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2018 Honorary Doctorate Recipient: Jan Yanehiro

The graduating class of the School of Communications & Media Technologies (COM) was just as excited to see Jan Yanehiro, COM director, receive her Academy of Art University Honorary Doctorate as much as they were to receive their diploma.

When she walked the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium stage on May 10 to receive the certificate from Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens, COM students stood as they whooped, hollered and clapped for the person they knew as not only a pioneer in the field, but as their instructor, mentor and friend.

Yanehiro’s speech spoke of her humble beginnings growing up in Hawaii. Her father was a high school dropout, her mother worked at a bakery. Her grandparents, Japanese immigrants, worked the sugar cane fields on the islands. Her parents encouraged her to go to college and she did, first to University of Hawaii, then to the California State University-Fresno to study journalism.

She had a dream, as Yanehiro told the crowd, “to meet the rich and famous... The millionaires.” And she did. In 1975, Yanehiro was hired as the co-host of an experimental magazine TV show called Evening Magazine on KPIX (now CBS). The show was given 13 weeks to survive; Yanehiro was the original co-host on the show for 15 years.

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2018 Honorary Doctorate recipient and School of Communications & Media Technologies Director Jan Yanehiro with Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens. Photo by Bob Toy.

Today, Evening Magazine is often looked to as one of the first-ever magazine programs in TV entertainment. The series featured Yanehiro, along with her co-host Steve Fox, who was eventually replaced by Richard Hart, dealing with lifestyle, pop culture, famous people, fascinating places and information about modern city living. The video presented at Academy spring commencement ceremony displayed some of Yanehiro’s most exciting feats: Bungee-jumping, skydiving, interviewing stars, such as Julia Roberts and Michael Jordan, safari treks and more.

Rest assured, her dream didn’t come easy, she said.

“It took years of hard work, beginning with working as a secretary at a radio station,” she said in her speech. “Back in the 1970s, television stations were simply not hiring women who looked like me. But I believed that I could do it, I could work on TV, so I persevered.”

Her perseverance placed her on a number of other shows after Evening Magazine.

It brought her to work on documentaries on Japanese-Americans during World War II and placed her in board rooms for organizations such as Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation and the Asian-American Journalist Association, part of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, among others.

In 2008, that perseverance brought her to lunch with Dr. Stephens, who asked Yanehiro to helm COM and teach its students. Under Yanehiro’s tutelage, the program has expanded to include drone production, virtual reality extreme sports and the program’s popular reality TV production class.

When asked if she misses being on TV, Yanehiro admitted she does, but knows to not dwell on the past. “Part of me misses that newness, the excitement of meeting a celebrity but my joy and excitement comes in different ways now," she said. "My joy and excitement comes from when I hear a student landing a job at Lucasfilm. My students are my celebrities.”

Keeping her speech short and sweet, she left the graduates with two requests.

The first, to always say ‘thank you.’ “I think in this world today, we have to be kinder; especially in this hurried world. We should say thank you to people who serve us.”

Secondly, to reach back. She touched upon how tough it was “coming up in the ranks with people not wanting to hire people like me; a person of color, a woman of color.”

“I always thought that we need to reach back and help another person through the door,” she said. “Reach back to bring another person forward; help that person move forward too.”