Greene Middle School's multipurpose room was filled Wednesday with hundreds of students and staff wearing dark gray shirts with a quote on the back from the school's new namesake, Frank S. Greene Jr.: "Success in life is not about 'me' but about what you can do to help others."
The school held a rededication ceremony in honor of the African-American technologist and venture capitalist, whose name replaced David Starr Jordan's on campus signs, physical education uniforms and the school website earlier this year. The school board voted in March to rename both Jordan and Terman middle schools due to their namesakes' promotion of eugenics. Terman was renamed after Ellen Fletcher, a Holocaust survivor known for her decades of civic leadership in Palo Alto.
"This is a transformative event for our school," Principal Valerie Royaltey-Quandt told the crowd of students, staff and community members on Wednesday.
Among the attendees on Wednesday were Greene's brother, grandson, colleagues, friends; representatives from organizations including 100 Black Men of Silicon Valley, the California Alliance of African American Educators and the Frank Greene Scholars Program; and Palo Alto Unified Board of Education members.
Speakers described a persistent, intelligent man "of honor" who lifted others up — in particular, young people of color and women in an industry that still struggles with diversity. Greene started a venture capital firm to lend money to startup business run by women and minorities, then a leadership program for African-American youth and women.
He developed high-speed semiconductor computer-memory systems at Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs in the 1960s and was hailed as one of the first black technologists to break the color barrier in the local industry. He held the patent for the integrated circuit that made Fairchild a semiconductor leader at the time.
The quote printed on the new school T-shirts is emblematic of a spirit he embodied, Royaltey-Quandt said: "lift as you climb." (Greene made his statement to the Palo Alto Weekly in 2009 when he was honored as one of the 50 most important African-Americans in technology in an exhibit at Palo Alto City Hall.)
Greene "believed in the future leaders of our country and beyond — I think that's who sits in this room," said Thought Leadership Lab CEO Denise Brosseau, who worked with Greene.
Greene's brother Arthur, who cut a green ribbon on Wednesday to officially dedicate a plaque in his older brother's honor, told the Weekly that the renaming is a "profound honor."
Education was highly valued in their family, especially by their father, who would have been "immensely proud" of his brother, who died suddenly in 2009.
Talking about his brother's accomplishments in the early years of Silicon Valley, Arthur was reminded of something former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said — something he still quotes to his own children frequently: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
The plaque dedicated to Greene will now hang at the front of the school as a reminder that "all are welcomed here," Royaltey-Quandt said.
Also in attendance on Wednesday was Kobi Jonsson, the young man whose seventh-grade book report on Jordan's leadership in the eugenics movement sparked the renaming effort three years ago. He said it was hard to describe how it felt to see a yearslong, often contentious effort come to fruition.
"A name like this is such an important statement, an emphatic way to make it clear that that," he said, referring to the racist belief system underpinning eugenics, "doesn't belong in our communities.
"This right here, the renaming, is a really great way of showing that we are better and that we have people we can look up to," Jonsson said.
A video of Wednesday's re-dedication ceremony will be posted on the school's website.
Ellen Fletcher Middle School is hosting its own renaming event on Dec. 3, organized by Fletcher's daughter Terry. She, along with Ralph Samuels, the chair of the Northern California chapter of the Kindertransport Association, will speak at the school. Ellen Fletcher escaped the Nazi regime via Kindertransport in 1938, just after her 10th birthday. Kindertransport secretly took nearly 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children to safety in England in 1938 and 1939.