Anthony Rendon, Ph.D. ’00, is a great example of how higher education can change not just one life but many.
Sworn in March 7 as the 70th Speaker of the California Assembly, the former warehouse worker marvels at his current position and the path that led him there.
“There was never a time in my adolescence when I thought I’d go to college, let alone get a graduate degree,” he says. “I was very fortunate to find something that interested me intellectually and to grow up in a state that provided the [financial] support to follow that inkling.”
The man who now answers to the title “Mr. Speaker” once worked long hours loading trucks for low pay. Yet a community college philosophy course sparked his interest in political philosophy and questions about the greater public good. He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Cal State Fullerton and a Ph.D. in political philosophy and theory from UC Riverside.
Twelve years passed before he made the leap to political leadership. His passions first focused on education and community; Rendon served as an adjunct professor at Cal State Fullerton for seven years, and later as executive director of Plaza de la Raza Child Development Services Inc., a nonprofit focused on early childhood education and support for families in Los Angeles County.
When government cuts severely impacted that nonprofit, he chose to run for the California Assembly to represent the district in which he lived and worked. “I saw that the public good wasn’t being achieved at the same level everywhere, so I wanted to ensure that southeast Los Angeles County would get its fair share of resources,” Rendon says.
Elected in 2012 to represent California’s 63rd Assembly District, Rendon has authored and passed a variety of bills in support of early childhood education and the environment. Now he hopes to lead the Assembly in tackling issues of poverty, government accountability and voter participation.
His work involves multifaceted bills, issues and arguments, yet his philosophy training helps to bring order and clarity. “It helps me to analyze people’s arguments and to think about questions on the most rudimentary level,” he says. “When deciding how to vote on a bill, I keep asking ‘why?’ until I get to the fundamental question of whether or not I believe something is truly good to do or not. Because what we’re presented with is never perfect. You have to weigh all the good and bad and determine which outweighs the other.”