Mayor London Breed briefly flashed back to last fall during her video speech to San Francisco State graduates, to the start of their final year at the school.
“None of you could have predicted we would be where we are today,” Breed said. “I certainly couldn’t have predicted it when I was invited to give this speech many months ago.”
This is where the 7,700-plus students were Thursday: scattered and sitting in front of computers for their virtual commencement ceremony, amid a global pandemic and nationwide protests against racial inequality. That was the context for Breed’s three-minute, seven-second speech to the Class of 2020.
She referred to their graduation as a time of “great uncertainty and upheaval” in the country. Breed implored the graduates to work to serve the next generation and give back to their communities.
Breed, the first African American female mayor in San Francisco history, also encouraged them to join the growing movement to confront racism.
“We need our young leaders now,” she said. “We need you to help change the course of this country. For far too long, we have suffered under the dual burdens of racism and inequality.
“In recent weeks, people in cities across the nation have taken to the streets to protest against police violence, to change our criminal justice system and to say, ‘Not one more.’ I know it’s a challenging time right now, but I am confident in you. Because by working together, staying informed and engaged, we will emerge stronger than ever.”
Breed touched on her personal journey from public housing in the Western Addition to the city’s highest office. She was raised by her grandma amid difficult circumstances, and ultimately graduated from Galileo High and UC Davis.
Breed then earned a master’s degree in public administration from USF.
“Personally, I owe my success to those who lifted me up, people like my grandmother,” she said. “There was violence and poverty in our community. There was hopelessness, frustration and despair. Despite all we faced, my grandmother taught me to work hard, believe in myself and respect and uplift others in our community.”
San Francisco State’s 119th commencement also was its first virtual ceremony. The school typically holds the event at the Giants’ ballpark in China Basin; this time, the baseball flavor came from public-address announcer Renel Brooks-Moon offering a brief congratulatory message.
Graduating seniors plan to eventually return to San Francisco for a second ceremony, in-person. That was their consensus in an April survey — to hold one event online and another, more traditional event when it’s considered safe, possibly in 2021.
SFSU President Lynn Mahoney also spoke on video, praising the class for its “grit and determination” in navigating the transition to remote instruction this spring.
“COVID-19 will pass, and there will be much work to do to build a better future,” Mahoney said. “You will be on the front lines of change. You will build an authentically inclusive future.”
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