Morris Dees, Willie Mays to receive honorary degrees at SF State Commencement
Civil rights lawyer and baseball player to be honored by CSU at May 23 ceremony
SAN FRANCISCO, April 6, 2009 -- Two individuals who have contributed greatly to their professions and society will receive honorary degrees at SF State's 108th Commencement ceremony held on Saturday, May 23. Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will receive a Doctor of Laws from the CSU and will also be the keynote speaker for the Commencement exercises. Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters.
As a civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Morris Dees has made it his life's mission to overturn injustice and fight for equality for all people.
Born and raised in Alabama, Dees witnessed the racial inequality that was woven into the social fabric of the segregated South. In the late 1960s, he sold his successful publishing business to return to practicing law, successfully using the civil courts to protect marginalized men and women.
Dees opened a small law office in Montgomery, Ala., and in the face of significant public opposition, pursued controversial civil rights cases. One of his early cases resulted in the desegregation of the all-white Montgomery YMCA.
In 1971, Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights law firm, now internationally known for its legal victories against hate groups. As the Center's chief trial counsel, Dees has disarmed extremist hate groups using the courtroom as his battleground. He has won landmark cases such as a $7 million verdict against the United Klans of America in 1987, which held Klansmen accountable for the lynching of an African-American man and financially crippled America's largest Ku Klux Klan organization.
Dees is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama Law School. His distinguished legal career has earned him awards from the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
"Morris Dees has innovatively used his legal training to fight racism and restore justice," San Francisco State University President Robert A. Corrigan said. "His remarkable career reminds our graduates how we can apply our education and talents to change the social fabric of our communities. Dees' unwavering commitment to social justice and his courage in challenging the status quo make him an inspiration for us all."
Willie Mays came to San Francisco when the Giants moved from New York in 1958. Since then, the "Say Hey Kid" has become synonymous with San Francisco and opened the door to higher education for countless underprivileged youth in the Bay Area.
Since beginning his Hall of Fame career in 1951 at age 20, Mays has been a force on and off the baseball diamond. Regarded by many as the best all-around player in baseball history, Mays became the face of the New York and San Francisco Giants, winning two Most Valuable Player awards and finishing his career with 660 home runs to rank fourth on the all-time career home run list. The Sporting News ranked Mays No. 2 on its list of the best baseball players of the 20th century.
Off the field, Mays has continued to be a difference-maker. The Willie Mays Say Hey Foundation was founded in 1972 to support education and enrichment of underprivileged youth through education, training and community support. The foundation has provided college scholarships to youth and continues to emphasize vocational training and community enrichment in the Bay Area. The Say Hey Foundation donated $12,000 to the Guardian Scholars program at SF State to put toward student housing during winter and summer breaks. In addition to his work with the Say Hey Foundation, Mays serves as Assistant to the President for the San Francisco Giants and has also worked as a spokesman for the Institute on Aging in San Francisco and HealthSpring, a Medicare Advantage plan for senior citizens in the Southeastern United States.
"Willie Mays has been a tireless ambassador for the city of San Francisco and underprivileged youth in the Bay Area," President Robert A. Corrigan said. "We honor his work on and off the baseball field for inspiring so many and paving the way for underrepresented youth to pursue a college degree."
CSU honorary degrees recognize individuals with meritorious and outstanding service to the CSU, the campuses, the state of California, the United States or humanity at large. The recipients are also individuals whose lives and achievements should serve as examples for CSU's student body. The CSU and each campus bestow the degrees during commencement ceremonies.
This year's honorees join a distinguished list of SF State honorary degree recipients that includes Bridge School founder Pegi Young, singer Neil Young, South Africa President Nelson Mandela, Bay Area philanthropist Richard N. Goldman, actor Danny Glover, artist and teacher Ruth Asawa, Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
SF State is the only master’s-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year and graduates about 7,000 annually. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University’s more than 140,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond. For more information about SF State's 2009 Commencement, visit: www.sfsu.edu/commencement/
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