​​William “Willie” E. Tamayo is the quintessential American success story. He and his family started a small business, expanded it through hard work and ingenuity and have never forgotten where they came from.

After years of success, when Willie could finally carve out time away from La Tortilla Factory−the business his parents founded in 1977−he was not about to sit back and savor his free time. With his big heart and passion for education, Willie threw himself even more deeply into helping the Sonoma County community he’s called home for nearly fifty years, including Sonoma State University, where he has supported undocumented students and worked to enhance the university in numerous ways.

Willie has always been committed to Latino and other traditionally underrepresented students. But giving them the support they need to succeed in school became a personal mission after his emotional 2011 visit to Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa. Willie saw himself as a young man in some of the students’ stories about their difficulties making ends meet or their worries for the future. With his typical energy and enthusiasm, Willie jumped into action.

Joining forces with the principal and a teacher who was a longtime friend, Willie helped create the Elsie Allen High School Foundation. With a handful of committed members, the group raised $5,000 the first year to support the school and its students. Since that modest beginning, much like he aggressively grew the family business, Willie and his peers have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships, fees for college entrance exams, college tours and other college-related expenses.

Under Willie’s leadership as president, the foundation recently leveraged a grant to provide initial funding for a program where Elsie Allen students make a commitment that begins in middle school to focus on academics so that they can eventually gain admission to Sonoma State. Many will be the first in their families to attend college. Willie’s generosity and enthusiasm are inspiring countless students to advance in their education, and one day give back to their community as he and his family have always done.

In recognition of his many accomplishments and contributions to the university and its surrounding communities, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and Sonoma State University are proud to confer upon William “Willie” E. Tamayo the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.