How Sac State Changed My Life

Anyone who knows my husband Michael and I, knows that I’m the writer, he’s the speech giver. But when we were notified recently that we had been selected for Sac State’s Distinguished Alumni Award, I couldn’t help thinking about what I might say in an acceptance speech.

Of course I would express my gratitude for the quality education I received, for many wonderful teachers I had the chance to study with, and for the foundation that my Communications Studies degree laid for me. But looking back after 25 years since graduation, it’s really the unforeseen opportunities that came about—for both Michael and I—that simply can’t be measured.

My Sac State story started in 1988. I was 21. I had piddled away fours years since high school graduation, opting to quit community college after a few semesters for a series of interesting, but ultimately dead end jobs. One hot summer day I found myself in Sacramento sitting in a small, stuffy office in the Admissions Building across the desk from a counselor, Booker T. Banks. I was nervous, but Mr. Banks had invited me to this interview and I had preconceived that gesture as acceptance. That was until he asked me point blank why I had driven 90 miles from San Mateo to see him when I clearly had no academic record to qualify for admission.

I concede, it was a fair question, but not one I was prepared for. It rendered me devastated and frozen in silence. I finally answered quietly, “I’m just ready.” It wasn’t an eloquent, well-thought answer, but it was honest and it was enough. He granted me acceptance on contingency of my first semester grades. I guess he saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself yet, and he was willing to give me a chance. But I would need to prove myself. I didn’t know it then, but that single decision, by a complete stranger, forever changed the course of my life.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Booker T. Banks.

But that wasn’t the only time that Sac State would leave an imprint on my life. Michael and I met in professor Gerri Smith’s Small Group Communications class. We didn’t talk much that whole semester. In fact, I’d watch Michael prance in to class late most every day, toss out a wise crack to Professor Smith on his way to the back of the room, and slide his long body into a desk like he was Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter. He always got a roaring laugh from the class, but to be perfectly honest, I thought he was pretty full of himself.

Three years later, Gerri Smith came to our wedding. (We continue our friendship to this day).

During his time at Sac State, Michael had become close friends with professor Lee Nichols, master of Interpersonal Communications and larger than life character. I still have vivid memories of Lee’s lectures. He was as entertaining as he was wildly respected. By some strange turn of events, we happened across Lee’s photograph on the inside cover of the local Mendocino newspaper one day in 1995. He had just been named Editor. We called the paper and told him we were in town, that we had just been married, and would he like to meet for lunch? In typical Lee fashion, we talked endlessly about all sorts of life’s questions, late into the night, and he ended up staying the night at our beach house.

Lee Nichols crashed my honeymoon. (We paid our respects to Lee’s illustrious life in 2014.)

After graduation in 1992, Michael and I both advanced Sac State internships into the start of our careers working at the Downtown District. This put us in close connection with Joe Serna, another Sac State faculty member and Mayor at the time.  Joe had a vision for a revived and bustling downtown. He organized business leaders. He called for a Downtown Summit that brought urban specialists to Sacramento from all over the country. He put Michael and I on his project development team along with a distinguished group of local leaders like Scott Syphax, Roy Brewer, David Taylor and Jose Hermocillo—all who were pivotal mentors to us in our 20’s and remain longtime friends to Michael and I today. Joe set in motion what would later become the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the first of its kind in California and the workplace where Michael has hung his hat for the past 20 years. Mayor Serna was the genesis of what downtown Sacramento has become today and probably the single largest inspiration behind our careers.

We owe our passion for this community to late Mayor Joe Serna.

Fast forward 25 years and Michael and I find ourselves working along side Sac State leaders every day. President Nelsen, Phil Garcia, Robert Dugan. Our work also crosses paths with probably hundreds of fellow alumni as we each do our part to help the region meet its full potential. Tim Murphy, Keri Thomas, Bill Mueller, Pat Fong Kushida, and so many others. I have no doubt that the opportunities that Michael and I have been afforded started from our relationship with Sac State. Not just the institution, but the people.

Sac State faculty, staff and fellow alumni, together make the institution an integral part of the region—as well as our personal lives, friendships and professions. We are honored and proud to be counted among them and to have been ‘made’ at Sac State. 

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Category: Miscellaneous

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