The recently announced Redwood distinguished alumni class of 2017 was honored alongside the alumni class of 2016 on Friday Mar. 3 at the Avenue of Giants banquet hosted at the McInnis Club House Restaurant. This year’s class of 2017 inductees represent a diverse array of talent in a variety of industries including entertainment, geology and the environment. This year’s inductees are Rebecca Burgess (class of 1996), Maz Jobrani (class of 1989), Cathy Connors (class of 1970) and Drew Z. Greenberg (class of 1988). And, though each inductee has taken a wildly different career path, all can in some way attribute their success to their time at Redwood.
Rebecca Burgess had two main passions while at Redwood: clothing and Marin’s numerous open spaces.
“I was really into what other people were wearing, and clothing was meaningful to me; it was fascinating and interesting and fun. I really identified with what I was wearing as a way to express myself,” Burgess said.
In addition to spending time in Berkeley and at thrift stores finding unique, vintage items, Burgess took advantage of Marin’s undeveloped wilderness like Mt. Tam and the Marin Headlands, where she spent much of her time growing up.
Burgess had not yet realized though how her two seemingly separate pastimes could be combined in her future.
While at UC Berkeley, she discovered the final piece that would allow her passion for fashion and her passion for nature to coalesce: political activism.
Burgess founded Fibershed in 2010, a non-profit corporation that teaches and promotes the efficacy and minimal environmental impact of cottage-industry style textile production. Through Fibershed, Burgess has begun to change the textile economy which has been outsourced by companies and unregulated by the government.
Fibershed was the perfect fusion of Burgess’ political activism, love of nature and passion for fashion. Through this project, Burgess hopes to help alleviate some of the stress humans put on the environment.
“Climate change was and is becoming the most imperative oncoming disaster. We are not going to be able to afford to externalize the costs of our textile systems anymore. We are going to have to bring this home and take responsibility for it. By doing so we will unplug from damaging other systems of planet earth,” she said.
After graduating from Redwood in 1989, Maz Jobrani began to pursue a political science major at UC Berkeley because his parents wanted him to be a lawyer. After spending a year abroad in Italy though, Jobrani realized that he did not want to go into law.
“While I was there, there was this professor and I loved what he was doing and I thought, ‘Maybe I should become a professor.’ That [was] kind of a compromise so my parents [would] be happy. It’s still a prestigious job, like being a lawyer, but it also [allowed] me to be in front of people and speak, so it is like being a comedian or an actor,” he said.
While employed as a professor at UCLA, Jobrani came to understand the meaning of “publish or perish” as his intended career as a professor was pushed aside by the pressure to keep producing academia.
Then, Jobrani returned to his true passion which he hadn’t pursued since he was a student at Redwood: theater.
“While I was at UCLA, I got into another play,” Jobrani said. “Again while I was on stage I felt alive.”
Jobrani is currently a cast member of the CBS sitcom “Superior Doughnuts.” He will also be in the Bay Area in May on a stand-up comedy tour.
At Redwood, Jobrani had been involved both in theater and in sports, but his true penchant was for the stage.
“My experience [in Redwood’s drama program] helped. It piqued my interest and actually reinforced my passion for acting, so that definitely is something that led me to where I am,” he said.
Cathy Connors is a professor of geology at the University of Alaska Southeast, but her fascination with science was first kindled in middle school.
“I went to Kent Middle School and we had a really great science teacher there, Mr. Richards. He asked us questions like ‘Was Mt. Tam ever a volcano?’ and we made telescopes in the backroom. He really got me thinking about things,” she said.
Once at Redwood, Connors continued to receive engaging and influential instruction from her teachers.
“I had really good biology and chemistry [classes] at Redwood,” she said. “I had a lot of good classes that taught me to think about things—history and psychology—and really good English teachers, people to make me think and write and pay attention.”
According to Connors, living in Marin in the 70s was “pivotal.” There was a lot of sex, free love and rock-and-roll.
“It was not a time to think about the traditional sort of pathways,” she said.
Connors pursued her passion for science from the classroom to the field and made it into her career.
While working towards her Masters of Science in geology at Stanford in 1975, Connors did her master’s thesis on the sedimentary history of the Richardson Bay.
“I was able to patch together the history of the bay filling up with water,” Connors said.
Studying mud cores, she was able to observe the development of marine organisms and vegetation in the bay as well as pieces of shells left by the area’s native population.
“You can see the human history along with the changing of the bay,” Connors said.
Connors still marvels at the amount of knowledge that can be gained by simply looking at sediment and rock and plain old mud.
“I think that one thing that geology gives you is a perspective of time,” she said.
Drew Z. Greenberg
Both a writer and a producer, Drew Z. Greenberg is currently one of the staff members of the ABC television show “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” He is one of 13 writers who create the scripts for the show.
“One of the things that is so important about being a writer, especially for scripted TV, is listening to people’s stories and being able to write different characters as though they are people whose stories you are telling,” Greenberg said.
While writing student profiles for Redwood’s yearbook, the Log, Greenberg developed the skills that would become vital to his career.
“One of the greatest things you can do in preparation for jobs like that is to talk to actual people and hear their stories. So I feel like my time [working] on the Log was a really great preparation for what I ended up doing,” he said.
Nevertheless, another course at Redwood was even more influential in Greenberg’s career path.
Greenberg took an after-hours creative writing course taught by Louis Aliano in which students were required to enroll along with one of their parents.
“It was probably one of the biggest turning points that I’ve had in my education, the thing that turned me on to writing in the biggest way. Ms. Aliano was really the one who made that all happen,” he said.
Greenberg didn’t attend Redwood until his sophomore year, when his family moved to Marin from Fairfax County, Virginia. As a freshman at his school in Virginia, Greenberg oftentimes felt out of place and was not at all happy. However, moving to Redwood transformed his high school experience.
“I found it to be such a warm change,” he said. “It was such an inviting kind of place. I’ve always been really grateful to Redwood for that.”