Two outstanding students to wear College’s academic hood at 2017 Commencement

As part of a longstanding tradition, each of SF State's six academic colleges selects one undergraduate and one graduate student for the honor of representing their fellow students during the University’s Commencement ceremony by wearing their college's academic hood.

Two outstanding students will be wearing the College of Health & Social Sciences’ hood at SF State’s 116th Commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 25:

Michael Bennett (B.S., ’17, Recreation, Parks & Tourism)

Michael BennettMichael Bennett was a homeless veteran who dealt with drug issues and rose out of poverty to earn a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and tourism at age 62. He credits SF State’s tradition of community service, and more specifically, the Project Rebound program, which helps the formerly incarcerated earn college degrees.

“Social justice means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m a product of social justice.”

For the last 23 years, Bennett has been a community advocate in San Francisco working with homeless and low-income adults and families, military veterans, at-risk youth, unemployed adults and adults trying to improve their physical health and nutritional wellness.

Bennett continued working full-time as a community engagement specialist at Candlestick Point State Park Recreation Area while taking a full load of classes. He says his classes have strengthened his commitment to working with marginalized residents, to improving health disparities with wellness opportunities and to providing recreational opportunities to an aging population. Last year, Bennett worked at the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department as part of The Willie L. Brown, Jr. Fellowship program, which provides SF State students who have faced barriers pursuing a college education with an opportunity to gain professional experience in the public sector while developing a lifelong commitment to public service.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment to graduate as a senior — as a student over 60 years old — from a major university,” he said. “I appreciate that they’ve found room to be open to older students on campus and to be open to listening to their experiences.”

Visakha Som (MPA, ’17)

Visakha SomSpending her teenage years in Cambodia was a formative experience for Visakha Som. She was born and raised in California and had little idea of the years of civil war that had ravaged the Southeast Asian nation. She watched as United Nations peacekeepers and nonprofits worked to rebuild the country and became inspired to do similar work for people in need.

Som is graduating with a master’s degree in public administration. She was first admitted to the program in 2013, but held off for a few years, choosing instead to manage a Meals on Wheels program in Oakland and later, other programs for adults with disabilities and the elderly.

Returning to school allowed her to reflect on her experiences as a manager and to further explore what makes a good leader.

“I’ve learned that being a good collaborator makes me a good leader and that managing people is not the same thing as leading,” she said. “I realized I can help myself truly grow as a leader by allowing and helping people come into their own as well.”

She wants to continue working in public policy, and would like to help marginalized communities by improving health care systems.