Judy Sakaki formally sworn in as president of Sonoma State at university ceremony

After around nine months of service for the students and faculty of Sonoma State University, Judy K. Sakaki officially became the school’s president at an Investiture Ceremony on April 20 at Weill Hall.

A variety of guests, including the California State University Board of Trustees and Congressman Mike Thompson, were present to honor Sakaki’s achievements in the fields of education and student affairs, along with her latest work at Sonoma State. After a series of musical performances and speeches, Sakaki was sworn in as president by CSU Chancellor Timothy White.  

White likened a president’s first year in office to a “tryout,” one he said Sakaki excelled at.  

“Judy has made herself present and accessible to the community, to alumni, to students, to faculty and to staff,” White said. “Her story is today being woven into this great tapestry, this university.”

After accepting the position as president, Sakaki told stories of the people and places who helped her become the person she is. According to Sakaki, her journey began “in small villages in Japan, amongst rice fields and vast farmland,” from where her grandparents immigrated to the United States.

“Because of immigration and the hopes and dreams of my grandparents, I am,” Sakaki said.

Sakaki also attributed her success to her parents, husband, students, extended family, two sons and growing up in a diverse Oakland community. She also thanked the Cal State faculty she met as a first-generation college student, making special mention of the late, former Cal State East Bay president Norma Rees, whom she described as one of her mentors.

“Without her special interest, I might not be standing in front of you today as the president of Sonoma State,” Sakaki said. “One person can make such a difference in one’s development, education and our careers.”

Ohio State University President Michael Drake served as the event’s keynote speaker. He spoke before White conferred the presidency to Sakaki, and said affordability, access and excellence are essential for higher education.

“There’s a direct correlation between what we do in higher education and the quality of people’s lives,” Drake said.

Drake previously served as UC Irvine’s chancellor and met Sakaki through the UC system. 

He said he considers Sakaki a “friend who was trusting and supportive and always there.”

“Judy’s unique perspective and values merged with mine and helped me to do a better job as chancellor,” Drake said.

The morning of the Investiture, a mini-conference in the Student Center offered multiple presentations, panels and further representation of on-campus and local organizations from 9 a.m. to noon.

Faculty Chair Ben Ford, who was a member of the Investiture Planning Committee, said they designed the Mini-Conference’s scheduled programming to stress four themes for Sonoma State: diversity, globalization, sustainability and community engagement.

“The president, I think, is trying to raise their… prominence on campus by highlighting them for the investiture day,” Ford said.

Sakaki said in her speech that Sonoma State benefits from community members who help fund scholarships and programs. She cited Sonoma State’s engagement with K – 12 programs and community colleges, along with its recently acquired federal status as a Hispanic Serving Institute, that help to give the university its identity.

“At Sonoma State, we are because we are a diverse and caring community of people and ideas,” Sakaki said. “We value inclusive excellence, globalization, sustainability, and appreciate just how interconnected and interdependent we really are.”

Sakaki’s confirmation as Sonoma State’s president follows years of service in student affairs, including leadership at Fresno State, UC Davis, and the University of California Office of the President. 

In March, she received the Pillars of the Profession award from Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education. 

The organization reserves this award for “individuals of sustained professional distinction in the higher education field,” according to its website.

Michael Young, interim vice president for student affairs, said Sakaki’s award is well deserved. Before working under her at Sonoma State, Young was vice-chancellor at UC Santa Barbara when Sakaki was vice president of student affairs for the UC system. He had previously known her since she was the vice-chancellor at UC Davis.

“At each of those levels [with Sakaki], there has been a consistent concern, dedication, focused effort and support of what was in the best interests of students,” Young said. “One of the reasons I came out of retirement is that she’s the real deal.”

Interim provost and vice president for academic affairs Jeri Echeverria, who also served as chair for the Investiture Planning Committee, said the award is indicative of Sakaki’s qualifications for the presidency.

“Clearly she wouldn’t have been considered for the presidency unless she’d been a very effective administrator in her own area,” Echeverria said.

Echeverria praised Sakaki’s “stand for diversity” and said she had an “enormously successful first nine months” as Sonoma State’s president.

“I think she’s on trajectory to being one of the great CSU presidents,” Echeverria said. “I see a bright future for Sonoma State with her at the helm.”

Sakaki closed out her speech by stressing the importance of campus and community members working together to engage in the “dance of change” at Sonoma State.

“I am so honored to lead Sonoma State,” Sakaki said. “I am so excited about dancing with all of you… thank you so very much.”