Sandra Tsing Loh to be Caltech Commencement Speaker
Loh is a graduate of Caltech, where she received a bachelor's degree in physics in 1983 and where she was awarded the Institute's highest honor bestowed upon alumni, the Distinguished Alumni Award, in 2001.
"We are pleased that Sandra is the first alumna to give the Caltech commencement address," said Caltech president David Baltimore. "She will no doubt bring a refreshing sense of humor and unique perspective to the ceremony. As a graduate of the Institute she can relate to the great accomplishments of our students when they reach this milestone. The talent and perseverance that helped her graduate from Caltech has obviously held her in good stead in her diverse and successful career."
Loh has offered insightful radio commentary locally and nationally, has written and performed one-woman shows, composes and performs music for film, has created some traffic-stopping performance art, and has written for the New York Times, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and Vogue.
Loh has a national monthly radio commentary on the public radio business program Marketplace. She has been a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition and on Ira Glass's This American Life. She also does a weekly commentary, The Loh Life, that has aired in Southern California on KPCC-FM 89.3 since 2004. She came to KPCC after the accidental airing of a profanity that she expected would be cut by her recording engineer in a commentary on KCRW-FM in Santa Monica. She was fired by the station management, and the resulting flurry of media coverage kept the story in the public eye for several months. Although the station offered to rehire her, she chose to work at KPCC instead.
Apropos of that experience, she acted in a recent stage performance, Fired, a series of comic monologues about losing a job, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It is being produced by L.A. Theater Works and will air on National Public Radio at a later date.
Loh has also been a solo performer and writer. Her latest one-woman show was Sugar Plum Fairy, performed in Los Angeles, San Jose, and Seattle in 2004. She also performed I Worry at the Kennedy Center.
She recently was named a contributing editor to the Atlantic Monthly.
She is the author of the books A Year in Van Nuys, Depth Takes a Holiday: Essays from Lesser Los Angeles, Aliens in America, and If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now.
The last is based on Loh's solo off-Broadway show that ran at Second Stage Theatre in New York in the summer of 1996. She returned to Second Stage for Bad Sex with Bud Kemp, another solo show, in 1998. Loh has also been featured at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and the HBO New Writers Project.
She composed and performed on the score for Jessica Yu's 1997 Oscar-winning documentary Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, and scored Yu's documentary about the Living Museum on HBO.
Loh also has appeared on tour in Aliens in America, her darkly comic semi-autobiographical tale of growing up middle-class Chinese-German in Southern California.
Loh began her career in the mid-1980s as a performance artist. Her piano concert "spectacles" were covered by People magazine, the Wall Street Journal, GQ, Glamour, the Associated Press, CNN, and even Johnny Carson in his Tonight Show monologue. Nearly 1,000 people attended "Night of the Grunion" (March 1989), in which Loh and the Topanga Symphony played a concerto for spawning fish on a Malibu beach at midnight. In "Self Promotion" (March 1988), an assistant flung $1,000 in autographed $1 bills over her as she performed before a stampeding crowd. "Spontaneous Demographics" (September 1987) featured Loh playing a piano aboard a flatbed truck in a concert for rush-hour commuters on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles.
Loh's family has been associated with Caltech for many years. Her father, Eugene Loh, earned a master's degree in physics there in 1953 and a PhD in mechanical engineering in 1954, and her brother Eugene received a bachelor's degree in physics in 1980.
"Caltech is a wonderfully unique academic institution whose legacy, aside from outstanding achievement in science, is a rich cultural history with more than its share of quirks and surprises . . . and I intend my comments to fully reflect that," said Loh.
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