Campus: San Francisco State University -- April 10, 2003
SF State to Award Honorary Degree to Singer, Activist Peter
Peter Yarrow, a member of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary and a longtime
activist for the homeless, peace, human rights and education, will receive the honorary
degree of doctor of fine arts from San Francisco State University during commencement
ceremonies on Saturday, May 24.
Yarrow, whose career spans more than four decades, has touched the lives of millions
through his music and activism. He performed at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic March
on Washington, D.C., organized peace events during the Vietnam War and established the
"Save One Child" fund at Beth Israel Hospital's Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery
in New York. In the last five years, the fund has provided free medical care for more
than 70 children worldwide whose families could not afford critically needed surgery.
His most recent project, and his most meaningful undertaking yet, involves building safer
and more respectful school environments for children. Launched in 2000, Operation Respect:
"Don't Laugh at Me" works with schools and youth organizations to reduce the emotional and
physical cruelty some children inflict on each other through ridicule, bullying and, in
extreme cases, violence.
"Peter Yarrow is a model of the values we hope to strengthen in our students," said
SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan. "As exemplified by his long and varied career, he has
been committed to social justice and equity. From his years of performing music of
conscience with Peter, Paul & Mary to his involvement with the civil rights movement and
later to the creation of Operation Respect, Peter's mission in life resonates deeply with us."
Each campus in the California State University system nominates honorary degree recipients
to recognize those individuals with meritorious and outstanding service to the CSU, the
campuses, the state of California, the United States or to humanity at large. The recipients
are individuals whose lives and achievements serve as examples for CSU's diverse student
"What makes this honor most meaningful to me is the spirit in which it is offered. To be
honored because I exemplify the kind of role model of commitment, humanity, vision and
achievement that President Corrigan would like students to emulate is to characterize me
so far beyond my own concept of myself that I am truly humbled," said Yarrow, 64.
Born in 1948 in New York, Yarrow was in high school when he heard The Weavers perform "If I
Had a Hammer" and "Wasn't That a Time." He immediately realized the extraordinary impact of
music of conscience, which he describes as writing from the heart rather than for money and
addressing issues of equality, fairness and justice. He went on to study at Cornell University
and received a bachelor's degree in experimental psychology.
In 1961 he debuted at a New York coffeehouse with Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers and
before long the folk trio known as Peter, Paul & Mary was touring the country, singing "Puff
the Magic Dragon" and "Blowin' in the Wind" to crowds. The group's albums went gold and
platinum and the musicians won numerous Grammys. The three continue to perform together
about 40 times a year.
With music still the backdrop of his life, Yarrow has delved into other projects. He
organizes an annual folk concert in Texas that helps launch the careers of budding singers
and songwriters. He also sits on the board of the Connecticut Hospice, the first hospice
in the country, where he frequently sings for patients and staff.
The Operation Respect: "Don't Laugh at Me" program, which has received funding from corporate,
nonprofit and government sponsors, is based on a song performed by Peter, Paul & Mary (the
lyrics include such lines as "Don't call me names; don't get pleasure from my pain"). More
than 40,000 copies of the curriculum packet, which encourages children and teachers to
declare their classrooms into "Ridicule Free Zones," have been distributed to schools.
"The social, emotional and spiritual growth of children, is the only path to world peace.
It is the only route to untying the generational knots of hatred that have grown tighter and
more fierce, and to finding ways to address today's most formidable challenges," said Yarrow.
"It's the only route to proactively bring light and understanding to dark and sinister
circumstances, to bring joy to the process of healing, and success to the pursuit of the
fulfillment of our dreams of peace and compassion for all of humankind."
Yarrow lives in New York. He has two children: daughter Bethany is a singer, songwriter
and award-winning filmmaker, and son Christopher owns an Asian art gallery in Portland,
Media Contact: Christina Holmes (415) 405-3803; (415) 338-1665;