50th Anniversary Series: Alumni Interviews

By: Staff Writers Harshita Gupta and Rebecca Wu

Read the complete Alumni Interviews right here!


Meera Kumbhani

TV actress and MSJ alumna Meera Kumbhani (Class of 2000) stars on the Fox TV Show Weird Loners, a comedy about four flat mates in New York City. In Fremont since the age of 8, Kumbhani went to GomesElementary School, HopkinsJunior High School, and MSJ. After high school she went to UC Berkeley, studying both theater and neurobiology, and proceeded to ColumbiaUniversity in New York City to get a Master of Fine Arts in acting.


Smoke Signal: When and how did you first get involved with acting?

Meera Kumbhani: In the 4th grade I saw a community theater production of You’re a Good, Man Charlie Brown and was mesmerized. I went home and begged my mom to let me do the next show. So I auditioned for their next show…and didn’t get in. I was crushed! Everybody gets into children’s community theater – I thought that was the point! But I auditioned for the show after that, got in, and just kept doing it ever since.


SS: Did you initially consider acting as a viable career option, or is it something that came unexpectedly? Did your community and family encourage you towards the performing arts?

MK: I came from a family of scientists. The idea that I could pursue a career that has no standard trajectory or roadmap seemed ludicrous, both to myself and my family. So, at first, it was really hard for me to take that chance, that leap of faith. As an artist, you don’t like the 9-6 kind of lifestyle I grew up with. You’re hustling all the time, finding work wherever you can, and filling up every moment you have left with making your art, usually for free. And you never have any sign that your work will one day lead to something that will make money or draw attention, but that’s okay. You stick with it anyways, because you love it and can’t imagine your life without it. But it’s definitely not an easy road. Even after you get a TV show, it’s not an easy road.


SS: Were you in any acting-related activities while at MSJ? Did these activities influence your future career path, or affect the way you viewed your future and yourself?

MK: I spent most of my four years at MSJ in the Little Theater. I was immersed in everything going on there. Most of the time when I was supposed to be in other classes, I was instead in the drama room, reading every play I could get my hands on, rehearsing four or five different things with my friends, making costumes, painting sets, practicing songs and dances – doing anything I could, really. That theater was everything to me.

High school was a really funny time for me. I was a weird kid and was finding myself. I didn’t really fit in anywhere, until I found the drama department. It was a home for my friends and I. I think high school is a confusing time for most kids – most of us (my friends and I) were fighting with our parents, fighting with our teachers, angry for no reason, feeling like we didn’t belong, and just generally lost, looking for something that academics couldn’t fulfill. The drama room became this home to us, this safe place where we could go nuts and let loose. It was really special to us, and I think healed us in ways nothing else could.

And our teacher at the time, Anne Riley, she just understood, and she respected us.


SS: Any specific anecdotes or experiences that you would like to share? A memory at MSJ that has stayed with you?

MK: Do they still sell Its-It ice cream sandwiches in the cafeteria? I used to buy one every day, and that would be my entire lunch, it was awful!


SS: What are you working on right now, other than Weird Loners?

MK: I’m currently working on a film.


SS: What are your future plans?

MK: I have no clue! The future could hold anything. It’s an exciting and terrifying lifestyle. But what I want is the same thing I’ve always wanted–  to just keep acting, just keep telling stories that mean something to people.


SS: If you could say anything to the person you were in your freshman or senior year of high school, what would it be?

MK: Pay more attention in history class – it’s actually really interesting and important…


SS: Any advice to an MSJ student interesting in pursuing a career in the performing arts?

MK: What I would say to all students is – figure out what you’re passionate about. More important than grades, than your college application, than your SAT scores, is what sparks you, what ignites you, what makes you excited about getting up in the morning. And once you figure out what it is, just do it. Follow it as far as you possibly can. Even if you don’t think you’re any good at it, try it anyway.  The most important thing you can do for yourself is be passionate about something.


SS: Anything you want to say about your alma mater in celebration of its 50th anniversary?

