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When Therese Stewart got up to give the commencement address at Balboa High School in San Francisco, she turned her back on an audience that included hundreds of proud parents and the executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco. She grabbed the mike off the podium, about-faced and talked directly to the students. She started by reminding them how much they achieved to make it to graduation day and urged them to use the same strength to carry them into the future. “There were moments where I felt like crying,” she said. “I mean, I love these kids.” Stewart, 44 and a partner at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, started the Balboa program two years ago with Drucilla Ramey of the Bar Association of San Francisco. Then BASF president, Stewart set up a mentoring program in the fall of 1999, helped put on the first college fair the school had ever seen and took the kids to visit college campuses. Through the program — paid for by BASF and out of Stewart’s own pocket — last year 30 juniors at Balboa were paired up with mentors such as Stewart, Ramey and local law students. The mentors helped the students pick schools, fill out applications and apply for financial aid. The program also provides SAT preparation classes. That fall, Stewart started mentoring juniors Rebecca Payes and Alejandra Iraheta. Stewart has met with each of the girls about once a week over dinner for the last two years to help keep them going in high school and into college. She taught them about financial aid — which is especially important since most of the kids in the program come from families living at or below the poverty line. “A lot of these kids — a lot of them — work outside of school to help their families,” she said. “We help them find a way to translate that onto applications where schools aren’t used to that.” She spent an entire Saturday with Payes and Iraheta last fall holed up in the conference room at Howard Rice helping each of the high school students fill out applications to the University of California, the California State University system and other schools around the country. In the academic year that just passed, Stewart replaced the one-on-one mentoring with a class that met every Tuesday after school for nearly two hours. She co-taught the class with Pamela Davis, a partner at Farella Braun & Martel. Stewart says that as the students have requested, the classes will continue this fall. As for this year’s graduating class, Stewart says that every one of the students who took part in the program’s first year have been accepted to college for the fall. While the program can’t be credited for helping them all go to college, Stewart says that when she started two years ago, about two-thirds of the 30 were leaning toward college and she would have otherwise expected half of the total group to enroll. On June 6, as she looked out at the graduating class of 2001, she saw one student in her program accepted at UC-Berkeley on full scholarship. She saw Iraheta, who is on her way to San Jose State University, and Payes, who’s still trying to decide between UC-Davis, St. Augustine’s College in North Carolina, Alabama State University and Tennessee State University in Nashville. “I got into this wanting to give something back to the community,” Stewart said. “I’ve gotten so much more.”

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