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Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Lakeview Center.

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San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown challenges SFSU Class of 2001 to use education as tool to improve live of others, create social change

SAN FRANCISCO, May 26, 2001 - San Francisco State University's 100th graduating class was challenged by San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. to continue the University's long tradition of activism to improve social conditions for underrepresented populations.

"You represent the diversity that is now Californians…you have the power; you must use that power. Your heritage dictates that you use that power," Brown said to more than 3,500 graduates during SFSU's Commencement on Saturday afternoon. "If you are a true San Francisco State graduate you will accept the challenge and move the agenda (forward) as those who preceded you." U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was the scheduled keynote speaker at SFSU's Commencement but could not attend because of the rare Saturday session of the House of Representatives to vote on the nation's budget. To help SFSU find a last-minute replacement, Pelosi and her staff graciously worked to secure Brown as the Commencement speaker.

SFSU awarded diplomas to 6,575 students in the Class of 2001, one century after the University graduated its first class of 36 students. Although SFSU was established in 1899, its first class of three dozen women graduated two years later.

Before an audience of nearly 25,000 people on a chilly, gray afternoon, Brown, a 1955 graduate of SFSU, reminded the spirited graduates that although they reflected the new ethnic diversity of California diversity is missing in other aspects of life.

"You don't see it in the halls of the Legislature. You don't see it in the Congress. You don't see it in the boardrooms of the major corporations. You don't see it at the news channel organizations. You don't see it at the newspapers. You don't see it any place except in the population generally.

(In) no place of power do we see that change in dramatic face," said Brown, adding that the graduates can make those changes a reality.

During Saturday's ceremonies, SFSU honored jazz artist Wesla Whitfield as its Alumna of the Year, scholar Thomas Ehrlich as the University's Presidential Medal awardee and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman as recipient of an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the California State University system. SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan presided over commencement.

"As you leave San Francisco State, I hope you will take with you far more than factual learning," Corrigan said. " We have sought to give you some lifetime learning skills and lifetime values." The graduates heard from two members of their own graduating class in a two-person delivery of the traditional solo student speech at commencement. Liberal Studies majors who plan to become teachers Debra Cortney and Kara Marsalek --- both Presidential scholars, Phi Beta Kappa members, roommates and close friends--- first recited a poem by Spanish poet Antonio Machado in Spanish and English then delivered the speech.

"We have been able to follow the examples of our mentors by leaving our own footsteps, which have and will continue to have an influence in the lives of many young children. Through our involvement in America Reads, the Reading Assistance program, and our future careers as educators, we encourage children to make the most of their paths," Cortney said. Added Marsalek: "Today, as graduates, we all look back on the paths we have forged to this moment. And we are proud of the wakes we have left behind. We also look forward to many new goals, though we cannot see the road that will lead us to them."

Honorary degree recipient Richard N. Goldman, chairman of Goldman Insurance Services, said he was humbled and overwhelmed by an honor that he will treasure forever.

Perhaps best known as the co-founder, along with his late wife Rhoda, of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Goldman's $1 million gift to the University in 1997 created the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility. Goldman also had some words of advice for graduates. "For those of you who are not sure what you intend to do with your life, my best advice is to try whatever it takes until you find the comfort level, and then give it the best you have to offer," he said. " I also wish a happy marriage or committed relationship with someone who will share your dreams. The goal I shared with my late wife was to try to leave the world a little better than we found it. And as I stand before you today, I feel satisfied that we have reached that goal."

Goldman urged graduates to become unselfish citizens " Give back to your community in helping the less fortunate, that you engage in public service, and that you vote at every election. As we learned last year, every vote counts. It is a privilege ?? it is a privilege we must respect -- and it is our duty as citizens to participate."

Alumnus of the Year awardee Wesla Whitfield, who graduated in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in music, said she was honored to return to campus to receive the award and see the changes on campus. "It is wonderful to come back here and find that both of us are alive and well and thriving and greatly changed. Because every year, with a new student body, this place changes. And from what I can tell, it's only gotten better," said the singer, who began Commencement with a rousing a cappella rendition of the national anthem. Honored with SFSU's prestigious Presidential Medal for his long commitment to community service learning in higher education, Tom Ehrlich gave the shortest speech of the day. " It is a pleasure to be your partner and the partner of the faculty and the students of San Francisco State in promoting our community," said Ehrlich, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Menlo Park and the former president of Indiana University. The award honors those who have made outstanding contributions to the University and the city of San Francisco that will have long-lasting and widespread benefits for San Francisco State University students and faculty.


NOTE: To view a transcript of SFSU's 100th Commencement, visit:

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Last modified May 17, 2001, by Office of Public Affairs