Campus cameos: Sac State's Famous Visitors

Tom Hanks and Joan Lunden attended Sac State before the world knew their names. But our campus has hosted many famous entertainers, leaders and activists over the past 50 years. Here are some of the highlights:

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a rousing speech on the Sac State campus just six months before he was assassinated. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.
– 1967. Less than six months before his assassination, the civil rights leader gave an impassioned speech to a large crowd at Hornet Stadium. King had become a more controversial figure after speaking out against the Vietnam War, but his message to the Sacramento audience was consistent with his themes of equality, civil liberties and respect.

Jimi Hendrix – 1968. It was a huge year for music on campus and Hendrix, just reaching his apex as a rock phenomenon, put on a legendary performance in the Men’s Gym. Just one month earlier, Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company played at Sac State shortly after creating a major buzz at the Monterey Pop Festival. In November that same year, renowned rockers Deep Purple played the same stage.

Cesar Chavez – 1971. The civil rights leader visited Sac State many times throughout his years as a labor leader, and he delivered a stirring convocation speech early in the spring semester. His first documented visit to campus was on Nov. 17, 1967 when he led farm workers in a strike against grape growers in the state. Cesar Chavez Day became a state holiday in 2000 and is observed on his birthday, March 31.

Jane Goodall – 1971. Known for her groundbreaking research on the social behavior of chimpanzees, Goodall has visited Sac State several times. She’s now a UN Messenger of Peace and perhaps the world’s foremost advocate for threatened and endangered species. 


Cesar Chavez' first documented campus visit was in 1967, while leading farm workers in a strike against state grape grape growers.

Ronald Reagan – 1972. From 1967 to ’75, Gov. Reagan lived just a short walk from campus on 45th St. after Mrs. Reagan had declared the governor’s mansion a “fire trap” and refused to live there. Eight years prior to his election as president, Reagan addressed the audience at the CSU Academic Senate meeting held on campus.

Maya Angelou – 1995. The U.S. poet laureate spent two stints on campus as a distinguished visiting professor of philosophy. She taught literature, writing and philosophy throughout her career and was a featured speaker at the annual Third World Writers and Thinkers Symposium put together by late Sac State art professor and poet Jose Montoya. Angelou died in May of 2014 and remembrances were held throughout the country, including on the Sac State campus.

Ellen DeGeneres – 1981. Before she was a household name, the barrier-breaking comedian was featured in the University Union’s “A Night with…” series. Other headliners in the series included a pre-"Saturday Night Live" Dana Carvey and Harry Anderson, who made a name on the show "Night Court."


Jane Goodall has visited Sac State on multiple occassions. 

The Ramones – 1983. The punk rock legends paid a visit to the Men’s Gym, playing to a packed house. There is little on record about the concert, but fans from all over Northern California flocked to the gym to hear hits like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “I Wanna be Sedated.”

Woody Harrelson – 2001. Serna Plaza hosted the actor/environmental activist’s “Simple Organic Living Tour.” The outspoken actor who got his start on “Cheers” rode his bicycle to campus to promote environmentally-friendly living and spoke about deforestation, organic food and balancing economic and ecological growth. A member of the crowd reportedly gifted Harrelson an American flag made of hemp fiber, which the actor flew for the remainder of the tour.

Arnold Schwarzenegger – 2003. As a bizarre political scene played out in California, the world-famous movie star dueled with fellow candidates just two weeks prior to the 2003 gubernatorial recall election. Running as a Republican, Schwarzenegger took on Arianna Huffington, Cruz Bustamante, Tom McClintock  and Peter Camejo in a 90-minute debate held in the University Ballroom as media from around the world converged on the campus. 

Oliver Stone – 2006. The Academy award-winning director spoke to a packed University Union Ballroom crowd about the purpose of film and the search for meaning in cinema.

Sheryl Crow – 1995. One night after winning three Grammy awards, including Record of the Year for “All I Wanna Do,” Crow was in the University Gym gaining more fans with a rocking show. The nine-time Grammy winner was bursting onto the scene in the post-grunge, pre-Lilith Fair ‘90s. 


Woody Harrelson spoke at Serna Plaza as part of his "Simple Organic Living Tour."

John McCain – 2000. The senator from Arizona and presidential nominee in 2008, McCain was campaigning for the Republican nomination when he appeared at a town hall meeting on campus.

Maya Soetoro-Ng – March 17, 2009. The sister of President Barack Obama spoke to a large crowd in the University Union ballroom about the importance of leadership and service. She was invited to campus by Boatamo Mosupyoe, director of Sac State’s Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program.

Chuck D – Feb. 5, 2004, Feb. 4, 2010. The rap impresario presented his “State of the Union Address and Vibe Session” to a pumped up crowd in the Union ballroom. The rapper and political activist got his start with the legendary group Public Enemy in the late 1980s and he has become a leader in the hip-hop community over the past two decades.

Do you have memories of great speeches 
or performances from your time on campus?
Share them with us on our Facebook page!

Jesse Jackson – 2003

Ralph Nader - 1971.

Wangari Maathai - 2007.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix put on an amazing performance in the Men's Gym in 1968.

Delores Huerta - 2014.

Alex Haley

Spike Lee

Geraldine Ferraro – The first female United States vice presidential candidate.

Tom Bradley – former mayor of Los Angeles. 

Angela Davis – Once a leader of the Communist Party, later a professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz. Civil Rights momement leader.

Molly Ivins – famous columnist and political commentator.

G. Gordon Liddy – a staffer for President Nixon and a well-known radio personality.

Julian Bond

Angela Davis

Atallah Shabazz, Malcolm X's Daughter

Billy Mills

Cruz Reynoso


Before elected president, Ronald Reagan spoke at the CSU Academic Senate meeting on campus. 

Russell Means

Willie Brown

Shirley Chisholm

Henry Cisneros

Alex Haley

June Jordan

Sacheen Littlefeather

Yolanda King, MLK’s daughter

Joseph Lowery

Benjamin Hooks


Helen Thomas

Aaron MacGruder

Morris Dees

Luis Valdez

Julia "Butterfly" Hill

Mary Youngblood

Margaret Cho

Los Lobos

Loveline with Dr. Drew

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Jonathan Kozol

Malcolm Jamal-Warner

Judy Shepard

DeLa Soul

Los Lobos

Edward James Olmos

Cornel West

Elaine Brown

Helen Caldicott

Winona LaDuke

Jello Biafra


Bobby Lee

Juan Williams

Clayborne Carson

The Capitol Steps

Dat Phan

Carlos Alazraqui


Tegan and Sara

They Might Be Giants


Fall Out Boy

Taj Mahal

Augustin Lira

Irish Rovers

Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats

Terry Waite

Victor Villasenor

Myrlie Evers-Williams

Dana Rivers

Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman

Harry Anderson

Pauly Shore

Jamie Kennedy

Tom Bradley

Jessie Jackson


Lighter Shade of Brown

Amy Tan

Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher Live On Campus

Second City Comedy Group

Flogging Molly

Ken Jennings

Los Lonely Boys

Henry Rollins

Michele Norris

Tim Wise

Michael Franti and Spearhead

Terry McMillan

Sherman Alexie - 2014.

Krist Novoselic

George Takei