A chapter for the Ohlone Community College District Board of Trustees closed on November 14, 2018 as Major General Garrett Yee read his farewell letter at his last board meeting. Yee served as a Trustee on the Ohlone Community College District Board since 2002. His words capture the spirit of Ohlone College and the place it holds in his heart.
It’s hard to say good-bye.
From a young age, I can recall how my father, Gilbert Yee, would tell me how he grew up during the depression, dropped out of high school to work, but later in life, got a second chance through San Jose City College. He would go on to earn higher-level degrees and in 1978, became the California Teacher of the Year. To me, that was remarkable how a high school dropout could become teacher of the year for California. He was such a strong advocate for community colleges and he exemplified how community colleges can change lives.
I got involved with Ohlone College in 2001 when President Floyd Hogue, Trustee Dan Archer, and former trustee Gloria Villasana Fuerniss made the compelling case that our students deserved better than an aging middle school in Newark. Actually, it was a pretty easy case to make—when you care about your community, you want what’s best. So, I volunteered for the Measure A campaign to help raise funds for a Newark campus. We succeeded!
The success of Measure A led me to run for and get elected to the Ohlone College Board of Trustees in 2002. When I first joined the board, the best advice given to me was, “do what’s best for the district.” I’ve kept that advice all these years. For the tough decisions that we have made as a board, I have always tried to do what was best for the district by keeping in mind what I felt was best for our students.
It’s hard to believe that 16 years later, it comes to an end with my decision not to run for re-election. As fast as the time has passed, I know it’s time for me to let go, focus my efforts elsewhere, and clear the path for someone else who can help and contribute. As I reflect on my time with Ohlone, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts.
It's a family affair. My father taught at Ohlone College as an adjunct professor, he was always so proud to be associated with Ohlone. My mother took evening classes, and when I was young, I took swimming lessons at the college when it was down the hill. Later in life, I took classes at Ohlone as did Maria who later became my wife. All three of our children, Gilbert, Michael, and Alissa, attended Ohlone at some point before completing their undergraduate degrees. Also, so many of our extended family members have attended Ohlone College over the past 50 years helping to enrich their lives. It’s safe to say, we are stakeholders.
It’s about the students. I have seen so many examples of faculty and staff giving so much of themselves for our students. Of course, as a parent, I know this first hand. Whether it’s our enthusiastic professors that spend extra time with our students, some even taking them on study abroad opportunities (Alissa went to Spain), our dedicated counselors that provide personalized guidance (all three of our children needed it), our capable campus safety officers that take time to know who’s on campus, or our amazing coaching staff that mentors our student athletes, it’s always been about the students. It is what Ohlone College does best.
It’s about the Ohlone Way. Over the years, people at Ohlone would mention the "Ohlone Way," which describes the culture of the Ohlone Indians people who inhabited the Bay Area prior to the arrival of Europeans. But for me, it means that we hold ourselves, our community, to a higher standard of conduct. It means that we live in harmony and that we treat each other with dignity and respect.
It’s a place that gets better with time. I have served with three presidents, each providing their own style of leadership and making Ohlone College better along the way. Dr. Floyd Hogue got our community to buy into a Newark campus. Dr. Doug Treadway, who unfortunately passed in 2017, helped to deliver that incredible campus in Newark. And now, Dr. Gari Browning is leading the transformation of the Fremont site into a world-class campus while continuing to push Ohlone College to the top of the class in academic excellence. No doubt, Ohlone College represents a model learning organization.
It’s a place we can all be proud of. I’m proud of our students that go on to do great things—they are so impressive. I’m proud of the great reputation that Ohlone College has within the district and amongst the 100 plus community colleges across California. I’m proud of our faculty and staff that educate and look out for our students every day. I’m proud of my fellow elected trustees that work together as a team, not as individuals. And finally, I’m proud of how our college comes together as a “team of teams” in tough times to do what’s best for our students and the district.
It’s an amazing place! Each year, Ohlone College educates and trains thousands of students to become productive, responsible, and contributing members of our community. No other organization in the Tri-Cities area does this at the scale of Ohlone College. Since its inception over 50 years ago, Ohlone College has helped to make our community a special place to live, work and learn.
After all this time, I have many fond memories, thoughts, and aspirations for Ohlone College and will miss my close association. But I do plan to stay in touch and always keep an eye out for the amazing things Ohlone College students continue to accomplish. Thank you for the opportunity to serve and be part of the Ohlone family.
Member, Board of Trustees
Major General Yee currently serves as the Military Deputy to the Chief Information Officer at the Headquarters, Department of the Army in the Pentagon. His primary responsibilities have been focused on cybersecurity and modernizing the Army’s network infrastructure. He has been assigned to the Pentagon since June 2015; prior to that, he was deployed to the Middle East from June 2014-June 2015.