San Marino High School

Former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan visits San Marino High School


On Feb. 19, students in San Marino High School teacher Peter Paccone’s United States Government class were treated to a special surprise: former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan. Riordan paid a visit to SMHS as a guest for a Civic Learning Meet and Greet, a program in which students are able to interact with an individual involved in fields such as government, law, history, politics, and education.

Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, served as mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001. He was later appointed as Secretary of Education by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a position he held until 2005. Currently, he teaches at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

SMHS senior Jack Nixon began the program with a brief introduction, giving a warm welcome to Riordan. Riordan then took the stage, breaking the ice by sharing a humorous joke involving an open fly before addressing the five axioms of being a great leader.

“The first axiom: courage,” he said. “Courage is not to the brightest cynic in the world; it’s to those average people that trip and fall, get bloody, and get up and keep going.”

The other axioms included showing that you care for others, empowerment, relentless pursuit of getting things done, and a sense of humor.

He also spoke about how, during his time as mayor, instead of waiting six to eight years to remove problematic tow-away signs, his assistant simply took the signs down.

“It’s much easier to get forgiveness than to get permission,” Riordan said. “So just do it. If you something ethical and practical, just get it done.”

After sharing a few anecdotes about his mayoral life, it was time for the main event: the student Q&A.

The first student began by asking about Riordan’s opinion on her interest project that seeks to encourage state lawmakers to create a law requiring every student to take a foreign language class every year starting in the first grade. In response Riordan said: “I think it’s great for children to learn a foreign language every year. I’m just not sure that I like the fact that the states going to order us to do it.”

Another student asked Riordan what accomplishment he was most proud of as mayor of Los Angeles.

“It was turning LA around,” Riordan said. “One of my fondest memories was going to a very poor neighborhood, and all the people meeting with me saying, ‘Mayor, what are you going to do about the holes in the street, the cracked sidewalks, the graffiti, the prostitute on the street corner, and the drugs being sold in one of the houses; what are you going to do about that?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do nothing. You’re going to do it. Don’t wait for the city and all their rules and regulations to get things done. You get it done and do it the best you can.’ I gave her my home phone number, and said, ‘If anybody objects, have them call me. Just go ahead and get it done.’ About six months later, they called and invited me to come back. I went back there and the place was like sparkling new.”

Next, a student asked, “what was the best part of being mayor?” To Riordan, the best part was “getting things done in a big city.” He remembered when he saw a problem that needed to be solved, he would be conferenced in with heads of departments and say, “Let’s get it done. Bang, bang.”

After a few more questions, the program was cut short by the lunch bell, and the students slowly emptied the room. Of course, they didn’t leave empty handed; Riordan had given them important advice to follow on their path to becoming leaders. This Civic Learning Meet and Greet was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to connect with real-life leaders like Richard Riordan and broaden their horizons. Students at San Marino High School are truly fortunate to be able to participate in such programs, and it’s all thanks to the amazing San Marino faculty.