GUEST OPINION: Weills are deserving of major SSU recognition

  • Sonoma State University president Ruben Arminana arrived early to survey the Green Music Center, Friday March 9, 2012 at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park prior to the announcement of the inaugural season entertainment line-up at the center. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

Most years at Sonoma State University's commencement we confer honorary doctorates to one or more persons who have had a significant impact on the university. Selected are those whose lives and achievements have brought benefit to others.

This year's recipients, Joan and Sanford Weill, embody the strongest philanthropic nature in the areas of education, health care, music and the arts. During the past 30 years, the Weills, through their time, leadership and philanthropic gifts, have assisted many nonprofits grow stronger, allowing them to provide further assistance to others.

The process for selecting the California State University Board of Trustees honorary doctorate recipients began with a campus ad hoc committee. That group provided feedback to me about candidates for consideration, helping me make the final decision. The suggestions for possible awardees came from many sources, both internal and external to the campus. After careful consideration, this year I chose to recommend to the CSU Board of Trustees the awarding of Doctor of Humane Letters to Sanford Weill and the Doctor of Fine Arts to Joan Weill.

The Weills have a long history of philanthropy, as well as passion and commitment to education, health care and the arts. We came to know them through their very generous gift to the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center. What we learned is that they are a united duo who have spent the past decades working almost exclusively with nonprofits.

In Sandy Weill's case, he is chairman of Carnegie Hall (since 1991) and the Weill Cornell Medical College (since 1995); founder and chairman of the National Academy Foundation, a group that fosters partnerships between the business and education communities to provide opportunities to underserved students in New York City (since 1982); chairman of the Green Music Center Board of Advisors; a member of the board of governors of the San Francisco Symphony; a member of the executive council of the UC San Francisco Medical Center; and a director of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. Most recently he was elected to the esteemed American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Joan Weill is chair of the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation (since 2000). Under her leadership, the Joan Weill School of Dance at Alvin Ailey, the nation's largest facility for dance, has earned a reputation as one of the most acclaimed international ambassadors of American culture.

She is also past chairwoman of Paul Smith's College of the Adirondacks; honorary board member and president emeritus of Citymeals-On-Wheels; co-chair of the New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center's Women's Health Symposium; co-chair of the Advisory Committee of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall; a member of the Green Music Center Board of Advisors as well as chair of the Green Music Center Grand Opening Benefits Committee; and a member of the executive committee of New York Presbyterian's Lying-In Hospital.

The Weills are new residents of Sonoma County and have become actively engaged in the community and at the university. They have become enthusiastic ambassadors of the university and have introduced us to new friends who are also now learning about the excellence of Sonoma State University. They continue to use their private wealth for public good. In our case, they have helped transform the educational experience in the arts for our students, local schools and the community at large.

We are proud to confer the honorary degrees to Joan and Sandy Weill at this year's commencement. The conferral is from the California State University but is awarded on the Sonoma State University campus during the graduation ceremonies. Their gift to us of their time, leadership and philanthropic contributions shows an immeasurable commitment to Sonoma State University and many other national and international institutions supporting education, health care, music and the arts.

Ruben Armi?na is president of Sonoma State University.

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