When he was accepted into UC Berkeley in 1964, three things happened to Jesse Ante ‘68, M.S.‘70: he was accepted into Berkeley’s College of Engineering, he was awarded a Cal alumni scholarship, and he won the military draft lottery. This means that, while studying mechanical engineering at one of the top engineering schools in the world, he also served in the Air Force ROTC during a time of mass student protest on campus. The experience led to many life lessons which he shares as a volunteer mentor with the Cal Alumni Association, a role to which he has been dedicated since 1992. He has mentored more than 160 Berkeley undergraduates and established two CAA scholarships, providing funding to more than 20 students since 2000. As his 50th reunion neared, Ante took some time from his busy life as manny, i.e. male nanny, to his two young grandchildren (classes of 2034 and 2037, respectively) to talk to us.
Ante describes his freshman year as “like drinking water out of a firehose,” an experience he shares with his freshman mentees. “Going from high school to college is a big jump. Everyone in the class was smart,” he explained. “It showed me how much harder I had to work to get to where I wanted to be.” He compared his freshman self to a clam — he didn’t come out of his shell until he was in hot water or in need of help. Because of this, building confidence is something he offers to help his mentees work on. “I see my mentees as freshman and I see them as seniors, and it’s like night and day.”
Another Cal experience he shares with mentees is from a physics class he took from Luis Alvarez, a Cal professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1968. Professor Alvarez’s class was the first class in which Ante ever received a grade lower than an A, and the experience was humbling. “The class would either kill you or help you. But it made me stronger, even though it was my first D ever.” During the class, he pulled an all-nighter to study for a test. “When it came to take the test, my brain went ‘poof!’ My mind went blank.” Ante always advises his mentees to get a good night’s rest and to take any test with a clear mind.
Ante was the recipient of a CAA Scholarship, which allowed him to attend Berkeley, and for which he has felt incredibly grateful. He established two of his own CAA scholarships, one in honor of his parents through the Leadership Award and the other through The Achievement Award Program. In addition, every year in May — the month of his mother’s birthday — he invites all of his scholarship awardees to lunch so they have the chance to meet one another. He considers it his legacy. “I tell them we are all like family because, unlike my mentees who chose me as their mentor, my scholarship recipients had no choice,” he said with a laugh.
As an alumnus, Ante has served on several Cal committees. One, at The Center on Civility and Democratic Engagement, was founded by his class, 1968, during their 35th reunion. The Center focuses on preparing current and future leaders to successfully engage people of diverse perspectives in finding solutions for pressing public policy issues. “When we were going to school here, we could disagree and still be friends,” he explained. “Because our country is so polarized now, there is no middle anymore. With the Center, we try to capture what we have lost. But the Class of ’68 will not be around forever. Through the Center, we provide fellowships to UCDC students and hope they will take our place in the future. Every class leaves a legacy and this is ours.” The Class of 1968 also holds quarterly gatherings and welcomes alumni from other classes. Ante always invites his mentees to these, encouraging them to practice their networking skills.
Giving back to Cal has been a priority to Ante since he received his CAA scholarship 54 years ago. “I mentor to give back to the students the things that I never learned. I never learned how to network, I did not meet a Cal alum until I became an alumnus. I didn’t even get a chance to thank all the alumni who interviewed me and gave me the scholarship. The alumni nowadays have gone through a lot of things and can share life lessons and mistakes. The last thing I tell my graduating seniors is that they don’t owe me anything but I want them to do three things: join CAA, become a mentor, and give back when you can.”