SF Wire: March 2, 2013
by Jennifer Raiser
When Jim Swartz was a teenager in a rough-and-tumble school outside of Pittsburg, he didn’t know if he would or could make it to college. But a wise mentor thought he had potential, and helped guide him towards the opportunities and funding he needed to get to college and graduate school. Now he and dozens of others do the same for San Francisco public high school students through the Meritus program, providing mentoring and financial support to economically disadvantaged, high-potential youth. In fifteen years, over 800 donors have invested over $6.1 million in direct scholarship aid to local young people whose families make under $40,000 a year, who often are not native English speakers, who are usually the first in their families to attend college. Many of those same donors provide the students they support with personal mentoring and coaching, giving generous amounts of advice, internships, encouragement, career advice and moral support to help these students make it to and through college and into their professional lives.
Jim Swartz doesn’t like to talk about making it to Harvard and Carnegie Mellon, or founding Accel Partners’ venture firm, or founding Impact Partners to support documentary filmmaking, or his prizes as a Grand Prix sailboat racer, or his community work in Utah, Martha’s Vineyard, and San Francisco. He wants to talk about Meritus, and about the transformative power of higher education. When Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom was invited to present Swartz with the 2013 Meritus Inspiration Award, the format was not the usual presentation of a plaque. Swartz asked Newsom to interview two current Meritus scholars, Rodrigo Duran and Amanda Liu to reinforce to the tech-heavy crowd how well the dollars were being invested. (Liu is completing her UC Berkeley degree in three years.) It was a moving turning of the tables, with the students speaking about overcoming enormous hardship, fortifying with the encouragement of their mentors and donors, and accomplishing the remarkable by graduating from college. Set against the backdrop of Adobe Systems offices, fueled with hors d’oeuvres and libations from top-tier wineries, the evening was an emotional groundswell of support for Swartz’ integrity and accomplishments, and the parallel potential of these students and many more in the room who have already accomplished so much in their short lifetimes. Board Chair Tom Chavez reiterated, “In Jim, we have just an inspiring and perfectly humble example of what comes from grit and tenacity and commitment to excellence, and with Rodrigo and Amanda you see those same qualities I the act of being honed and perfected and transformed through education.”
Making the grade: Artist Susan Swartz, cheering on her husband, Vice Chair Tonia Karr and Board Members Mauree Jane Perry and Isabel Moore, founder Dr. Henry Safit, Retired Chief Justice Ron George and Barbara George, Diana Wolf, Anne Kaiser and Bob Taylor, Venetta Rohal, the inimitable Belva Davis and Ron Moore, Malin Giddings, Max Armour, Vish Mishra, Maryam Mohit, Sandra and George Morris, Margaret and Fred Morrow, Surya Panditi, Kara Swisher, Diana Wolf, Sharon and Stan Meresman, Randall Kostick, Damon Knox, Ann and Karl Ludwig, Susan and Gib Myers, Emily and David Pottruck, Jane Kennedy, Mary and Mike Wolfe, Jacqueline and Robert Young, Heather and Paul Sterner, Lisa and Scott Dettmer, Ardis and Al Breslauer, Trudy and Bill Dypolcher, Donna Ficarotta, Peter Freund, Lucille Sutton, Allison Darrow, Chrissie and Brooks Crawford, scholars Adonis Williams and Julian Merino, and an honor roll of individuals of integrity and merit.