Michael Younger ‘02 discusses his life before Stevenson and what his Stevenson education means to him. He also shares his experiences in the private and public sectors, and the unique lens he brings to his candidacy for governor of California.

[This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.]

RLS: How did you find Stevenson?

Michael Younger: It was inspirational, I’ll be honest. I came from an impoverished background: low income, single parent, with the unfortunate experience of being unhoused for a period of time, living with my mother and sister in a shelter for mothers and their children in Monterey.

The unthinkable opportunity happened when I was at Los Arboles Middle School. I had a counselor named Ms. Mary Owens, and she knew an individual at Stevenson, former coach Jason Harbert, who ended up introducing me to some RLS staff. That meeting really got the ball rolling for me to see beyond my circumstances, to see opportunities that I thought were out of reach, and to reimagine what life could be if, in fact, I had access to a great education and an environment that was forward-thinking in terms of college after high school.

Once I got over the hurdle of making sure I had everything I needed to be successful, my mother made a pivotal decision to have me move forward in the process. It put me on a path that showed me there was so much more light at the end of the tunnel than I thought I had access to.

RLS: What was your RLS experience like?

MY: Coming into this new and vibrant world was a great culture shock for me. It was very different from the experiences I’d had, but I was able to create an incredible bond with students, faculty, and staff in a way that was so personal to me. Relationships have always been something that transcends circumstance or socioeconomic status and to me this was exactly where my drive kicked in. I really get excited to see familiar faces, be they in retirement or still teaching, like Ron Provost, Dale Hinckley, folks like that who are still going strong. It’s inspiring because their dedication to teaching is so impactful.

I am also one of many folks who have been touched by the staff, and I’m not just talking about teaching faculty, but folks who used to monitor campus. I was an athlete and a prefect in the dorm, and after night games when we got home late, I would need to carry on with my prefect responsibilities. We had a security guard by the name of Morris who used to talk to the dining hall staff to set aside a meal and leave it in the fridge for me to microwave in the dorm so I would have a hot meal.

Thinking back, those kinds of gestures allowed me to see that beyond the teaching, beyond the academic rigor of my education, there was so much love and compassion behind the Stevenson community. I’ve been so grateful to have received that through everything I participated in, whether in theater or photography, track and field, basketball, as a prefect, or as recipient of the prestigious President’s award.

RLS: What people or experiences shaped your RLS journey, and possibly your life journey, as well?

MY: I still remember the Sophomore Expedition. I believe it’s a 10-day trip, and it’s where I was able to get away from all the influences of the world and read the letters and experiences that folks truly wanted to share with me. What we did during that time really allowed me to hone who I am, to be one with myself and confident in my own skin and talents. That Stevenson experience was foundational for me.

Señora (Nancy) Allison. She is retired now. She made Spanish so fun and intriguing, and what she put into her class was inspiring. She was very passionate and gave me the drive that was absolutely pivotal to expanding my own horizon of inclusivity.

Biff Smith. I think his course was critical for me. I mean, he was just a passionate individual who really wanted to imbue in his students that love for the English language, the written elements, diving into books and poems. I wasn’t super jazzed about English as a subject at that time, but during his classes, I really thrived. I’ve been grateful for it because he pulled some things out of me that I didn’t think existed. While I was taking his class, I was even inspired to start a small book club on campus.

RLS: How does it feel to be returning to Stevenson as our graduation speaker?

MY: It is full circle for me. I’d like to extend a big thank you to President Dan Griffiths for his kind invitation to come back to Stevenson and share my story. I always wanted to share it when I was going through it, but there wasn’t an opportunity because I had to compartmentalize my experience at home and my upbringing from where I needed to be, which was focused on school. My mom gave me the space to do that, and I was grateful for that, but there were real challenges at home. Having a father who was unfortunately not in the home, had addiction issues, and was justice-involved added a great deal of complexity to how I thought I would have to show up in this world. I had all those challenges, and then my mom being a single parent and also being on public assistance at periods of our life. It was very important for me to section out that experience, trying to be as successful as I could be at Stevenson so that there was a path forward for me and for those that may have had similar experiences and needed to know success was possible.

