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Friday, April 30, 2010

SF State Professor Dan Begonia - A Well Earned Retirement

It is with great joy that I write about a man I am honored to call a mentor, but also a mentor to those who he has changed lives, Professor Danilo Begonia.

To the students he has taught and to many campus employees, he is a legend of our great university, the College of Ethnic Studies, and the Asian American Studies department. Some on the campus see him as some sort of outcast or a figure of being too old fashioned, but when you ask his former students about what they have learned from him and how much he has changed their lives, nobody really cares about him being different than the rest of the faculty.

Being that this is his last month of employment on our campus, he will finally earn the title he has waited for his entire life, Professor Emeritus of Asian American Studies, and nobody can ever take away that title of respect he will earn on May 18th when the Provost and President of the University gives him that honor.

When I enrolled in his class: "Psyche and Behavior of Pilipinos," it was because I need a Pilipino American course in order to advance towards my baccalaureate degree in Asian American Studies. When he first came in, I was shocked, and unprepared for what is going on. I initially thought he was some kind of prick. I was worried if I can survive this class with all the extra homework and projects requiring my team to visit places and do projects outside of the classroom and the campus. It wasn't until my teammates supported me and pulled me through the most difficult parts that I learned to appreciate Dan's passionate work. He taught me to be a confident person, be outspoken, demand perfection, and defend those who feel they cannot succeed.

I'm not a Pilipino American, and while a very high majority of the students are, I was never segregated from my class and my team. They came to accept me, I learned and understood about Pilipino culture, and shared my cultural experiences as a Japanese and Chinese American to them as well. I admit to making a few mistakes here and there, including "Pilipino time" where I arrived to a birthday party early, and the rest of them didn't arrive until 15 minutes after the published time.

Once all the stressful parts of the course was done, the class was like a family. We'd still get our lectures from Dan, but we were also more relaxed, fun, and playful too. One of my favorite moments was learning the drums in preparation for FilGrad, a graduation event for Pilipino American students of our campus. Our classwould go to the very bottom level of the SF State parking garage to practice, and while our hands were hurting, I was enjoying myself, even to the point where I was practicing my drumming at my workplace on the counter.

It was also an honor to be asked to join his teaching assistant crew. I say it's an honor because he only hand picks the best and brightest of his past students to join his exclusive team. Being his TA was a great way for me to end my last semester as an undergraduate student at SF State.

The lessons he taught me also helped me be an accomplished employee of this university, and it was reflected when my previous supervisor asked me if I wanted to be her [student] administrative assistant while I was in preparation to start my career as a graduate student. She learned about my confidence and unflinching loyalty to the department in my previous role as a front desk receptionist, and the new position earned me one of the highest wage jobs a student can receive. Today as a professional employee of the campus, I still believe in Dan's teachings, especially perfection; I place high expectations on the quality of work I put out, and expect the same from my co-workers in order for the department to show itself in its best light.

Not long ago, I told a group of about 70 students who will be working for our campus department in the coming months about being part of our department's family: we work together, celebrate together, cry together, and support each other through the good times and bad, and whether they decide to continue working for us for the following years, or decide to pursue other things, they will never be forgotten as part of the family. Dan taught this to our class, and after all these years, we are all still a family; some are out working, others in graduate school, and some even have babies to care for.

"Tito Dan," I'm proud of you. You have taught at SF State for over 30 years and changed so many lives. Have a great retirement and I hope you will enjoy all kinds of great activities, especially that kick ass Harley I see you ride on campus. Now I'm all teary eyed.

To learn more about Professor Dan Begonia, read this great article from the Golden Gate [X]press.

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