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Harvey Milk's Family, Friends and Classmates Reflect on Life of Civil Rights Icon and UAlbany Alum, Oct. 9

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Harvey Milk second from right second row kneeling at the NYS College for Teachers (UAlbany) with his softball team

Harvey Milk (second row, second from right kneeling)was an avid sportsman during his time at UAlbany. He participated in intercollegiate wrestling and played intramural softball.

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 7, 2009) -- Family, friends and classmates will gather October 9th to pay tribute posthumously to Presidential Medal of Freedom Award winner and human rights icon Harvey Milk, a 1951 graduate of the University at Albany. Milk will be honored at the annual Reaching Higher, Achieving More Alumni Luncheon in the Campus Center Ballroom at 12:30 p.m. Alumni and faculty who remember Milk from his student days will share reflections about the mathematics major and intercollegiate athlete who had his first taste of politics while he was an undergraduate at UAlbany.

The luncheon features Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk's nephew and fellow civil rights advocate, as well as acclaimed author and 1952 alumnus Joseph E. Persico; Joseph Zanchelli, BA '49, MA '50, and his wife Joyce (Leavitt) Zanchelli '52; and Mark Berger, professor emeritus of Educational Administration and Policy Studies.

Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States whose life became the basis for both documentary and biopic Oscar-winning films, was honored posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on August 12, 2009.

"Harvey Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement and for his exceptional leadership and commitment to equality," said University at Albany President George M. Philip. "“His dedication to social justice remains an inspiration for all of us."

A Long Island native who came to what was then the New York State College for Teachers in 1947, Milk served as a sports reporter for the State College News, authoring dozens of articles. He was a member of the Jewish fraternity Kappa Beta, and was active in student government. He had an early taste of electoral politics when he ran unsuccessfully for freshman class president in 1947.

"He was a known character on campus. He was not a shrinking violet by any means, he thrust himself into the forefront," said Persico, who co-wrote Colin Powell's autobiography, My American Journey, and served as a speechwriter for New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.

UAlbany alum Harvey Milk '51 as a groomsman (left) at the wedding of Joseph Zanchelli, BA '49, MA ’50, and his wife Joyce (Leavitt) Zanchelli '52

Harvey Milk served as a groomsman (left) at the wedding of classmates Joseph Zanchelli, BA '49, MA '50, and Joyce (Leavitt) Zanchelli '52.

After graduation, Milk served in the Navy during the Korean War before returning to Long Island to teach. He was also a groomsman in the Zanchellis' wedding.

Years later, Milk moved to California and became involved in the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This transition thrust him back into politics as he worked to advance individual rights. Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the U.S. when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly and to achieve social equality. Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor.

For nearly two decades Stuart Milk has been a human rights advocate, youth advocate, and leader in workforce development. During this time, he has also served as the prime Milk family spokesperson.

"I'm sure my uncle's time at UAlbany had a big influence on him, as he was always teaching me by telling me stories about both the world we knew and what he believed it could become," said Stuart Milk. "At my grandfather's funeral, Harvey talked with me about how my college years would be a time where I would develop my individual gifts, where I would find my passion and purpose, where I would discover my own self acceptance of my differences, where I would find fertile ground and would 'begin to be supported to grow strong roots that allow you to sustain yourself in many of life's storms.'  He wrote that to me in a letter the week after that talk."

Stuart was on hand at the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on behalf of his late uncle. On that occasion, President Obama said of Harvey Milk: "he was here to recruit us, all of us, to join a movement and change a nation. For much of his early life he had silenced himself. In the prime of his life he was silenced by the act of another. But in the brief time in which he spoke and ran and led, his voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people."

Actor Sean Penn won the 2009 Oscar for Best Actor for the movie Milk, while the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk won the 1985 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

The event is part of "Reaching Higher, Achieving More," an alumni campaign designed to showcase the remarkable career paths of UAlbany graduates who have had a lasting impact around the country and globe. Past featured alumni have included Judge Richard Wesley, '71, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Maureen Baginski, '79, senior intelligence advisor; and Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

The luncheon kicks off Reunion and Homecoming Weekend at UAlbany, highlighted by a reading Friday evening by Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and on Saturday, Oct. 10, with UAlbany Community Day and an evening address by former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.). This series of presentations celebrates and shares with the Capital Region community the richness of the University's academics, student success and campus life.

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Educationally and culturally, the University at Albany-SUNY puts "The World Within Reach" for its 18,000 students. An internationally recognized research university with 58 undergraduate majors and 128 graduate degree programs, UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as public policy, nanotechnology and criminal justice. With a curriculum enhanced by 300 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers. For more information about this globally ranked University, visit www.albany.edu. For UAlbany's extensive roster of faculty experts, visit www.albany.edu/news/experts.shtml.

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