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Mayor Upset About Being Banned From Cal High Graduation Stage

As of a couple years ago, no elected officials are allowed on the podium at graduations. The mayor said he's insulted, especially since he didn't find out until two years after the policy was made.

Nearly every year for the past several years, Mayor H. Abram Wilson has joined a lineup of school officials and teachers onstage to pass out diplomas to Cal High graduates.

It's a tradition that school officials ended to keep politics out of commencements. But Wilson said it's a slap in the face – if only for implying that his participation was politically motivated.

"It's really disturbing and quite petty that they would do something like this," said Wilson, who terms out in December after 12 years as mayor.

Turns out, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District voted in 2009 to not allow elected officials, except school board members, a formal role at commencement. They're instead given reserved seating in the audience. The idea is to keep politics out of high school graduations, said district spokesman Terry Koehne.

"We can't have someone campaigning for an open seat that could use our graduations as a political forum," Koehne said.

But Wilson suspects the policy itself was politically motivated. And he takes issue with the fact that no one told him about the rule until a few days before this year's ceremony.

Months before trustees OK'd the policy change in 2009, state Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, helped pass out diplomas at the Cal High commencement. At the time, Wilson was gearing up for his 2010 campaign against her for the 15th State Assembly District.

A few school district trustees openly endorsed Buchanan, who was running for what became her second term. Buchanan served for several years on the San Ramon Valley school board before seeking higher office.

Wilson decided against going to Cal High's graduation that year to avoid an awkward situation and bringing attention to his high-profile political rivalry.

"It's very interesting that in 2009 it was Buchanan who showed up to hand out diplomas when we were running for state Assembly," Wilson said.

Buchanan's involvement in the graduation came across as a political endorsement, especially since there are three other high schools in the school district and dozens more in the Assembly district, Wilson noted.

Koehne said he can't recall hearing any complaints about Buchanan's attendance and Wilson's absence that year, a situation he called unprecedented for the district – where a politician's presence distracted from the graduation. But he acknowledged it directly led trustees to update the graduation policy two months later.

"The entire campaign was very sticky for the board and the city of San Ramon," Koehne said. "I think both agencies wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety."

To the district, that's more important than any elected official's tradition, he added. Traditions are fine until a problem arises, then policies may change.

Wilson agrees that politics have to take a back seat to a celebration of student achievement. His involvement over the years has never been about politics, he said. It's about supporting the city he was elected to represent.

If it was about politics, he would have joined Buchanan on stage two years ago, Wilson said. But he says that's exactly why he didn't.

To add insult to injury, no one told Wilson or the City Council about the policy until two years later, just days before graduation. In fact, the district didn't enforce the rule last year, allowing Wilson to hand out diplomas alongside longtime trustee Rachel Hurd.

Wilson said he's offended he was left out of the information loop. While there's no requirement that the district update the city on policy changes, the two agencies meet every month.

At a City Council meeting earlier this week, Wilson called out the school board, asking trustees who voted for the policy to explain their reasons for the decision at a televised public meeting.

"I'd love for them to tell the people of this city why they think the City Council can't congratulate the students of San Ramon on graduating," Wilson said.

