A U.S. ambassador. The chief medical officer at a regional medical center. An award-winning filmmaker, whose breakout work created industry buzz.
Those were just a few of the best and brightest alumni honored this fall at Chapman University’s Distinguished Alumni Awards Celebration. The awards were bestowed on 15 alumni, individuals who’ve used their talents to better their communities and shape their industries, Chapman President Danielle Struppa said.
“They have left their marks on literally every part of the music and entertainment world, manufacturing, technology, health care, marketing and even higher education,” Struppa said during the festive ceremony held during October’s Chapman Family Homecoming Celebration.
Key among the honorees was the Honorable George L. Argyros ’59, who was also awarded the Bert C. Williams Lifetime Service Award, a distinction given only 15 times in the university’s 156 years. Over the years, transformative gifts from the former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and his wife, Julianne, have supported Chapman’s business school, a classroom building and numerous other programs.
An accomplished businessman and philanthropist, Argyros has long been a proud supporter of Chapman, where he was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1973 and served as chairman from 1976 to 2001, becoming its longest-serving chairman.
“He has been a doer without equal here at Chapman and in the many other places throughout the world,” Struppa said.
Argyros’ work ethic is legend, Struppa added. He worked his way through Chapman as a paperboy and supermarket clerk. Eventually, he would co-own AirCal, before selling it to American Airlines. He was also owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team from 1981 to 1989.
Among the distinctions he’s received are the Horatio Alger Award of Distinguished Americans, and the Horatio Alger Association’s Norman Vincent Peale Award for humanitarian contributions to society. Such honors are emblematic of Argyros’ passion for philanthropy, education and Chapman, Struppa said.
“Long ago George challenged Chapman to, and I quote, ‘Inspire people to dare to dream and to take advantage of the ability to think big and reach high.’ Because of George Argyros, tens of thousands of Chapman University students have done exactly that, forever changing their lives and almost certainly changing the world in which they live.”
The awards were presented during an elegant outdoor reception held on the Bert C. Williams Lawn and kicked off the Homecoming Weekend festivities. Fittingly, the Wimberley Bluegrass Band, an award-winning foursome of siblings who are all Chapman alumni, provided entertainment.
Other honorees were:
Ken Bunt ’93, President, Disney Music Group, which oversees all of the company’s recorded music and live concert productions
Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks (EMBA ’16), CEO and President, Earth Friendly Products, a company recently awarded the prestigious Zero Waste Platinum certification
Elim Kay ’09, Founding Partner, REDDS Venture Investment Partners, and member of Chapman’s Board of Governors
Justin Simien ’05, Director/Writer, Dear White People, a film and Netflix original that earned a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
Elizabeth Tierney (M.A. ’80), Teacher/Philanthropist, recipient of the National Philanthropy Day Orange County Legacy Award
Stephen Thorne (MHA ’94), CEO, Pacific Dental Services, Inc., a leading dental support organization serving over 580 dental practices throughout the United States
Dr. Zeinab Dabbah (JD ’12), Managing partner at the Law Offices of Zeinab Dabbah, and Vice Chair of Chapman’s Board of Trustees.
Keith Hancock ’02 (M.A. ’04), Choral Music Director, Tesoro High School, Grammy Educator of the Year, and Chapman Presidential Scholar
Soliel K. Doman (M.S. ’16), Pathways Student Biologist in drug chemistry with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Dr. Richard Pitts ’70, Chief Medical Officer, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, past president of the Orange County Medical Association and the Orange County Heart Association
Erin J. Lastinger ’88, CEO, A. Gary Anderson Family Foundation, board member of Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Foundation, Chapman Alumna of the Year
Behzad Binesh (MBA ’79), Vice President, Finance/Controller, Chapman University
Jennifer Backhaus ’94, Instructor, Founder, and Artistic Director of the award-winning Backhausdance and recipient of the Lester Horton Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography
Maci Peterson ’09, Co-Founder and CEO, On Second Thought, a mobile phone messaging app. Peterson was named “Tech’s Newest Innovator” by Essence Magazine and was recognized by Inc. Magazine in its 2016 “30 Under 30 List.”