think that the current feeling of the administration is that they were not, during that period, administered fairly. The school, during that period, reflecting a slightly more progressive younger faculty, began to create ancillary outreach programs for minority students. Feeling the mighty weight of its legacy, it also began international outreach programs.

    Of late, under the direction of the latest headmaster (excuse me, the term is now “head of school,” I guess) — there has been considerable effort to expand the endowment and commit to needs-blind admission and performance-blind continuation of scholarships (e.g.: don’t flunk out and your scholarship isn’t cut, even if your grades suck like G.W.’s did).)

    Most recently, at least per the alumni magazine, the faculty (led by relatively newly joined members) has begun to address the classism and racism and other notable “-isms” that have characterized the place for years by, amazingly enough, embarking on programs of self-examination among the faculty and staff.

    The school has very, very many deep flaws. I resent the place. On the other hand, I also appreciate the place. It has lessons to teach BHS about faculty cohesion, trimester schedules and bell schedules, frugality [in some regards] and more. It is also my understanding that Phillips Andover has, of late, started some outreach programs to schools with academic program troubles like BHS. Which might be worth looking into, while carrying some large grains of salt in one’s pocket.

    In my day, it was a school where I suspect the drinking and getting stoned (and coke) problems were on par with BHS so they have some experience in that area as well (doubled or halved, depending on how you view it, by being a boarding school). My impression from afar is that those problems have considerably diminished since then.

  5. A short addendum to the list, some of whom may be somewhat more infamous than famous.

    • Aaron Peskin . Contentious former S.F. Board of Sups president, known affectionately as the “Napoleon of North Beach.”

    • Daniel Duane. Novelist and journalist. His Berkeley childhood influences and inner psyche were explored at length in this recent NY Times magazine piece:

    Dan was raised in Berkeley, Calif., by VW-bus-driving lefties who were so utterly committed to their own romance that Dan sometimes felt left out.


    • Aya de Leon. Acclaimed “slam poet” (East Bay Express Readers’ pick for “Best Slam Poet.”) She was way ahead of the curve in the whole marriage definition controversy when back in 1997 she described her decision to “marry herself” in this well-known essay:


    To juggle full-time work, school and self-care, I needed commitment in my life. So I decided, hey, I can’t wait for someone to notice how fabulous I am. I’m going to marry myself.

    I bought a silver band and wore it on my ring finger to symbolize my growing self-love. I told my friends that I was marrying myself, showing off my ring as proudly as I would an expensive diamond.

    • Officer Andrew Cohen, well know through the years’ long video gate controversy in the SFPD:

    He is one of the three children of the late Barbara Cohen, a former copy editor and reporter who he says instilled in Cohen not just progressive politics and a commitment to public service but also an irreverent sense of humor.

    “I’m a liberal Berkeley Jew with two biracial children, who was raised by a very strong liberal woman,” he said. “I’m not going to be the victim of someone else’s weird notion of political correctness.”

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/12/09/MNGHEG5GMB1.DTL#ixzz0hjDja35Y

    p.s. Can someone actually verify that Timothy Hutton graduated from BHS? “When he was 16 Hutton sought out his father, living with him in Los Angeles while attending Fairfax High School. There, while playing Nathan Detroit in a school production of Guys and Dolls, Hutton realized he wanted to become an actor. With encouragement from both of his parents, Hutton carefully built himself a career in television.”

    As far as I know, few acclaimed childhood actors actually graduate from high school (although some nominally did via “correspondence courses.” ) When you add up how few acclaimed actors graduated from high school or, especially, college (almost none of them has any graduate degrees), one begins to question why many of us seem to accord so much significance to their political pronouncements or endorsements of a cause. We all (rightly)snort with contempt when we read that more Americans trust the actor who played Marcus Welby MD to dispense medical advice than AMA guidelines, but many of us seem to take seriously the political endorsements of star actors who are (mostly) high school dropout. What gives?

  6. Are you sure Josh Kornbluth went to Berkeley High? I know that’s what the Wikipedia says but I think Josh is a New Yorker through and through.