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First Words

First Words Spring 2018

In late February, when San Francisco’s new mayor Mark Farrell ’92 visited the Gleneagles Golf Course, which is managed by Tom Hsieh ’83, it wasn’t to try out a new putter. Mark came to praise the expansion of a jobs program, one started in 2015 by his predecessor, the late Mayor Ed Lee.

Named for a labor union leader, the Mario De La Torre Training Academy is an eight-week program that gives at-risk city residents construction and landscaping skills and eventual membership in Laborers International Union of North America — Local 261. Those in the program go from living below the poverty line to making up to $80,000 each year. Gleneagles, in turn, benefits from work around the golf course while Academy members get on-the-job training.

“Throughout the years, some changes at SI were met with skepticism,” said Hsieh. “But most of those changes turned out for the best. The same is true with the Training Academy here at Gleneagles. Those who were against it in the beginning are now happy for its success.”

I tell this story because it is emblematic of so much that goes to the heart of what it means to be an Ignatian.

Years ago, SI’s Vice President for Advancement Joe Vollert ’84 and I collaborated on a new tagline to replace “Educating the youth of the Bay Area since 1855” — a simple statement that lacked both poetry and panache. We finally came up with “San Francisco’s Jesuit School Since 1855: Courage to Lead; Passion to Serve.” The first part speaks to the of context of time and place; the second part reflects SI’s mission statement and challenged students to discern how to create a better world.

The pairings of leadership and service are natural ones. We saw them come together when Supervisor Farrell was voted in as Interim Mayor of San Francisco by the Board of Supervisors. Farrell has said tht he is committed to serving as a caretaker mayor; he has not filed to run in the June special election and later announced that he would leave political life after his service. He accepted the call to lead in order to serve a city he loves and to tackle the tough issues of homelessness, crime and the growing divide between those who can afford to buy $1 million fixer-uppers and the working poor who struggle to pay their bills.

Tom Hsieh embodies the virtues of leadership and service too, as he is a leader for his SI classmates and for the Alumni Association, and he serves so many in the city by operating a hidden gem — the Gleneagles Golf Course. Like so many others, I am fortunate to count both Tom and Mark as friends and proud to see the good they have accomplished for so many in the public/private partnership that is the Training Academy.

Some may wonder, by the way, why only three SI grads have served as mayor of San Francisco despite our long history in the city, one that dates to the Gold Rush. I have an answer for that: You can typically find SI grads in key behind-the-scenes support roles that allow for dynamic change to occur. In other words, they lead by serving.

I think of Alfred Cleary, a 1900 grad of SI who was the city’s first chief administrative officer and who helped Mayor Angelo Rossi root out corruption in City Hall between 1930 and 1938. The grandfather of former Board of Trustees Chair Mark Cleary ’64, Al Cleary helped with the engineering of the O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy and the Bay Bridge. I also think of Mike Farrah ’85, a senior advisor to Mayor Gavin Newsom; Mike Nevin ’61, who ran the Youth for Kennedy organization; Ed McGovern ’75, a key staffer to Mayor Art Agnos; Gabrielle (Kaho) Gaetani ’96, a former aide to Sen. Barbara Boxer; Michelle Los Banos-Jardina ’96, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Department of State; former SF Supervisor Sean Elsbernd ’93, now working for Dianne Feinstein; former vice chair for the city’s Democratic Party Leah Pimentel ’00; and so many more. These men and women are true servant/leaders who embody the SI motto of AMDG, one that links us to all Jesuit institutions.

We also will mark, soon, the end of the fourth term of Gov. Jerry Brown ’55, a man who brought the state back from financial ruin and who has become a leader in the battle against climate change. He will be retiring to his Northern California ranch, where, I suspect, he will find time to continue the practice of meditation he learned while a member of the Society of Jesus and continue leading by example, showing what it means to be a contemplative in action.

True servant/leaders, I think, are courageous, humble, empathetic, self-effacing and willing and able to learn from their mistakes. I am grateful that SI continues to develop people of character such as these.

— Paul Totah ’75

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Monday April 2
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