MK: I know that the arts programs have been cut pretty dramatically since I was there. And that’s a real shame. I don’t think I would be the same person if I hadn’t had what I did. I think I would have been in real trouble…



Kevin Wing

TV journalist and MSJ alumnus Kevin Wing (Class of 1981) is the San Francisco Bay Area producer for ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, the nation’s No. 1 network morning show. His Emmy Award-winning television career beginning in 1986, five years after graduating from Mission, Wing will be in the business 30 years next year. Before joining ABC News in 2006, he was a news reporter and producer at KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland, KGO-TV ABC7 in San Francisco and KNTV NBC Bay Area in San Jose. In 2013, the year Wing turned 50, he was inducted into the Silver Circle of the San Francisco/Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his more than 25 years of contributions to the Bay Area television industry, an honor that has only been bestowed upon, up to now, 240 individuals, since television began in the Bay Area in 1948.


Smoke Signal: What did you do after high school?

Kevin Wing: After high school, I pretty much knew that I wanted to be in television journalism. I went to Ohlone College, and then San Jose State University. When I was at Ohlone, I was on the Ohlone College Monitor newspaper, and I was on their radio station, KOHL, doing news and eventually spinning records. And then, I anchored the campus TV newscast. So, I did all three at the same time for one or two semesters, which, at the time, worried my Mom, who was concerned that I was only doing the fun stuff and not getting the basic class requirements finished. But, between those three, I pretty much decided for sure that I wanted to be in television.


SS: When and how did you first get involved with journalism?

KW: When I was 10, I was home from school one day because I was sick. I know the date because it’s burnished in my head. It was February 4, 1974. On that day, Patty Hearst, the daughter of the famous Hearst family and the heir to their newspaper fortune, was kidnapped that day. And, I know I didn’t really understand all of it back then, but I was watching, and my Mom came home from work and watched the news with me and explained to me what was going on. We were watching Channel 7 and Van Amburg was anchoring the news. Van was a Bay Area TV legend. It was on that day that my interest in journalism began. From that point on, I started paying more attention to reading the newspaper. Six months later, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, and I watched that on TV, too. If I didn’t understand things, I’d ask my brother and sister or my Mom what it meant. Gradually, I went on to Mission, and I became a part of the Smoke Signal in my junior year.

In my senior year, I decided that I needed to prove something to myself. I loved to write, and so in class, I volunteered for almost any story. When I was a junior, it was different. The seniors kind of “ruled the roost” so I just sat in the back of the class and listened and wrote little news briefs, but when I was a senior I thought, “I’m gonna go for it.” So, in addition to writing for the Smoke Signal, I was also writing for the Fremont Argus’ high school page called Connections, representing MSJ. I did that for two years. By then, I definitely knew that I wanted to be a reporter.


SS: Could you summarize your work thus far?

KW: I graduated from OhloneCollege in 1984. That summer, I approached Fremont Cable Television, because I noticed that they didn’t air a newscast. So I asked if I could do a newscast, and they said yes, but I had to write it, build my own set, all of that. So every week for about four and a half years, I would do the news for Fremont, including weather, sports, and occasional features.

My professional TV career really started in 1986 when I was hired as a news intern and writer for KICU Channel 36 in San Jose. Then I went on to KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland, where I was an intern and weekend assignment editor. That following year, in 1988, I moved to San Diego and got my first full-time job for the CBS station down there. I was 25. From there, I moved to Eureka to work at a small NBC station where I anchored the news. I stayed there until I had the chance to come back to the Bay Area, and in 1990, I returned to the Bay Area and went to work again for KTVU, when the Mornings On 2 show launched.

I was one of the original staff members of Mornings On 2. I was the show’s assignment editor, and I also did some reporting for the show and for our 10 p.m. news. My Mom used to love watching me on TV. I stayed 10 years. After that, I decided to try out a management career and went to work for KGO-TV ABC7 in San Francisco as an assignment manager.

