Monterey Mayor and CSUMB grad Tyller Williamson speaks at Diversity Celebration Series

Tyller Williamson, mayor of Monterey, is a graduate of CSUMB.

Tyller Williamson, Monterey mayor and CSUMB alumnus, recently spoke at the Diversity Celebration Series. | Photo by Patrick Tregenza Photography

March 15, 2023

By Amanda E. Snyder

“The path I took had a lot of scenic routes and had more than one pit stop on the dark side of town, but each one came together to teach me lessons and to help me grow.” 

This is the powerful summary of how Monterey Mayor and CSUMB 2013 graduate Tyller Williamson found purpose in serving his community, which he spoke about at the latest installment of CSUMB’s Diversity Celebration Series on March 14.

Williamson was elected mayor of Monterey last year and made history as the city’s first Black and first openly-gay mayor. He also has a riveting personal story. After growing up in a military family and frequently moving throughout his childhood, his college years also saw many challenges. After being discharged from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he went to a community college in San Diego, and later, made his way up to the Monterey area to finish his education at CSUMB. But even that came with another interruption.

Williamson was inspired to volunteer for the Obama campaign in 2008. He then stepped up his commitment to the campaign in 2012 when he accepted a position running the San Francisco headquarters. It was this experience that transformed him into, in his words, “Tyller 2.0.” 

He’d taken a leave of absence from CSUMB to work the 2012 campaign and, during that time, finally embraced his sexuality and found his purpose. He speaks about returning to CSUMB as a new person after the campaign, saying, “I had a boyfriend, I had accomplished something that I was proud of, and I knew that civic engagement was something that would be a part of my life for the years to come.”

He’s also clear about the importance of CSUMB in his life. “I realized that CSUMB was providing me something that I’m still so appreciative of: a progressive and inclusive environment that ensured faculty were not only passionate about what they taught, but was also diverse enough for each student to see themselves within the teaching staff.”

In 2018, Williamson successfully won a seat on the Monterey city council by going door to door to meet voters without regard for their political affiliation or status. It was his focus on housing, water, and civic engagement that won him the title of mayor in late 2022, not to mention the personal touch he puts into everything he does.

Harald Barkhoff, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, knows Williamson’s knack for making personal connections firsthand. 

“After I started at CSUMB in July 2021,” Barkhoff says, “Tyller Williamson was one of the first community members I met. I not only learned about his journey, but his approach to civic engagement. So having him speak at our Diversity Celebration Speaker Series as the new mayor of Monterey is not only very special, but a great representation of what the series stands for.”

Williamson says his strongest lesson learned is the power of meeting people face to face, something that isn’t as common as it should be. “You might come from a different place or sides of an issue […] but when we meet face to face, our ability to have compassion and empathy and understanding seems to come back to us a little easier.”