Judy June 18, 2011 at 03:12 PM
Is anyone surprised that the school board would do this?
Sarah Frank June 18, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Graduation is about the graduates and not politics. It's hard enough for the grads and their families to sit through lots of speeches before their BIG moment. Hearing a few students speak and then distributing diplomas is what is and should be done.
Mel Bottini June 18, 2011 at 05:42 PM
As a former Cal High student, I actually really liked seeing Mayor Wilson at graduations, and I was pretty disappointed when I didn't see him on stage this year, especially for my graduation.
Terrence Gargiulo June 18, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Along with humor and engaging audiences, it's a challenge to offer a diverse audience a message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead. Here's an example of a storied approach to this challenge. A collage of stories is used to offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy). http://www.vimeo.com/24981140
isabel Lau June 18, 2011 at 08:45 PM
The City of SR and the school district collaborate all the time, and yet when it comes to graduation the Mayor and Council members can no longer participate? The City of SR does so much for our schools to help support our students, not including them is a slap in the face.
isabel Lau June 19, 2011 at 12:40 AM
P.S. I find it interesting that the district did not enforce the change last year at the first opportunity, but instead chose to apply the rule this year.
Judy June 19, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Did they disallow the school board member who is running for mayor?
Westsider June 19, 2011 at 03:51 AM
So Wilson is offended he was left out of the loop? Exactly. He is out of touch with his electorate as well. His arrogance once the former SR City Manager's obscene salary structure was exposed was nauseating. Losing two Assembly races against Buchanan must have him feeling chippy. He wants a public apology? He stated very CLEARLY in television interviews he was not going to apologize for nor explain the details of Moniz' outrageous salary- the highest in the state of California in 2009- to his constituents (and the pension package he'll now receive the rest of his retirement? ) We voters would have "love (d) for (him) to tell the people of this city why (he) think(s) he shouldn't explain" why a city of 72,000 has the highest paid city manager in the state.... And Wilson's "Calling out the School Board?" Inappropriate rhetoric. The authors left out that Buchanan was an eighteen year Board member of SRVUSD prior to the Assembly so her involvement in a SRVUSD high school graduation is far LESS of a political statement than Wilson's. The claim there was a tacit endorsement because of her attendance is stretching it to laughable lengths. "It's very interesting that in 2009 it was Buchanan who showed up to hand out diplomas when we were running for state Assembly," Wilson said.' Talk about sour grapes. To think high school graduates- or their family members-will vote based on attendance at a graduation sadly underestimates the intelligence of the voting public. Move on Mayor.
isabel Lau June 19, 2011 at 05:52 PM
It is not about politics or voting, it is about supporting our youth. "It takes a village" - San Ramon is a model for that statement. Everyone is involved: family, student, school, school district, businesses and city/town. All the stakeholders should be present for the celebration of milestones. Prior to being Mayor, Abram Wilson, sat on the Parks Commission. The City of San Ramon renovated and continue to maintain the neighborhood parks at our schools, not the school district. The City of SR supports and provides fields, theatres, libraries, and countless other programs for our youth. Again, it is not about politics. It is about supporting our youth each step of the way and being there to celebrate the milestones.
Steven Lau June 19, 2011 at 10:35 PM
I definitely share Melanie's sentiments. During the students' procession onto the field for graduation, I saw Mayor Wilson in the crowd and it struck me as odd that he was not on stage; at the time I did not know the reason. Many of the students know and recognize Mayor Wilson because they have seen him at various community and school events. It was disappointing that he was not allowed to formally congratulate this year's graduates, especially considering the role he and the city have played in supporting education in recent years.
Patty Hoyt June 21, 2011 at 07:55 PM
I have always liked that the Mayor was at graduation, it gives a small town feel to the ceremony. However, I don't like that Mayor Wilson has chosen to air this in the press. If he is such a proponent of education, why is he being antagonistic with the school district?
Patty Hoyt June 21, 2011 at 08:18 PM
By the way, the article is incorrect in stating that Joan Buchanan gave out diplomas at the 2009 Cal High graduation. My daughter graduated that year and my photos show board members Ken Mintz and Bill Clarkson, assistant superintendent Roberta Silverstein and Mayor Wilson. It must have been the 2008 graduation. Joan would have been a school board member that year, not a assembly member.
Jennifer Wadsworth June 21, 2011 at 11:08 PM
Terry Koehne said it was 2009. Maybe more than one person handed out the diplomas? I can double-check, but that was the date mentioned several times in our interviews.
Patty Hoyt June 21, 2011 at 11:16 PM
I'm going by my photos. All four of the people I mentioned gave out diplomas, two on each side of the stage. Someone I know whose child graduated in 2008 is positive Joan was there for that graduation. I'm not trying to be a pain, but I think it's important for the dates to be accurate in light of the political twist being spun.
Gayle Larson June 22, 2011 at 04:18 AM
As I recall and my photographs reinforce, 2008 was the last year that Joan Buchanan, in her capacity as a school board member, handed out diplomas at Cal High. I would guess that the Mayor may have confused 2008 and 2009. The Mayor was not on the stage in 2008, likely because he didn't want to be perceived as politicking, given the fact that the 15th Assembly race was gearing up. My impression is that the school district, in changing the policy to limit elected officials to the school board, simply institutionalized the Mayor's prudent judgement call.
Shayne Downey June 23, 2011 at 05:29 PM
One of the reasons I love San Ramon is that the Mayor is very visible in support of the youth of our town. In the 6 years that I have lived in San Ramon ( I moved from the east coast) I have constantly bragged about the hometown feel. The mayor, whoever that may be, should ALWAYS be welcome at high school graduations as an honored guest, on stage. Let's not allow the "politics" to sour the small town and community feel that we are so lucky to enjoy .
Letitia Shelby June 24, 2011 at 01:08 AM
This is about the silliest thing I have heard of. Since Mayor Wilson is not running for office right now, why is his involvement political? This is a community. Representatives of our community should be a part of graduation. I hope someone wakes up to how this looks to our children. Letitia Shelby, 30 year resident
Sandee Wiedemann June 24, 2011 at 03:53 AM
Evidence: Over all these years that Abram Wilson has served San Ramon, he has appeared at public events and was available to speak with everyone who wanted to speak with him-whether before or after an election! The school board's blatant decision is sad and wrong.
Janice P Ellis June 25, 2011 at 08:31 PM
Apparently, the school board has way too much time on their hands. What a completely ridiculous policy. I've lived in San Ramon for 22 years, and this takes the cake for stupid policy making.

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