In 2006, I joined ABC News as a producer for Good Morning America, so it’s been nine years now, and next year, it’ll be 10. I produce Bay Area and northern California stories for the show.


SS: What’s something you’ve worked on recently?

KW: One of the more major stories that I’ve worked on during these last nine years was when the Asiana plane crashed at San FranciscoInternationalAirport in 2013. I was out there for about a week. It was a very sad story. Those are the stories that sometimes hit hard. I’m human like anyone else, I have feelings, I feel bad for people who are harmed, or something happens to them, or they’re killed or are victims of a tragedy. That’s something as a journalist that you should have, that sensitivity towards whomever you’re reporting about. It’s more than just getting a story. You have to have compassion for people. If you don’t have compassion for people, you’re not a totally successful journalist. You have to have that compassion, especially when you’re working on those tough stories.


SS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

KW: When you’re a journalist, whether you’re print or television, it’s learning how to interact with people, and the highlight of my career has been the honor to tell people’s stories. It’s a privilege to be able to interview someone and talk to them about their life and what they’re doing. That’s something that I take very seriously, because when you’re telling someone’s story, you have to get it right. You have to be a good listener, take good notes, record them on camera or on audio if you can. It’s just this wonderful opportunity to tell people’s stories. It’s really been quite an honor. I love meeting and talking to people.


SS: What’s one of the most impactful stories that you’ve worked on?

KW: The types of stories that have always had a big impact on me have always had to be stories about people who are struggling with something in some way, or who are the victims of something, be it a victim of crime or of illness, being homeless at Christmas time. It has everything to do with the human condition. You know, life’s not perfect. And, for some of us life is even lesser than perfect than for others. I’ve met so many people in those kinds of situations. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how much money you have, big house or small house, don’t have a house, or you’re homeless. As a journalist, you have to have a heart. You’re a person. We were all born the same way, right? We’re all someone’s child, and our lives change as time goes on, but it doesn’t mean that each of us doesn’t deserve a fair shake at life. We all do. When I do stories about people who have had some kind of strife or struggle in their lives, it teaches me to always be compassionate for people like that, and I wish and hope that they get compassion in their lives. One thing about being a journalist is that if you can help people, it’s not about getting yourself on camera, or seeing your name in the paper on the byline, or hearing your voice on the radio. It’s really about helping people. That’s what I take away from it. It’s about helping people. And if I can help at least one person a day, whether I’m on the job or it’s my day off, then that’s all I can ask for.

SS: What advice would you give to someone interested in journalism?

KW: If you want to be a journalist, you have to be a good listener, and a good conversationalist. When you’re telling a story, you need to totally pay attention to whomever you’re talking to or whatever story you’re working on. I’d also suggest that if you want to be a journalist, learn all about the world as much as you can. Be curious. If you’ve got that natural curiosity about the world, that’s great. I mean, I’m not interested in everything. But if I have to report on something that I don’t necessarily know about, I’d better do my research. So, you really have to know as much as you can. A good journalist is someone who can know a little something about almost everything, and it’s never complete. You learn every day, whether you’re 30 or 50 or 65. You continue to learn as time goes on. I would never say that I know everything. I don’t. And I never will. I’m not a know-it-all. I love learning new things; it’s the curiosity that I always have had, and that was instilled in me when I was growing up. When you’re a journalist, you’re a watchdog. You stick up for the little guy out there. You are their voice.


SS: How do you think your time in high school and your time at MSJ contributed to who you are, to your natural curiosity, like you were saying?

