Saint Mary's theater professor beams over former student Mahershala Ali's win

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- East Bay native Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Moonlight" at the 89th Oscars.

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One of Ali's former teachers at the Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga spoke with ABC7 News. Professor Rebecca Engle was already emotional the moment her former student's name was read as a Best Supporting Actor nominee.

She marked her Oscar night bingo card and then celebrated his win, as he celebrated mentors like her. "I want to thank my teachers, my professors," he said on the Oscar stage. "I have so many wonderful teachers."

His win is the latest step in a journey that started at the theater department at St. Mary's College, but he didn't arrive on campus hoping to be an actor.

"I don't think it was on his radar at all," said Engle. "He came here on a basketball scholarship."

At some point, Ali met Engle and she invited him to work with her on stage.

"I invited him to come and work with me on a production, a small role, but a role that required somebody with a lot of physicality, a lot of poise," she told ABC7 News.

In Ali's senior year, Engle says, she cast him in the campus' first play with an entirely black cast. On the Oscar stage he saluted the lessons of his teachers.

"It's not about you," Ali said. "It's about these characters."

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It's been a full weekend for him. Along with winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar, his first child, a little girl, was born Friday.

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