Business Leader and Public Servant Sunne Wright McPeak Tells Grads "Each Person Counts"

Saint Mary's College conferred degrees on nearly 400 students in the Graduate and Professional Commencement on Sunday, May 22. Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC, the College president, congratulated the students, saying they were "the embodiment of multitasking" as they navigated a rigorous curriculum while maintaining full-time careers and managing the needs of their families.

Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, delivered the commencement address, a speech that was part of the College's ongoing recognition of the 40th anniversary of the admission of women to Saint Mary's.

"Know that each person counts and that one person always can make a difference," McPeak told the graduates. She recalled how that adage held true at the very beginning of her political career, when she won her first election the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors by just two votes. She went on to serve on the board for 15 years, and it was a springboard for her extensive career I public service.

McPeak has served as secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and president of the Bay Area Council, the Bay Area Economic Forum and California State Association of Counties. She also served for 15 years on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. As president of the California Emerging Technology Fund, she leads a nonprofit organization that provides leadership statewide to close the digital divide by accelerating access to broadband and other communication services to underserved populations.

Have a Dream That You Share

Her advice to the graduates was threefold: Have a dream that you share with others; take personal responsibility for achieving that vision and leaving the world around you a better place; and value family and friends.

Recognizing what must have been on the minds of many in her audience, she acknowledged that the students are graduating at a challenging time. "This recession has been sobering, reminding us that we cannot take for granted past strengths," she said. "Fortunately, statistical trends are not destiny, and it is entirely possible to restore California as the Golden State once again with great promise and rewarding opportunities, especially for all of you with a good education."

That was welcome news for Mani Bajwa, who received his M.S. in Financial Analysis and Investment Management. The economic downturn hit his field hard, and his job at UBS Bank disappeared. "I figured the best thing to do was to use the time to get a degree," he said. And it seems to have worked out. In two weeks, he is starting a new job in private wealth management with Merrill Lynch.

First Combined Commencement for Graduate and Professional Programs

This year, for the first time, all students in Saint Mary's graduate and professional programs received their degrees at a single commencement ceremony.

Those receiving degrees included 144 students from the School of Economics and Business Administration's graduate programs, including 131 MBAs and 13 M.S. in Financial Analysis and Investment Management (FAIM). Dean Zhan Li of the School of Economics and Business Administration presented dean's awards to the two students with the highest grade point average in the MBA and MS programs: Jeff Courtemanche for the M.S. in the FAIM program and Han Ngoc Mai for the MBA program.

Also graduating were 159 students from the Kalmanovitz School of Education, including 6 receiving an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and 153 receiving master's degrees in fields that include teaching, counseling and administration.

Degree Holds Promise of Dreams Fulfilled

Many of the students expressed the hope that their new degrees would help them fulfill their dreams. Carmella Cortez returned to school after working with emotionally disturbed youth at the Seneca Center in Solano County for two years and said she hoped her new M.A. in Counseling would allow her to fulfill her dream of becoming a therapist.

For Jenny McGuire, who won the dean's award in the school of education, her decision to pursue an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership led her to a new position as an faculty member in KSOE's Teachers for Tomorrow program, where she now teaches grad students new approaches to math education. "I've used so many things that I learned in my classes. The coursework was immediately applicable," she said.

The graduates also included 30 receiving an M.A. in Leadership, 26 who earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and 7 awarded an M.A. in Kinesiology.

First Graduating Class from New Professional Program

Two professional programs also conferred bachelor's degrees during the ceremony. Eighteen students graduated from the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, which is designed for current and former professional dancers and offers classes in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. And 11 students were the first to graduate from the B.A. in Leadership and Organizational Studies program, a hybrid online degree completion program for working adults that was launched at Saint Mary's in May 2009.

Juanita Eberhart, one of the graduates, was thrilled to finally hold her diploma. She had grown into a challenging job at Game Ready, an Alameda company that makes medical treatments for athletes and weekend warriors, but she didn't have the degree she felt she needed for her position. "Initially, I came just to get a piece of paper, but I got so much more than what I bargained for," she said. "Ninety percent of what I learned, I'm already applying."

After the commencement ceremony, the School of Economics and Business Administration and the Kalmanovitz School of Education held a reception for the new graduates in the Soda Center.

Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications

Read the commencement speech by Sunne Wright McPeak.

View a slide show of the Graduate and Professional Programs Commencement.

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