KW: It was a different type of place back then. I was there from 1977 until 1981, the year I graduated. When you’re a high school freshman, you don’t know anything, you don’t think about much. My first couple of years at MSJ, I really had to buckle down. I had to buckle down and do my homework, and I realized that it wasn’t like going to Hopkins anymore. It was just like going to Hopkins wasn’t like going to Gomes. I cruised through Gomes, but when I got to Hopkins, I hit a brick wall at first. It’s a different level of learning. When I got to MSJ it was the same thing, the learning was more intense. I had to buckle down, and pay better attention in class, and I learned so much from a lot of my teachers, but I can still think of a few who I learned so much from. They had such incredible integrity, they cared about us, they wanted us to learn whatever the subject was, they spent a lot of time with us, and you could tell that they spent extra time helping us to learn. And, that helped me to be even more curious about whatever I was working on, which parlayed into the journalism area. MSJ really enlightened me, especially in my junior and senior years. Mr. David Howell was my newspaper adviser at the Smoke Signal; I learned an awful lot from him. I had lunch with him about three or four years ago. I learned so much from Dave, and from all of the classmates I was with on that newspaper. How to be a better writer, reporter and listener. It really got me all charged up about my last couple of years in school, especially my senior year! Just the experience was very enlightening, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  In hindsight, it was a very good time for me.


SS: Would you have ever imagined being where you are now?

KW: Not at all. I grew up watching Good Morning America, for example. Good Morning America started back in 1975. That’s when I was a seventh-grader at Hopkins. But, if you had asked me in high school, if I thought I would ever have a chance to work for this program, I would never have imagined that. And, I don’t mean that to sound self-serving because I am not like that. I knew that TV was a very competitive industry to go into, and you had to be really great to succeed at it. It’s not just knowing what you know, but it’s also who you know, just like today. Connecting with people and networking is very important. It’s just as important as your resume. TV is a visual medium, and the fact that I have this big nose doesn’t help much! But I fought to get in, I knew I wanted to do be in TV and on TV. When TV is at its best, it really can inform people in a good, good way. It tells us things in a fair and balanced and concise, complete way. I would never have imagined what I’ve been doing all those years when I was at Mission. I thought I’d have to move to Iowa, or Montana, and I never needed to. I managed to stay in California. I’ve always felt very blessed about that.


SS: Is there a favorite memory from MSJ that you’d like to share, something that maybe sticks out in your mind or something that impacted you?

KW: I would have to say it was the Smoke Signal. It really had a big impact on me. Just the different stories that I worked on at the time. Giving credit to my classmates and friends and Mr. Howell, I went away from that experience feeling really good about myself at that point in my life. I was a shy kid. At the same time, it helped to bring me out of my shell. This is very uncomfortable for me, being interviewed rather than my interviewing you! It just is. I’d rather do it the other way around. I feel more at ease. But, the Smoke Signal helped me to come out of my shell in a really big way. So, from a personal standpoint, I probably owe that to my two years on the Smoke Signal. It helped me to become more expressive and to overcome my shyness.


SS: What would you say to your high school self?

KW: I’d tell my younger self to study harder, and don’t think you’re going to coast through school, because you’re not. I’d say that it’s not always going to be easy when it comes to a career in TV, so don’t think once you’re in, you’re in. The business is a very tough, competitive business; you really have to know what you’re doing and you really have to be knowledgeable about the world. I would say, start thinking about this at 16, 17 or 18, and be prepared for what’s to come. And, kind of in a humorous way, I’d say just hold on tight for the ride, because there are going to be a lot of ups and downs. My career hasn’t always been up. I’ve had some valleys that I’ve had to contend with once or twice over the past 29 years, but I made it through.

I would also tell myself to remember this: you’re going to be all right. When you hit those valleys, it’s going to build your character. It reminds you that things are not handed to you. You have to work for them.

I would also tell myself, and this is important: do not ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. There’s never such a word as never. I had a lot of people tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. It still gets to me if I think about it, like right now. They used to say, “You’re not good enough, you don’t fit in.” But my Mom always told me, “You just keep fighting.” That’s where I get the notion that you should never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. As long as you have the passion, and the interest, and you really want to do something, learn all about it, and go for it. You know, it may not come out exactly as you thought it would back in the beginning, but in the end, as long as you’re happy, that’s what matters. So that’s what I think of most if I were to tell myself as that kid that I was back at Mission 34 years ago. Keep pushing, and you’re going to be all right.


SS: Any words to MSJ in celebration of its 50th anniversary?

