John F. Kennedy University's 2014 Alumni of the Year Award recipients are an impressive lot -- from a towering former NBA basketball star to a mother of three and former mayor to a guy who hangs out in the Congo with mandrills.

Eight graduates of the 50-year-old, fully accredited, private university were honored at an award ceremony held on the Pleasant Hill campus earlier this month.

JFK University founder Georgia Morrison said it was never intended to be a research institution. Instead, inspired by the legacy of John F. Kennedy and fueled with conviction -- that postsecondary education should be accessible and affordable for working adults -- JFK University set out to change the world with $3,000 and a location in a former mortuary.

"But we had the name, from the beginning," Morrison said, and priorities, like having experienced, professional lawyers, therapists and psychologists teaching the courses. When the doors opened in 1965, all 59 students were required to take courses in world religion and non-Western history, in order to become not just educated, but "citizens of the world."

Launching JFK University's second half-century, Mac Powell became the school's seventh president last May. Continuing Morrison's education-for-life momentum with three future-thinking initiatives, he said the university was "founded with little money, but with hope and sacrifice."


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To reduce the costs of postsecondary education, JFK University is working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Massive Open Online Course. Powell said the Gates' free MOOC-prototype is under development with partnering institutions -- like MIT and JFK University -- serving low-income young adults.

With increased community service and student population diversity completing the university's three goals, a student learning service project is now required of every graduate, and a $30,000 scholarship fund for Hispanic students -- now at $60,000, after a matching PG&E commitment -- aim to immediately boost outreach and elevate Hispanic graduates to 25 percent by 2015.

Keynote speaker and former Golden State Warriors star Adonal Foyle ('11), who received a master's degree in sports psychology, picked up the introductory energy and jumped through a recap of his professional basketball career to offer a condensed play-by-play of his student days.

"I grew up on an island of 500 people," he said. "The idea of being in the NBA was foreign to me. The idea of going to college was even more foreign."

Foyle took 10 years to complete the two-year program. Laughing, he said,

"As an athlete, you think you're very special. I'm tall (he's 6 feet, 10 inches), but my height didn't bother (professors). They pulled me down when I needed it."

Along the way, he learned to appreciate being taught by professionals in the field and the small class sizes that allowed them to discuss, one-on-one, how to apply his skills in unique ways.

Today, Foyle works with Democracy Matters, a campus-based organization promoting democracy through paid internships for college students and high school fellowships.

His Kerosene Lamp Foundation provides basketball camps, educational support, health counseling, and refurbishes or builds basketball courts for children in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

He is the author of a children's picture book, "Too Tall Foyle Finds His Game," and in August, HarperCollins will publish the product of his thesis, "Why NBA Players Go Broke," presenting research and solutions for preventing financial loss for professional athletes transitioning to the civilian workforce.

"I'm a big fan of giving back," he said. "I will be forever changed by the relationships I found here."

Jennifer Hosterman, former Pleasanton mayor and '05 graduate of the College of Law, shared the most touching story as she accepted her award.

"I'm a friend of John F. Kennedy Jr." she said.

While visiting the Kennedy home, he showed her a photo of his father, the university's inspiration.

Inscribed on the photo were words she paraphrased:

"Today your uncle and I hauled out the national guard to reinstate black students at the university. I hope when you are an adult, this will no longer be necessary."

Miles Woodruff, who grew up primarily in the East Bay and now works as principal investigator of the Jane Goodall Institute's mandrill reintroduction program, graduated in 2008.

Acknowledging the improbability of a student who struggled in school receiving an alumni award, he said, "I had an "F" in a course called "College Success," so this is really amazing to me."

Shaian Mohammadi ('11), Larry Cook ('85), Gloria Wilson ('05'), Teresa Nguyen ('11) and Brendan Ellis ('13) were also 2014 alumni awardees.

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