Education Changed the Trajectory of New Mayor's Life

Friday, March 31, 2017

In January, I was sworn in as Fresno's 25th mayor. My election followed two city council terms and a long and successful career in real estate and property

management. I started a business that I ran for more than three decades.

Looking back on my time growing up in a modest two-bedroom, one-bath house at 4005 E. McKenzie Ave., my youthful life of crime, and the tragic end that befell some of my friends from that time who did not escape those very same circumstances, it is clear now that education was my ticket to success.

It started at Roosevelt High, where I started reading. I read dozens of novels, and then proved myself to my skeptical English teacher in verbal, on-the-spot book reports.

A few years later, when I was 22, a bolt of lightning struck me. That dramatic moment of self-realization led me to quit a pretty good job and return to college. I had started at Fresno City College, but had only completed a few units.

I took double summer sessions at Fresno City and Fresno State University, and then regularly took more than 20 units during the fall and spring semesters, first at Fresno City and then at Fresno State. I earned a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree in two years, graduating summa cum laude from Fresno State.

That fall, I enrolled at the University of Southern California and a year later had earned a master's in public administration.

In retrospect, I realize my life path -- the one that led me to my current position as the top elected office in California's fifth-largest city -- could not have happened without striving to reach my ultimate potential, a goal that came through education.

Education is the great equalizer. It provides options, it opens doors, and it builds confidence.

Education helped me look at the world from different perspectives and gave me pathways to dreams a wayward kid from McKenzie Avenue would never thought were possible.

It gave me the power to take chances, to risk a good life for a great life.

Even now, as mayor, I continue to learn. Every day brings a new challenge, and I know that I can draw from my education -- in school and in life -- to meet these challenges.

Three months after my arrest in the ninth grade, my father was killed in a plane crash near Tulare. I never had my chance to redeem myself to him. It was the worst year of my life. I was fortunate enough to turn it around -- through education. It has made me who I am today.