20th Billie Jean King & Friends Gala honors humanitarians and celebrates student success
By Jillian Beck
The tradition continued at the gala’s 20th anniversary, as civil rights legend Dolores Huerta was awarded the California State University, Los Angeles Presidential Medallion. STEM education champion Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ph.D., received the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award.
“It’s about helping create leaders— leaders in life, leaders wherever you go.”
“You know what I love about this university? I love the fact that we came out number one for upward mobility,” King told the hundreds who gathered in a ballroom at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena on Oct. 21. “It’s about helping create leaders—leaders in life, leaders wherever you go.”
King was referring to a groundbreaking study that ranked Cal State LA number one in the nation for propelling a higher percentage of students from the bottom fifth of income into the top fifth of U.S. earners.
A world champion athlete and global advocate for social justice, King won her first Wimbledon title in women’s doubles while she was a player on the Cal State LA women’s tennis team.
Years later, as 50 million viewers watched on television, King scored a monumental victory for women’s equality when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes.” That epic match is now the subject of a feature film of the same title starring Emma Stone. Fellow tennis great Rosie Casals, who was also depicted in the film, joined King at the gala and has been involved with the event since its inception.
O’Shaughnessy grew up in California and played professional tennis from 1971 to 1974. She has dedicated much of her career to promoting young people’s interest and women’s representation in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. She has authored 13 children’s books, helping to promote science literacy among youth. O’Shaughnessy was the life partner of the late Sally Ride, the nation’s first woman in space.
Tennis Hall of Famer Pam Shriver served as the emcee. Her late husband is the namesake of the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award. Shapiro was known for working enthusiastically to help student-athletes reach their educational and athletic goals.
Cal State LA President William A. Covino presented Huerta with a California State University, Los Angeles Presidential Medallion, the University’s highest honor.
Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers labor union, started her activism in high school and embarked on a lifelong crusade to fight economic injustice and advocate for the working poor, women and children.
“When people engage in sports, it really helps them to overcome their inhibitions, their fears of ‘I can’t.’ They know that they belong,” Huerta said after accepting the honor. “It builds their emotional fortitude; it builds their inner strength.”
“When people engage in sports, it really helps them to overcome their inhibition, their fears of ‘ I can’t.’ ”
Golden Eagles soccer player Sam Croucher, a student pursuing a Master of Business Administration, received the Billie Jean King Scholarship. Croucher was named to the CCAA Championships All-Tournament team and earned a CCAA All-Academic Award for the second straight year last season.
Computer science major Elizaveta Sokolova received the Joe Shapiro Scholarship. Sokolova earned an Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete Award and Academic All-PacWest Conference recognition for a third time.
Covino thanked King for her unwavering support of student-athletes.
“Billie Jean King has influenced history on a grand scale. But she has also left her mark on the personal histories of our students,” Covino said. “These funds have helped them turn the tides in their lives.”
Photos by Monica Almeida and Gareth Mackay
Lead photo: Billie Jean King at the Gala. Photo 2: Tam O’ Shaughnessy with Cal State LA President William Covino and Billie Jean King. Photo 3: Dolores Huerta receiving the Presidential Medallian from President Covino. Group photo: Billie Jean King (center) with (from left) fellow tennis great Rosie Casals, Cal State LA Executive Athletics Director Daryl J. Gross, STEM education champion Tam O’Shaughnessy, civil rights legend Dolores Huerta, and student-athletes Elizata Sokolova and Sam Croucher. Photo 5: Sam Croucher accepting the Billie Jean King Scholarship. Photo 6: Eliazaveta Sokolova and Billie Jean King