KW: Congratulations to you, Mission, on your 50th anniversary! I’m very proud to be a graduate of MSJ. Whenever I tell someone that I went to Mission, I’m very proud to say it. It did have a very big favorable imprint on my life, and it gave me all the tools that I needed to succeed in life. Again, working for the Smoke Signal, well, not every high school has a school paper, but luckily, MSJ had one, and a very good one! I learned so much from MSJ, so I don’t even know where to begin. My family’s roots are here in Fremont, in the Mission San Jose District. I’m really proud of MSJ, and I’m so very proud of all of my former classmates. Many of us are still friends today, thanks to Facebook! I’m so proud of each and every one of them. So many have gone on to do some seriously great things in this world. I’d like to especially say something to the kids of today, who just amaze me. Every time I read in the paper about someone who went to MSJ, I’m so proud when I read that they’ve gone on to do some monumental things in life. What I’ve been doing all of these years pales in comparison to what so many others have accomplished during the last 50 years of the school’s history. I’m really proud to be a part of a legacy that’s been created by all Mission graduates over the last 50 years. Mission is a great school. I’m very happy to see it reach its 50th anniversary. Now, that’s something to celebrate! Go Mission!



Natali Morris

Technology news journalist and MSJ alumna Natali Morris (Class of 1996) is an online media personality who has written for a variety of publications, such as the San Francisco Examiner, PC Magazine, CNET, and CBS. She is currently a freelance contributor to CNBC, CNBC.com and the TODAY Show.


Smoke Signal: When and how did you first get involved with your news career?

Natali Morris: I always had a passion for writing and storytelling. When I finished college, I sat in my room at my parents’ house and thought, “Now what?” I didn’t have any connections in news so I picked up the phone book, flipped to the Fremont Argus listing, and called the newsroom. In hindsight, I’m kind of impressed with myself for being so gutsy. I think I stumbled something like, “I just graduated with a journalism degree, so…..?”

The editor must have taken pity on me. He referred me to the Arts and Entertainment section because they were hiring for someone to write the calendars. As in: “The local garden club will have a discussion about pruning roses next Saturday.” That was my first paid media gig. It wasn’t sexy but if I finished my calendars on time, I was allowed to write feature stories. It was a great job! I learned a lot about writing.

After graduate school, I went back to print journalism with an emphasis in technology and finance. I landed a job as a business writer at the San Francisco Examiner. From there I went to PC Magazine.

While I was at PC Magazine, I was asked to be a guest on a video podcast called Cranky Geeks. A few weeks later, I received a call from Adam Curry, former MTV VJ and one of the founders of the podcasting medium. He saw me on Cranky Geeks and wanted to train me to do my own online show. As the host! I thought he was nuts. He taught me how to read a prompter, write script, and be myself on camera. I hosted a show called “TeXtra” on his network for a year before going to work for CNET in New York. CNET was bought by CBS a few months after I joined the company so that’s how I transitioned from new media to old media – kind of a backwards shift when you put it like that. I left CBS in 2011 and have been a freelancer with CNBC and the TODAY Show ever since.


SS: What are you working on right now?

NM: I work part-time because my children are 2 and 4 years-old. No one ever teaches you how hard it will be to balance family and career, and not just for women. When I think back to who I was when I roamed the halls of MSJ, I know that I never had a notion that I would choose to throttle back on career for anyone, much less a diaper-wearing creature. I think I would have looked down at that choice. But life will throw you curve balls and we gain a lot when we go with them. Even when it makes you uncomfortable. So I am a freelance contributor to CNBC, CNBC.com and the TODAY Show.


SS: What are your future plans?

NM: I am working on launching a few web news shows.


SS: Would you have ever imagined being where you are now?

NM: Actually yes. I’m a big believer in visualization. I always knew I’d work in news. I think I saw it pretty clearly actually.

