Wilmer Fong, Class of 1949, B.A. in International Relations, Hometown: San Francisco, and
Jerry Arellano, Class of 1996, B.A. in Molecular and Cell Biology, Hometown: San Francisco

The Power of Giving: How a donor and scholarship recipient changed each other’s lives

Jerry Arellano graduated from UC Berkeley in 1996 with a B.A. in molecular and cell biology. A first-generation student from San Francisco, he shared, “The neighborhoods we lived in were on the border of poverty. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity if you didn’t create it for yourself.” Jerry took school seriously, excelled, and earned a tremendous opportunity: a Berkeley scholarship.

In 1949, Wilmer Fong graduated from Berkeley with a degree in international relations, and had a full career as a teacher and YMCA youth program director. An actively involved alumnus and supporter of the university, Wilmer served on a selection committee that awarded Jerry his Berkeley scholarship. The two connected during Jerry's college days but lost contact after he graduated.

Jerry went on to medical school and became a cardiologist. In need of a cardiologist, Wilmer reviewed a list of doctors and thought to himself: “This name is familiar. What a small world.”

The two reconnected, developing a new relationship as patient and doctor. Wilmer described his deep appreciation for their bond, “I’m sitting here with a very serious illness. I might die. In return, [Jerry] is saving me. He is saving my life.” All these years later, a scholar that he supported was able to change Wilmer’s life. Wilmer says he learned to give back from his own father, who was very active in his community, and that he believes firmly in doing whatever he can to contribute to the university.

For Jerry, “It is people like Wilmer Fong who have led me to donate to scholarships.” It is transformational what people can do for each other by supporting a cause they believe in. The story of Wilmer and Jerry demonstrates that there is power in education, and that scholarships don’t just help those who receive, but those who give as well.

Jerry and Wilmer share their story in a video.