I plan to walk at graduation in May, 2017. You’re all invited to see me take my masters degree from CSU President Ronald Berkman, who himself successfully prevented me from entering the program in 2013 because of my 2002 conviction, as follows.

In the case of Mr. Russo, the committee determined that he was not an acceptable candidate for the MAGI program or Cleveland State University. Based on the careful consideration of the matter provided by the committee, I do not believe the decision should be disturbed. Ronald M. Berkman, Ph.D. President

I proceeded to further “disturb” Dr. Berkman’s decision after my run for county executive in spring, 2014, in which I placed 3rd out of 6 candidates, beating soundly both a former county sheriff and a former mayor. I cashed those votes in to re-apply to the MAGI program, gaining acceptance to CSU over Dr. Berkman’s 2013 objection. Thank you to the nearly 10,000 voters across Cuyahoga County for helping.

As I promised, I did not let my voters down. I’m currently sitting on a perfect 4.0 GPA. One of the perks of returning to school after so long is being reminded how long it takes to grade law exams, thus, as of this post, I’m still waiting on a grade for the fall semester international law class. Good chance it’s an A, so I will enter my final semester in the CSU Master of Arts in Global Interaction program with a 4.0, pending one more class this spring semester.

It’s been both strange and wonderful to be back on campus for the last 3 years. Since my first degree in 1989, much has changed, much hasn’t. There are many more international students, many of whom have become friends. The campus itself is a far more welcoming physical space than the mausoleum it used to be. Winter at CSU is still brutal; they haven’t yet figured out a way to stop the wind tunnels.

Being the rabble rouser I am, I had a tangle or two on campus, specifically, over the MAGI internship. Because I gained admission based on my voters, however, I avoided every other fight. I could have been in constant combat from day one. Very quickly, I learned that the vast majority of the lip service CSU pays to the plights of ex-offenders is just that; lip service. I often felt barely tolerated, instead of welcome; which I guess is to be expected. If I could pick one thing I’m most proud of during the MAGI program, it is my banishment of New York Times buffoon Tom Friedman from having his nonsense made assigned reading. Friedman appeared in several classes, and after a while, I had had enough. It didn’t take much; the slightest pin prick of oversight is usually enough to expose a preening Davos Man court jester of oligarchy. If Tom Friedman ever again shows up in a MAGI syllabus, it ain’t my fault.

Through it all, I’ve given no one any reason to think Dr. Berkman’s 2013 rejection was proper, quite the opposite. As an experienced international relations practitioner, and an attorney, I took it upon myself to help my fellow students as much as possible. An extra professor in the room, so to speak. I don’t (and couldn’t) know how much my fellow students learned about me and my journey. I just assumed everyone would eventually Google me, which meant it was on me to try to set a good example to other students, to challenge ideas presented as fact, to dig deeper, never to take anything at face value, and always stand up for yourself.

My MAGI experience has often felt like a long, desperately needed rest at a magical oasis after crossing a decade wide desert under constant incoming fire. Now, I enter the job market again. My phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook, but I’m still hopeful. The Russo Reclamation Project has a capstone now, thanks almost entirely to the political process. My work with the Bernie Sanders campaign this year has featured a lot of disillusionment with that process. I hope I’ve proven that even as American democracy decays all around us, it can still be accessed to accomplish your goals, no matter how hopeless it all seems. Happy New Year, everyone.