California State University, Northridge Distinguished Alumni Awards emcee and acclaimed financial journalist Bill Griffeth ’80 (Journalism), Hon.D. ’17, remarked after hearing speeches from Andrew Anagnost, Milt Valera and Michelle Vicary that each honoree could be the subject of a Hallmark Channel movie.
Each speech provided a feel-good, triumphant story perfectly fit for the channel’s programming. Though their time in the classroom was separated by decades, the evening’s three honorees all shared common experiences that highlighted the power of mentorship, hands-on learning and leadership opportunities as undergraduate students at CSUN.
Vicary ’08 (Cinema and Television Arts), who has shaped Hallmark Channel’s content as executive vice president of programming and network program publicity for Crown Media Family Networks, agreed with Griffeth’s assessment. And she took the notion a step further about her alma mater.
“Andrew, I loved the story of your life. Milt, I loved the story about your life,” Vicary said during her speech. “And President Dianne Harrison, what we do at CSUN, and what you do at CSUN, is all about positivity and making such a positive difference in so many people’s lives, and I’m so honored to be a part of this.”
Anagnost, Valera and Vicary were honored on Saturday, April 13, at CSUN’s annual recognition of three alumni who personify the university’s tradition of excellence and who bring distinction to themselves and to CSUN through their outstanding achievements.
Each honoree spoke of humble beginnings and a deep appreciation of their time at CSUN, which ultimately launched each into the stratosphere of their respective industries.
Anagnost ’87 (Engineering) came to CSUN in search of direction, having dropped out of high school. After completing his undergraduate degree, he would go on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate from Stanford University, work at the prestigious NASA Ames Research Center, and ultimately attain the role of president and CEO of design and make software giant Autodesk. Valera ’68 (Journalism) dreamed from afar in Kauai, Hawaii, about the possibilities that awaited him on the mainland. He earned his degree at CSUN and would rise to become one of the most important figures in the history of the notary field as the longtime president and CEO and now chairman of the National Notary Association (NNA). Vicary’s path at CSUN included a hiatus when she left to launch her professional career. However, she returned to CSUN to finish her degree, and is now one of the most successful executives in cable television, overseeing programming on four channels — the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, and Hallmark Movies Now.
“In their own way, each has pushed the envelope, showing extraordinary vision and foresight to innovate in their careers and transform industries in the process,” Harrison said. “Our honorees tonight have led remarkable lives and all possess extraordinary intelligence, resilience and drive. But it is their giving spirit that moves me and inspires me.”
Anagnost was the first honoree recognized and spoke about CSUN professors who inspired him. They fueled his interest in fluid mechanics, encouraged him to pursue leadership positions with engineering clubs at CSUN and gave him the confidence to continue his studies and apply for graduate school. After his education, Anagnost began working at Autodesk in 1997 and has held numerous leadership positions at the Silicon Valley-based tech giant, helping to advance the multi-billion dollar software maker to one of the most admired companies in the world, according to Fortune magazine.
“These were some of my guides,” Anagnost said of his professors. “Guides that were so important because life is a continual process of dreaming, struggling to make dreams come true, and ultimately having to wake up to your reality.
“Guides help us make sense of it all. They help us find the way. And maybe like some of you, I had to find my way. I had to push through realities that were imposed on me, and I had to remake realities that I created all by myself. But one of the most important realities was gifted to me during my five years at CSUN. I woke up there. And it is a gift that I will never be able to adequately repay.”
Valera also found possibilities at CSUN.
He spoke of living in a sugar plantation community as a child and longing for the opportunities away from the island. He was a husband and father while at CSUN, then known as San Fernando Valley State College. He described the university as a nurturing, family environment, where professors cared deeply about the success of their students. That environment helped build a can-do attitude in Valera. After starting a public relations agency, he ended up working for one of his clients — the National Notary Association (NNA), where he has now worked for 50 years, transforming it into one of the world’s most influential notary organizations.
“Our university taught me also to learn from others and to trust your instincts and your experiences,” Valera said. “That I did, and today I am so much richer for many reasons.”
Valera is largely responsible for shaping the notary industry’s education, standards and best practices. Valera has also been a beacon among volunteer leaders at CSUN. He and his wife Debbie are President’s Associates and Heritage Society members who support journalism, the arts, student scholarships and numerous other causes. Valera has served on boards for the CSUN Foundation, The Soraya, the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, the Nazarian College, and the Alumni Association.
“I’ve been privileged to serve this university in many volunteer capacities, all because I was asked,” Valera said, following up with a joke. “One of the wonderful compliments I received came from a couple of faculty members when they thought I was a professor or administrator because they saw so much of me on campus.”
Vicary included humor throughout her speech and also spoke about professors who made a wide impact on her career. Vicary has been recognized as one of the most powerful women in television for elevating Hallmark Channel’s brand and making it one of the most watched networks on cable. This year, she will oversee 100 movies, four series and one docuseries.
Vicary mentioned CSUN’s reach in her speech, and how she runs into many in the entertainment industry who proudly tell her that they, too, are Matadors.
“It’s incredible, the pervasiveness of success of the people who go to Cal State Northridge. I’m constantly reminded of it,” she said.
Vicary closed by speaking to the group of students in the ballroom, offering advice for their future.
“This is the most important thing I have ever learned and I learned it at Cal State Northridge — and that is the power of yes,” she said. “People are going to ask you to do things you don’t want to do. People are going to ask you to do things that are really hard. People are going to ask you to do things that are really boring. Guess what? The answer is yes. Every single time I have said yes, I have benefited from it, and I have been promoted for it. To all the students in this room, say yes before you say no.”