When I was in high school, I used to joke that I would be so happy if I had someone to do my hair for work every day. Now I do! We have hair and makeup people who do me up for air and even though I complain when they try to put false eyelashes on me, I love that they are there to help polish me up for the camera. Huge perk of the job! But I do think it is funny that I visualized a job where I’d work in news and have someone to help my lazy butt do my hair and now I have that job.


SS: Did attending MSJ affect or shape you in any way?

NM: I felt very small fish/big pond at MSJ. I didn’t join clubs or sports or social activities. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness so I wasn’t allowed. I admittedly have regret about that.

Despite my lack of a social life, I always knew that I was surrounded by really brilliant kids. That became very clear when I hit the workforce and realized that being around that many smart people at the same time is not all that common. That pushed me. Most of my peers came from families with high standards and I felt the effect of that on all of us collectively.


SS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

NM: I went to the White House last year to interview the Vice President. That was thrilling for me! I’ve also had the opportunity to travel quite a lot for work to several countries. These are big experiences for a small girl from Fremont and I am always grateful for them. It is never lost on me how lucky I am to have stumbled upon this career.


SS: What would you say to your high school self?

NM: I would tell myself to learn how to not take things personally. In news there is A LOT of rejection. I’ve been rejected for jobs that I thought I just HAD to have. I’ve had stories that I have written or shot not make it to air. That happens a lot. I’ve had stories that I pitched get completely ignored by editors or rejected. Rejection happens oh so often but I have only recently realized that it is rarely about me or my performance. Almost never. If I could go back in time, I would get it out of my head that when things don’t go my way, it isn’t necessarily my fault or a personal deficiency. If I could approach life with this mindset, I would have saved myself a lot of anxiety and self doubt. Learn to let rejection roll off your back because usually when something you think you want passes you by, something you didn’t even know you wanted comes along instead.


Lev Kirshner

San Diego State Aztecs Coach and MSJ alumnus Lev Kirshner (Class of 1987) is the head coach for the San Diego State University men’s soccer team.


Smoke Signal: When and how did you first get involved with your coaching career?

Lev Kirshner: I still wanted to pursue playing professional soccer after college, so I took an assistant position with Harold Whittemore at OhloneCollege.  Basically, this tact was so I could kick the ball around with a team while going to trials.  The next semester, Frank Mangiola, offered the women’s head coaching position and men’s assistant at CañadaCollege.  I found great joy working with men and women utilizing the avenue of soccer to help nurture the development of responsible, quality human beings.  At that point, I changed my ambition and directed all my efforts to become a prominent coach at a major Division 1 university.


SS: What are you working on right now?

LK: Currently, in my vocation, we are rebuilding and reestablishing our Aztec Soccer culture as we have had tremendous turnover the last two years.  The Pac-12 has separated itself from the rest of the country and this means we must stay up with the Jones’, as they say.  More poignant, I am also extremely excited to be a new father of my four-month-old boy, Keeden Hart Kirshner.  I am not sure which is more work, but Keeden is definitely more fun.


SS: What are your future plans?

LK: I live in the moment with a vision of my future. In the end, I am just trying to be the best father, family man, coach, and person possible.  My future will be very bright if I can maintain these attributes.


SS: Would you have ever imagined being where you are now?

LK: Sure. My paths in life have never been a surprise. Generally, they are calculated and pursued with diligence.

SS: Did attending MSJ affect or shape you in any way?

LK: Of course.  We are all products of our environment and should never forget where we came from. Mission San Jose provided me with excellent building blocks to who I am today.  With that said, I should apologize for giving my teachers such a hard time, especially senior year. 🙂


SS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

LK: The most rewarding aspect has been working with young men and women.  Watching my student-athletes grow into mature adults that will help shape our world in a positive way provides me great satisfaction.


SS: What would you say to your high school self?

LK: Grow more!!!!!!!!!!!!



Mic Gillette

American brass player and MSJ alumnus Mic Gillette (Class of 1969) is a world-renowned musician and former trumpeter for Tower of Power.


Smoke Signal: When and how did you first get involved with your musical career?

