SF State honors 8,400 graduates at virtual Commencement

Monday, May 10, 2021
SF City Hall lit in purple and gold

San Francisco State University will hold its 120th Commencement ceremony online Friday, May 21.

This is the second year the University has planned a virtual ceremony due to COVID-19; however, an in-person celebration to congratulate the Class of 2021 will be scheduled as soon as it’s safe. Shamann Walton, the city’s first Black man to serve as president of the Board of Supervisors and a 2010 alumnus of the Master of Public Administration program, will deliver the Commencement address along with President of Associated Students Andrew Carrillo and two graduating students — Eliana Roberta Hernández, who graduates with a B.A. in Ethnic Studies, and Kristi McNally, who will receive an MBA.

San Francisco State President Lynn Mahoney acknowledged the turbulent year and the hardships the Class of 2021 faced but says they’ve developed strengths and abilities that will serve them well in life. “The knowledge you have gained, the skills you have developed and the friends you have made at San Francisco State University will endure long into the future,” she said. “I’m thrilled Supervisor Walton will share encouraging words with the Class of 2021.” President Mahoney added that she’s looking forward to congratulating graduates on their accomplishments in person at a later date.

Graduates, their families and friends will be able to watch the May 21 ceremony on SF State’s YouTube channel starting at 5:30 p.m. For those who miss the broadcast, the ceremony will be archived on University YouTube channel. In the meantime, the University will celebrate graduates throughout May on social media and on the Commencement website. Join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #SFSU2021.

Read the full story about SF State’s Commencement in SF State News

College of Health & Social Sciences alumnus and undergraduate student to serve as speakers

Commencement Speaker

Shamman Walton headshotSan Francisco Board of Supervisor President Shamann Walton (’10) is no stranger to SF State, having earned his Master of Public Administration from the University in 2010. He chose SF State for its focus on social justice, equity and inclusion. He says the program was “second to none” in preparing him for public office.

Walton currently represents District 10, which encompasses the Bayview and Potrero Hill areas of San Francisco. At a young age he lived in public housing in both neighborhoods. For decades he’s worked in those same neighborhoods and has witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by the community, including violence, incarceration and long-time residents being pushed out of the city. As a member of the Board of Supervisors, he strongly advocates for communities from low-income and working-class neighborhoods. He has worked to improve schools, bring more jobs to the district, increase access to affordable housing, bridge relationships among all diverse communities and stop gun violence.

Walton earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Morris Brown College in Atlanta before attending graduate school at SF Sate. His experience includes service as a member and president of the San Francisco Board of Education and as executive director at Young Community Developers (YCD), a nonprofit service organization dedicated to empowering residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood by helping them achieve economic mobility.

Undergraduate Student Speaker

This year’s undergraduate student speaker, Eliana Hernández, graduates with a double major in Race and Resistance Studies and Criminal Justice Studies. Her family has a history of fighting for social justice, which influenced her decision to pursue these areas. It also motivated her to continue her family’s legacy by volunteering at organizations that address social issues.

Hernández volunteers with Shellmound Walk, an organization that aims to protect shellmounds — ceremonial places and burial sites created by Native Americans — across the Bay Area. The nonprofit also draws attention to the oppression of Native people and protests the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline project that many tribal and environmental groups have opposed for years.

Hernández is also active with Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a grassroots organization that serves low-income, underserved communities in San Francisco and Oakland, where she worked on campaigns for immigrant and housing rights.

Two students to wear the College of Health & Social Sciences Hood

As part of a longstanding tradition, each of the University’s six academic colleges selects an undergraduate and a graduate student to represent their classmates and wear their college’s academic hood during the ceremony. Representing the College of Health & Social Sciences are:

Graduate Hood

Brandon Venerable (he/him) will earn a Master of Public Administration (MPA) at SF State and has maintained a 4.0 GPA while working as a senior global programs manager at YLabs, a nonprofit design and research organization.

Through his scholarship, Venerable has made considerable contributions to the discipline of public service and management. He coauthored a comparative analysis of the health care systems and democratic characteristics of Taiwan, England and the U.S., which was published by the Global Policy Insights think tank. In another research project, he explored the relationship between income and insurance among women accessing family planning services at community health centers. Venerable’s capstone project was a management analysis of a community health center’s operation and management issues.

Venerable served as a representative of the College of Health and Social Science’s Reflections and Actions to Create Equity (RACE) Initiative, which is focused on engaging the college community in activities, trainings and working groups to advance racial justice. He played a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the initiative, ensuring the voices of marginalized groups were being centered.

Undergraduate Hood

At 16 years old, J Vasquez was processed through adult court and sentenced to 31 years to life. Repeatedly told that he would never get out of prison, Vasquez refused to give up hope. Today, Vasquez is the policy and legal services manager at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), where he works on juvenile and criminal justice advocacy campaigns. He will graduate summa cum laude from SF State with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Criminal Justice Studies.

Vasquez’s childhood was marked by neglect due to his parents’ struggles with addiction. When he lost his father at 15, Vasquez’s life quickly spiraled out of control. But while in solitary confinement in 2001, Vasquez made a personal commitment to turn his life around. He read a variety of self-help books, participated in rehabilitative programs, processed his childhood trauma and took college courses. Twenty-five years and six associate degrees later, he was released by the parole board.

Upon release, Vasquez enrolled at SF State thanks to Project Rebound, and in 2020 he interned in Supervisor Shamann Walton’s office as a Willie Brown Fellow. His work has contributed to legislation protecting young peoples’ Miranda rights and restoring voting rights for Californians on parole.

Read about other colleges’ hood recipients in SF State News