So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star
Our backstage tour of the lives of a dozen bona fide luminaries

illustrations by Alisa Burke

rockfront1Peter Gabriel is shorter than you’d think. Queen Latifah has a great laugh. Jewel is the kind of pretty that ties your tongue in knots. Elvis Costello has a very British sense of decorum. Tracy Chapman is so shy that making direct eye contact with her seems cruel. Alanis Morissette has incredibly tiny hands. When Sinead O’Connor skips, she looks about 9 years old. Ice-T does not take pointed criticism gracefully. Billy Corgan doesn’t seem to like people very much.

Back when I wrote about music for a living, I got to sit down and talk with a lot of rock stars. It turns out that off-stage, they’re just like the rest of us. (That is, if the rest of us had an entourage, leather pants, a list of preferred green room snacks and rolled out of bed around dusk.) And in truth, much to my endless chagrin, I didn’t need to worry about making friends with the rock stars; they already had more friends than they knew what to do with.

As much as I loved it — even still I sometimes dream of those all-access backstage passes, which tended to make me feel as though I was the one in the spotlight — the rock stars I come across these days are equally, if not more, impressive. We’ve got quite an array of luminaries around these parts, from globe-hopping consultants to newbie NFL quarterbacks to championship marathon swimmers. It turns out that the University of San Diego is a launchpad for rock star caliber success.

While the mind-blowing accomplishments of all of those we’ve featured in this issue are self-evident, what’s even more startling is that the profiles that follow are really just a miniscule sampling of USD superstars. So duck behind the curtain and take your own backstage tour. You’re sure to enjoy the trip.

— Julene Snyder

rock2When the call came that President Gerald Ford had canceled plans to speak at USD’s School of Law 1976 commencement, then-Dean Don Wechstein didn’t fret. He just called on Hugh Friedman, president of the San Diego County Bar Association.

“He had promised [them] a president,” Friedman recalls. And since it was an election year, he didn’t let Ford off easy: “I am especially humble to be here in his place, particularly since there are so many men in the land today who are really trying to take the president’s place.”

Friedman’s been associated with the law school since he started teaching night classes in 1958. He still teaches and writes corporate, business planning and securities law. “I never set out to be a law teacher, “ says Friedman, who was honored by USD in October to mark his fiftieth year as an educator. “I wanted to be a lawyer. I felt law was society’s best way of resolving conflicts and controversies of humankind in a bloodless way.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

rock3Waiting doesn’t come easy for someone accustomed to making split-second decisions in the face of unrelenting pressure. But this wasn’t a pack of bloodthirsty defenders bearing down on Josh Johnson ’08. It was the future. And, for once, it was out of his control. So the most prolific quarterback in USD football history waited, as name after name was announced on a stage 3,000 miles away at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Then the phone rang. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden was on the line. A few minutes later, Johnson was officially an NFL quarterback.

“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Johnson says. “I just figured I’d play four years of college football and then move on to something else.”

On April 27, Johnson was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, a path paved by four phenomenal years at San Diego. Johnson led the Toreros to three league titles and a 31-4 record in three years as a starter — throwing a staggering 43 touchdown passes (with only one interception) his senior season — while racking up numerous awards along with virtually every major USD passing record. “Where we came from as freshmen to where we ended up as seniors is something I’m very proud of,” Johnson says.

The transition from USD to the NFL has been fairly smooth, thanks in part to the guidance offered by his cousin, Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch. “He gave me an idea of what the workload would be like and what sort of distractions could come up and what to avoid,” Johnson says. “You don’t really have a lot of time to focus on anything other than football. In some ways, it’s just like any other 8-to-5 job.”

On the other hand, it’s not exactly Office Space. Johnson has spent his rookie season as a backup to established veterans Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese. And while it’s been a challenge going from superstar to understudy, he’s confident that all his preparation and hard work will pay off when opportunity knocks.

“In this league you see guys come and go so quickly,” Johnson says. “You have to prepare and play every day like it’s going to be the day. When my opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.”

— Nathan Dinsdale

rock4Longtime USD faculty member Denise Dimon wears many different hats, in many different countries. As a professor of economics, director of MBA programs, and a founding member of the School of Business Administration’s Ahlers Center for International Business, Dimon teaches and conducts research on international business and cross-cultural affairs. But those are just her day jobs. When she’s not on USD business, Dimon co-edits the Latin American Business Review, serves as the president of the Business Association of Latin American Studies and works as a consultant to companies in need of cross-cultural management advice.

It’s a dizzying résumé, but Dimon says she’s simply pursuing a longtime passion. “I love exploring the role that business can play in developing wealth and creating opportunities that alleviate poverty.”

Dimon’s oft-stamped passport reflects her global pursuits. In just the past 12 months, the 54-year-old grandmother has traveled to Israel, India, China, South Korea, Morocco, Spain, Mexico and Colombia. Over the course of her career, she’s worked, lectured or taught in more than 35 countries on five different continents. Dimon’s recent jaunts to India and China were in preparation for an emerging-markets consulting project for MBA candidates, so USD’s current crop of MBA students could have similar trajectories.

Like many frequent fliers, she has a traveling ritual that’s air-tight. She does rigorous Internet research on her destination in advance, packs light, sticks to carry-on luggage, brings an extra bag for souvenirs and carts along a pair of running shoes for an early-morning jog or stroll.

Her peripatetic nature helps Dimon stay on top of all of her responsibilities. Long flights give the busy professor extended periods of time to focus on work. Her trusty BlackBerry — and the ubiquity of wireless — allows her to stay connected.

Although Dimon has rarely made a trip she didn’t like, she nonetheless tries to limit travel to once a month in order to spend time with her family — road warriors in their own right. But with a celebrated career that’s lasted more than 25 years and has included a Fulbright and such awards as being named Woman of the Year by the Women in International Trade organization, Dimon has no plans to slow down, even if it has gotten harder to shake off jet lag in recent years.

“I’ve had the great opportunity to travel and meet different people,” Dimon says. “Seeing the world through the eyes of others can’t help but to expand our own worldview.”

— Kemba Dunham

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