After Stevenson [and USC], I began a corporate career for nearly a decade at AT&T Mobility headquarters in Atlanta and also San Ramon, heading up their partner management, strategy and corporate pricing business, where I was managing bicoastal teams (California, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas). When I moved into the public sector, where I had previously received my degree in public policy, I began to realize that my combination of public and private sector experience gave me a unique perspective on the needs of industry and also the needs of the community. For almost 10 years now, I have been able to lead and empathize with millions of people across the state through the lens of my own story and what it has meant to come from my upbringing, to understand the pervasive challenges California faces more broadly with opioid addiction, our justice-involved populations, our second-chance opportunities for employment for folks who have been rehabilitated, and trying to help turn the lives around of those who rely on public safety net services to get by, and giving them an opportunity to own their destinies. Those experiences growing up really impacted the way I’ve operated and the roles I’ve had to impact change throughout the state of California.

Now, backed by my professional background as it relates to leading at some of the largest state agencies like CalPERS, I’m focused on doing more for the State of California. I’ve been leveraging those talents in higher education over the last several years as the VP of a startup community college (Calbright College), the first of its kind in the country to introduce a new style of education to the nation’s largest community college system, specifically for adult learners. It is competency-based education that allows folks who have never seen themselves on a college track to acquire skills so they can move quickly into the workforce or to furthering their educational aspirations. So things have come full circle for me. It’s amazing to come back and share my journey and how RLS played a critical role.

RLS: Tell us about your upcoming plans. What’s next for you?

MY: Absolutely. Prior to my current role as VP of Calbright College, I was a governor appointee and the only Deputy Secretary required to be confirmed before the California State Senate. I received a unanimous vote of approval from both Democrats and Republicans to be confirmed into my position, the first time it’s been done for my role in the state’s history. I appreciate that because what I noticed in that role is that some things are not controversial: family well-being and mental health, health equity, workforce opportunity for all folks regardless of the zip code in which they reside, and inclusive economic systems. Those principles that guided my tenure when I did work with Governor Newsom and current U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su will guide me into this next journey. And you may ask: what is this next journey?

I’ve recently made the decision that I will be running for governor of California in 2026. As a matter of fact, tomorrow (February 29, 2024) on Thursday, I will formally release a press digital ad about my official notification to run in 2026. My candidacy is very much an opportunity to reimagine the potential of California, from the business community, to the working community, to those striving for opportunity in our immigrant communities, to those who just want to contribute but aren’t inspired to do so because of the need to restore confidence and civility in the body politic. Our message is about people, not a person, because togetherness and plurality is where change happens. And from my perspective, it’s destine to happen right here in California!

I’ve been so grateful to my wife Sabrina and my two kids Chloe (9) and Michael III (3) for their support. We did focus groups, really tested the waters. We gained the confidence to move forward and announce our bid for governor tomorrow. We’re very excited to tell our story to communities across the state of California that have poured into my life, and that includes Pebble Beach and Stevenson. I’m so grateful to have a background like this because I think what it does, in a very unique way, is bring communities together. Like, how could this kid who was never on a path to experience an incredibly unique education, one that would have been completely out of reach for a number of different reasons, then go into the community, be a part of the community, thrive within the community, and then somehow give back, even if in the way of simply setting an example that there’s a path forward for others.

It really can only happen in California. My message to all is that we all need to dig deep and see where our skills and talents can contribute, even in a small way, to the greater whole, like volunteering at the local community level: food banks, church, maybe a nonprofit, or Boy Scouts and and Girl Scouts or whatever that is beyond just you. How can we keep that alive and make sure it’s a part of being civically engaged, and a part of being in a community? That’s the message that we want to bring forward. We’re really excited about this opportunity for the state, for the campaign, and for our candidacy.