Mario Cardona, 31, is a senior policy advisor for Education at the Obama White House. He works with the Department of Education on everything from regulations and grants to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 law that replaced No Child Left Behind education law.
The son of immigrants from Guatemala, Cardona attended the University of Texas at Austin, the Harvard Graduate School of Education and George Washington Law School. Yet he said he is continually struck by the "intellectual firepower" of his colleagues.
"Everyone around here is so, so smart, hardworking - and it never stops," he said. "Before, I worked in the Senate and there were breaks, like when they were not in session, so it was a time to recharge. Here it never stops."
Cardona feels that it is a privilege to work at the White House. Yet he admits that the work is so intense, that it wasn't until he was giving a tour to his parents — who told him to "slow down" since they were taking it all in — that he realized the enormity of working at the powerful address.
"It is difficult for folks here to have perspective, because everyone is so busy, working hard and planning events," he said. "There is not much time to reflect on what an incredible experience it is. When I talk to my parents, then it hits me; they never expected to have a son working in the White House."
"Once I'm done here, after January 2017, I will probably have a better perspective about it all," he said. "Right now, I am just in it."
Cardona smiles when he talks of having to explain to friends and relatives that he doesn't get to go up to the President and relay his loved ones' views on a certain policy. "I do not play golf with the president. I do not play basketball with the president," he said wryly.