He almost failed the third grade. By the seventh grade, his teacher had given up on him, predicting he’d be lucky to make it through middle school. But Richard Greenfield, born with lead poisoning, never gave up on himself. On Saturday, he’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in politics and government.

And this time, a teacher has a much different prediction.

“I can see him not only becoming an expert policy analyst, but also training the next generation of problem-solvers,” said Kerri Milita, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Government. “Richard is one of the best policy students I have ever had. He cares – about people and the future of the state of Illinois.”

Greenfield’s interest in government started in his Chicago high school, where he was on student council. At Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College, he served as vice president of the Student Government Association. That’s what led him to Illinois State. At an Illinois Community College Board meeting in Uptown Normal, he met a representative of Illinois State who pointed out the University was just down the street. He invited him to take a look, so that’s what he did, walking down Beaufort Street. When he saw Hovey Hall, he told himself, “I can see myself here.”

The next fall, he was.

But if his college path sounds easy, it wasn’t.

“I’ve had to struggle all my life because of lead poisoning,” he said. “I have comprehension problems. It takes me longer to learn but I continue to work hard and strive.”

The third-generation college graduate interned for state legislators, advocating for the passage of the marriage equality bill in 2013. When former Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill, Greenfield was there, and was handed accolades from the governor, along with one of the pens used.

At ISU, he’s been active in College Democrats, the Critical Politics Society, Black Student Union, Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity, and Student Government Association, where he served as secretary of governmental affairs.

Richard Greenfield with Reggie Redbird

Richard Greenfield, Class of 2017

He’s also worked closely with Jonathan Lackland, ISU’s director of government relations. During the state’s budget impasse, Greenfield was one of the students who met with lawmakers to talk about the critical importance of funding higher education.

“It was important to get a student’s perspective but also the perspective of someone who understood what was happening with the budget,” Lackland said. “Richard was able to step in and show how the budget impasse was impacting the students. That’s difficult to articulate and he was able to do that.”

At only 23, Greenfield has big plans that include running for office someday. He likes to mention governor. Until then, he wants to focus on college affordability. Scholarships made it possible for him to graduate without big loans. He received the University’s Transfer Student Scholarship, along with the John P. Freese Scholarship, George J. Gordon Scholarship in U.S. Public Affairs and the Black Colleagues Association Scholarship.

Those provided him with more than tuition assistance. “They made me feel like someone believes in me,” he said.

Milita would like to see him pursue a doctorate in public policy. “He has a natural mind for policy. He understands both the immediate and downstream effects of policy interventions, which is something most students don’t grasp until graduate school. I’ve never seen a student so actively involved in both student and state government.”

Lackland credits Greenfield with pushing student voter turnout for the 2017 election to an all-time high.

“His passion goes a long way,” he said. “We need more of it.”