The Value of My Public Education

Betty Yee ’79 made her first political act at age 13: a plea before city officials not to close the local school. The move would force her to bus to school, away from her responsibilities to her family business. Her act “was about giving a voice to people who didn’t speak English,” Betty says. “That’s what politics is. We make sure all voices are heard.” Now running for her second term as California State Controller, she continues her quest for equality and access for all Californians.

Although she grew up in a diverse San Francisco neighborhood, Betty says Cal opened her eyes to a bigger world. “I learned how to live life,” she recalls. “Meeting people from all over the world and having so many perspectives in one place was exciting. My life role is to see how to preserve this treasure.” Betty is one of six children, but her sister and several of her siblings are also Cal graduates and served as her role models. “Cal was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “My siblings would say the same.”

Betty’s commitment to Cal led her to serve on the CAA Board of Directors, which was an opportunity she calls a thrill of a lifetime. “When you are passionate about something, you make it happen. I am passionate about public education.” During her tenure, she worked with fellow directors and CAA staff to establish The Equity Scholarship, which provided an incentive for high-caliber African-American, Chicano/Latino, and Native American students to choose UC Berkeley as their undergraduate institution. The scholarship has since been renamed The Kruttschnitt Aspire Scholarship Program (KASP) and supports low-income, underrepresented ethnic minority students who have been admitted to Cal as incoming freshmen or junior college transfers.

Calling public education “a great equalizer,” Betty encourages aspiring Cal students to “follow your dream, regardless of status or background.” She urges students to learn entrepreneurship. “Think about what the resources are that need to be pulled together to serve your needs, and what of these can be turned into an entrepreneurial opportunity. Your challenges and personal experiences are the most important informant to overcoming those challenges.”

Not one to distinguish between ‘Dreamers’ and other immigrants, Betty concedes, “I am very proud of higher education for standing with Dreamers. Cal is doing this very well. My hat is off to Dreamers. They are the next generation of innovators, scientists, finders of solutions to diseases, and will do it smartly and differently.”

Betty believes success requires a feeling of belonging, a strong sense of community. “There is no replacement for the human connection,” she says. “That’s what CAA is for me. The Cal connection. It’s always about the connection.”