Governor of California Visits School


Meredith Lipsey

Gavin Newsom greets Adam Kirby’s AP Comparative Government Class in the choir room with fist bumps.

Monday, April 3, a crowd of comparative government students sat in the choir classroom, waiting for the arrival of a prominent national politician. As Governor Gavin Newsom walked through the door, his California cool energy radiated across the room, and he began his conversation by personally fist-bumping each and every student, then inviting the class to share what they had been learning recently. 

The nervous energy had not yet dissipated, and no students spoke up. So Newsom started to speak, sharing personal details about his upbringing and life as a politician. The class listened intently.

Newsom, along with his first partner and their four children, have now visited Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas in an attempt to push back against recent initiatives introduced by Republican governors aimed at restricting abortion rights and promoting significant reforms in the ways that public education is funded. Newsom also indicated that a major focus of the trip was to educate his children on the history of the Civil Rights Movement. The visit was also a chance to display Newsom’s own political experience and introduce himself to a broader audience of progressive political activists. 

“We see rights that are being rolled back in real time. There is an assault on women and girls as it relates to reproductive freedom. You can also look at what’s happening with the environment and what’s happening with gun violence. I feel compelled as a representative of the largest state in the union, having just won my reelection campaign, a need to be more accountable to what’s going on in other parts of the country,” he said. 

Newsom discussed the Arkansas LEARNS bill, signed by Governor Sanders last month, sharply criticizing the approach to education adopted by Arkansas Republicans. 

“Our approach to education is as different as daylight and darkness. We’re not going to voucher-ize or privatize schools, we’re not vilifying teachers and librarians or threatening their jobs, we’re not banning books, we’re not banning speech. We’re instead celebrating our differences and focusing on fundamental reforms,” he said.

Principal Nancy Rousseau welcomes Gavin Newsom and his family on the front steps for a guided tour of the school.

While they were in Arkansas, the Newsoms attended a Democratic Party event in Bentonville and handed out supplies at a tornado damage relief center in West Little Rock. They also accompanied Principal Nancy Rousseau on a guided tour of the school and her personal office, where she displayed a number of historical artifacts from the time of integration.

Discussing the historical significance of Little Rock, Newsom noted that his desk once belonged to Earl Warren, who, after serving as governor of California, was appointed to the Supreme Court and delivered the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, as a part of the integration movement. In an effort to remind students that one does not have to occupy political office to make a difference, Newsom spoke about the differences between formal and moral authority, embodied by Dr. Martin Luther King and Newsom’s own political hero, Robert F. Kennedy.

“I mean, you guys are your living embodiment of the answer to the questions I ask myself. You get to walk into this place every single day with the answer. I mean, there was no Civil Rights Act without the dialect (conversation) between those moral authorities like Dr. King and others who forced the hand of Kennedy and others, by agitating and finally getting them to act in favor of integration,” Newsom said. 

Newsom said he had no plans to run for president in 2024. He claimed that President Biden will run and also noted his longtime friendship with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also from San Francisco, suggesting he would defer to her if she announced a campaign. This assertion didn’t sit well with the Newsom children, however, who would certainly love to see their father run if only for the chance to once again ride on Air Force One. 

“Biden loves [my kids], and he doesn’t want to talk to me. He wants to talk to the kids all of the time. I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of these presidents, and he took them on a tour of Air Force One and they loved it. Now it’s like ‘Dad, you need to run for president.’”

Before being elected governor in 2018, Newsom served as the lieutenant governor as well as mayor of San Francisco. Before that, he said he was an average student who scored a 960 on the SAT and failed statistics three times. Much of his academic struggles were later attributed to dyslexia, which has reduced his ability to read speeches, contributing to the off-the-cuff, conversational style that was on display during his visit. 

Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, works as a documentary film maker and attained both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University. She said the trip was a unique opportunity to experience the history and culture of Arkansas.

“The trip has just been amazing. Getting to experience history firsthand like this is such an incredible opportunity for our kids,” she said. “We have just felt so welcome by all of Arkansas.”

Both Governor Newsom and his wife sympathized with the struggles of students in Arkansas.

“These last two years have carried a lot of stress. And it’s not just COVID-19, it’s also the dislocation. You lose that cadence of engagement, friends, and relationships, you know, just struggling with everything online but feeling more disconnected. You’re isolated in a lot of ways. I imagine a lot of personal struggle has occurred, and we are still coming out of the pandemic. All of that coupled with the polarization generally and everything you got coming from politicians here,” said Newsom. “You all are on the receiving end of a lot of people who have different points of view about personal choice and education. So, it’s a lot of stress for students.”

Newsom also made sure to remind students to be themselves and take advantage of opportunities to learn from failure. 

“Winston Churchill: he said that the secret to all success is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm. I kind of like that quote. It’s hard to do, right? That’s sort of the resilience that you must have. I think about that a lot the last couple of years with everything you guys have been through,” he said. “Just relax. It’s what I tell myself. Because we get so caught up in trying to be like somebody else. Got to be like someone else or got to do better. Why? Why are we ignoring that your expressions are unique? No one else has it. That’s the difference maker.”