Second-year day student Thomas Cassaro is involved in finding methods to resolve many issues in a city as large and diverse as Los Angeles, from making neighborhoods safe to finding ways to make living near work affordable. "I'm interested in things like how to make education work better in a city where there is a lot of potential but lots of problems," he said. With that impetus, he established the Public Policy Group (PPG) at Southwestern to focus on people, agencies, and tools that can help people make positive changes in their lives. As president of PPG, one of his goals is to publish a journal that will serve as a public resource.
Cassaro's path to law school has been far from traditional. Born and raised in Chicago, he initially worked as a clerk at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and attended classes at DePaul University. But one especially vicious winter in the mid-90s inspired him to move to Los Angeles's mild climate. One of his new roommates in L.A. was a chef who cooked for touring bands. Cassaro had worked as a short-order cook in high school, and soon he too went on the road as a sous-chef. "It was a great time. I traveled extensively," he said. He first toured with the Rolling Stones. He also prepared food for Tori Amos, Phil Collins and Sarah McLachlan and learned to cook regional cuisine, depending on where they were.
Several years later it got more difficult to live on the road, especially after he adopted his pound-dog, Paco. Another friend connected him to a similar job for movie catering, which wouldn't require as much travel. Cassaro fed the casts and crews on the sets of several films from "Castaway" to "The Haunting" to "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." He also went on to complete his B.A. degree in history at UCLA. During this time he became involved with the community, working on social justice issues for Los Angeles Friends of Tibet, where he was honored as 1999 Volunteer of the Year. A Santa Monica judge he met through this organization inspired him to pursue a law degree.For the coming academic year, in addition to his involvement in the PPG, Cassaro will serve as president of NALSA, although he isn't Native American. "My grandfather was a Native American history aficionado and it was one of my focuses at UCLA," he said. "Plus, I had Professor Riley for Property during my first year at Southwestern, and we really hit it off.