Mic Gillette: I am probably most well known for my many years as one of the founders and horn section leader from a group called the Tower of Power, a band that originated in Fremont. I was a sophomore at MSJ when I joined a little band from KennedyHigh School that wanted to add horns and they asked me. We were called the Gotham City Crimefighters and they had just stopped dressing up like Batman and Robin. I started building the horn section from just myself, to five pieces, choosing four other strong players and we became the Tower of Power in 1968, around the beginning of my senior year. That’s when I met Carlos Santana and hired him to play at our senior ball.

I started playing trumpet when I was four and did my first gig for money three weeks after I turned five. I knew from that day that I was going to play trumpet all my life.


SS: What are you working on right now?

MG: I am involved in several programs and projects, and the most important of these is a band I have put together with my daughter, Megan, and some great friends. We have recently released our second CD called Turning Two. We have a very busy summer ahead of us starting in May.

Our band is called MGB and our website is www.micgilletteband.com.

We also run a Music In the Schools program where I go to schools all over the country as a Yamaha Artist/Clinician and play concerts with students and teach at clinics for those of similar interests. We conduct fundraisers to help keep music programs open.


SS: What are your future plans?

MG: I plan to set my daughter up to carry on the family tradition, and to continue helping school music programs.


SS: Would you have ever imagined being where you are now?

MG: I have known all my life where I have been headed and love what I do.


SS: Did attending MSJ affect or shape you in any way?

MG: I was allowed to flourish there and continue to build the momentum that has carried me through all 50 states and 58 countries.


SS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

MG: The most rewarding aspect has been helping young musicians get large scholarships to great colleges and universities.


SS: What would you say to your high school self?

MG: Keep on keepin’ on, you’re just getting started.



Walt Buteau

Reporter and MSJ alumnus Walt Buteau (Class of 1980) is an investigative reporter at WPRI-TV in Providence, Rhode Island. Buteau has won several Associated Press awards as well as a pair of EMMY awards.


Smoke Signal: When and how did you first get involved with your news career?

Walt Buteau: I went to San DiegoState with a goal of becoming a sportscaster and / or a sports play-by-play broadcaster. And I did do play-by-play in college for the Aztec sports teams. It was a lot of fun. Then, I got an internship with a television station and sort of fell in love with journalism and using video to tell stories. That led me to my current position as an Investigative Reporter.


SS: What are you working on right now?

WB: I just wrapped up covering the “verdict watch” for the Aaron Hernandez case. I’d been chasing documents tied to that investigation for two years so it was great to see the outcome. I’m also working on a handful of investigative reports involving a range of topics including political corruption, crime, and wasted tax dollars.


SS: What are your future plans?

WB: I really love tracking down stories that make a difference here, but I’ve worked in Rhode Island where I have a lot of family, longer than I thought I would. So, a move out West might be in the works. Stay tuned.


SS: Would you have ever imagined being where you are now?

WB: Yes and no. I planned on coming back to California, but family reasons have kept me here. But I did always see myself as an investigative reporter. I like pushing and shoving the powers that run our world to make sure they’re not wasting money or doing anything improper. It is after all, our government, not theirs. They work for us and I wish more of us not only felt that way, but made sure anyone who works for their respective state or city, completely understands that we as taxpayers are their bosses and they use our money. So, they’d better use it wisely or I’m going to knock on their door.


SS: Did attending MSJ affect or shape you in any way?

WB: It was a great place to go to school and an awesome city to grow up in, and I realize that more and more as I cover other school districts and communities. If I learned one thing from high school it would be the impact of hard work, although I always, always, always wish I would’ve worked harder in high school.


SS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

WB: I love when my stories have an impact, such as forcing a politician to give back money that didn’t belong to him, pointing out glitches in the law that are unfair, exposing an entire city council that was not going to its council meetings, provoking a health care provider to offer better care for a woman with a brain tumor. And scoops are fun too. Any time I can use my sources to find and report information that our competition doesn’t have, it’s a win.


