The seats of Seven Hills Conference Center were packed Wednesday as students and faculty gathered to listen to SF State alumnus and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown discuss his experience as a student at SF State.
“This school was a golden opportunity for me,” said Brown, who spoke as part of the College of Health and Social Sciences Dean’s Speaker Series. “Every aspect of what this school is about was an inspiration to me.”
Brown almost missed out on attending SF State, which he said was not his first choice for college. He said he wanted to attend Stanford University but lacked the funds and credentials to get in. In 1951, he ran into a professor who taught at both Stanford and SF State, who Brown said changed his mind.
“The professor ran across me, and he seemed clearly committed to SF State,” Brown said. “At that time, unlike most of you, the only competitive options to come to SF State were, are you breathing? Can you find your way to campus? Then you will qualify. That is how I got into SF State.”
Brown said attending SF State was the right choice.
“When I came to California thinking I would go to Stanford and become a mathematics teacher, lo and behold did I know I would end up at SF State – I was a perfect fit,” Brown said. “Every aspect of what this school is about was an inspiration to me.”
Brown said his experience at the school unexpectedly led to his career in politics.
“SF State was a guide to me that got me through college, on to law school and on to other things I did in life, including politics,” Brown said.
Brown’s legacy at SF State lives on through the Willie J. Brown, Jr. Fellowship Program, which serves to introduce students to local government and help them become America’s future leaders.
According to the event pamphlet, in 2008 the Willie Brown Institute established the fellowship program, which offers students a $1,500 scholarship and introduces them to city government.
Students from the fellowship program were also in attendance, including two SF State seniors currently in the program.
Steven Giang, a senior majoring in Business Administration, spoke about the work that he is currently doing with the fellowship program.
“I am working in the K2C, kindergarten through college program, which opens an account run for children in San Francisco and saves money for them for their college tuition,” he said. “Right now, the city has put $300-$400,000 in the K2C program and right now they are struggling to raise more money from non-profit organizations and small business donations.”
Giang spoke about the beneficial aspects of the fellowship program.
“The experience so far has been wonderful,” Giang said. “We have been able to work in the city office and gain hands-on and professional work experience and an opportunity to connect with people.”
Jared Walker, a senior finance major at SF State who is also in the program, discussed his current project with the fellowship program.
“I am currently working in the office of SF city administrators on the budget and planning team. The budget and planning team works in all different departments in financial planning for the future and organizing the budget,” Walker said.
Walker said he has learned many things from his involvement with the fellowship program.
“I learned about the inner workings of the city, how to conduct a meeting and think in terms of the way departments interact with each other,” Walker said.
Willie J. Brown Fellowship Director Raquel Pinderhughes said she was inspired by the forum and Brown’s close ties to SF State.
“I thought the event was fantastic and Willie Brown Jr. engaged the students and it was wonderful to see someone who was prestigious at SF State,” Pinderhughes said.
Sharlana Turner, a sophomore working on her Masters of Administration, who currently holds the position of Graduate Representative for the Associated Students, Inc., said the event was a refreshing platform to hear Brown’s ideas.
“It was interesting to have a public forum without much media attention where Willie Brown Jr. can say his opinion without scrutiny,” Turner said.
The Willie L. Brown Jr. Fellowship program is currently accepting college applicants enrolled full-time with a minimum of a 3.0 cumulative GPA until November 30. Fellows will receive 3 units of credit and a $1,500 stipend, according to the College of Health and Sciences page on the SF State website.