Judy Rae

Beach people – ECC Distinguished Alumni Honored

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Beach people 

ECC Distinguished Alumni Honored

by Kevin Cody

The country’s former number one ranked college speaker, a former Torrance councilman and state assemblyman, a 30-year educator and one of Los Angeles’s most successful nonprofit fundraisers were honored at the 2016 El Camino College Distinguished Alumni dinner at the Torrance Marriott on Thursday, January 13.

The former college speaker was actor William Young, who currently plays Dr. Rollie Guthrie on the CBS medical drama “Code Black.” Young previously played Frank Mitchell on the UPN hit show “Moesha” and had starring roles in the Academy Award nominated films “A Soldier’s Story” and “District 9.”

Young was unable to attend the awards dinner because he was called back to “Code Black’s” set late that afternoon. But his wife Helen recalled his upbring by a single mom in Watts and the inspiration to act her husband discovered at El Camino College. Young led the school’s debate team to its first National Forensic Speech Championship. He subsequently went to the University of Southern California, where he led the USC debate team to the national championship and was twice ranked the number one college speaker in the nation.

Honoree George Nakano grew up in Boyle Heights and spent four years of his childhood in a World War II internment camp. He began his professional career in Watts, as a teacher at Jordan High School. He served on the Torrance City Council for 15 years and in the State Assembly  from 1998 until 2004, representing the South Bay. Nakano holds a 5th degree black belt in Kendo and founded the Torrance Kendo Dojo.

He thanked El Camino for “providing the foundation for a new direction in my my life.”

For honoree Laura Schenasi, El Camino offered the opportunity for redemption after she was denied admission to the University of Southern California, which her father and grandfather had attended.

“El Camino professors paved the way for my subsequent admission to USC,” Schenasi said. She spent 19 years in fundraising at USC, before being named executive vice president of the Torrance Memorial Foundation in 2001. Since then she has increased the foundation’s fundraising from an average of $750,000 per year to $17 million a year.

The evening’s fourth honoree was Eleanor Bersano, who taught at St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School in Gardena for 30 years. In 2015, Bersano received the Gardena Valley Lions Club “Lion of the Year” award for her years of community service.

She credited El Camino for preparing her not only a life in academia, but also a life in community activism. 

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