SS: What would you say to your high school self?

WB: I would say work hard, but relax and don’t worry so much. It’s all going to work out just fine.



Manuel Gallegus

Real estate broker and MSJ alumnus Manuel Gallegus (Class of 1981) is a former CBS News correspondent who was also associated with KRON-TV in San Francisco.


Smoke Signal: When and how did you first get involved with your news career?
Manuel Gallegus: It was 1981. I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, when my parents suggested I visit my cousin, Bob Jimenez, who was a News Anchor and Reporter at KRON-TV in San Francisco. I was only 18, and I didn’t really know my cousin very well. One afternoon, I went to the TV station on Van Ness Avenue and it was like another world. It was a real newsroom with a lot of desks, reporters on the phone, TV’s everywhere, buzzing police radios, people yelling and running around. I loved it! That summer I applied for a part-time production assistant job and got it. The boss told me that he gave me the job because I was eager and polite. (Of course, thanks to my cousin, I did have a foot in the door) I worked in TV news for the next 30 years.


SS: What are you working on right now?

MG: After nearly 20 years as a correspondent for CBS News, I’ve recently changed careers. These days I’m a real estate broker in New York City for a dynamic new company called Compass. I finally needed a break from life on the road, and I wanted to learn a new craft. I haven’t given up production though. I’m currently helping my colleagues produce video vignettes about themselves to promote their business.


SS: What are your future plans?

MG: Good question! I just want to do good work, whatever it may be. I do miss journalism, and I’m always looking for opportunities to continue writing or producing. If something great came along, I’d consider it. But right now I’m happy being in control of my daily life. I do still keep up with the news — but I don’t miss those 4 AM phone calls (too much).


SS: Would you have ever imagined being where you are now?

MG: I always hoped I would do something great with my life, and I was fortunate to find a career that I loved so early on. I had no idea that I would have the experiences I’ve had. Being a reporter is one of the greatest jobs in the world. Working for CBS News opened doors that I never knew existed.


SS: Did attending MSJ affect or shape you in any way?

MG: Compared to where many kids grow and go to school, I was very fortunate to have gone to MSJ. Mission was pretty relaxed and still kind of country when I was there. I think I wore a plaid shirt, down jacket and Levis every day of my life. Certain teachers were really good to me, and saw the bigger picture. I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Mathog (a physics teacher back then) who was instrumental in helping me get accepted to UC Berkeley.


SS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
MG: It always felt good to be dropped into a breaking news situation, figure out what was happening, gather the information, and present it in what I hope was a clear and responsible way for the public. I was also constantly amazed and humbled by the strength of people across the country and around the world who were facing tough times—like just having lost everything in a tornado or earthquake. The memories I have, and the privilege of being allowed to experience other people’s lives are the real reward.


SS: What would you say to your high school self?
WB: Be true to yourself, always.



Don Hertzfeldt

American writer, animator, and MSJ alumnus Don Hertzfeldt (Class of 1994) is an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker who has received over 200 awards for his films, which have been presented around the world. Hertzfeldt is the only filmmaker to have won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for Short Film twice, and has had seven of his films compete at the Sundance Film Festival, setting a festival record.

Don Hertzfeldt: “I think the main thing I’d like to write, if it’s okay to go off-script, is something to those students who are maybe a bit like me when I went to school at MSJ. There are some people in the word who really actually enjoy high school and that’s great I guess, but there are other people who are really having a miserable time, even if they don’t always show it. I didn’t really have many friends in high school. I had bad clothes, bad hair, bad skin. I ate alone a lot at lunch, and it’s extra depressing when all the adults around you are constantly saying, ‘Enjoy it kids! These are the best years of your life! It’s all gonna be uphill from here!’ And you think, ‘My god, you can’t possibly be serious…’ and it makes you start to genuinely wonder if there’s just something wrong with you. So to any students who can relate to any of what I’m writing about, please know that life gets better. It really does get better after this. Stick through these years, do your best, tough it out, and I promise you that it gets better.”

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