"I was against smoking marijuana in the fraternity house. I was wanting to do charity work at the fraternity house, which is known not for charity work but for beer drinking," Richardson said of his years as a brother in Delta Tau Delta.
His first taste of a political race came when he ran for president of his fraternity. "I won that race by a couple of votes. I didn't realize that if you run for office and you set an agenda you can win. And I kind of liked that."
Richardson also credited the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey for inspiring him to take a turn in politics. While in graduate school, Richardson admitted he was "aimlessly drifting" and not sure of his calling. But on a class trip to Washington, D.C., he heard Humphrey give a speech on public service, and his life course changed.
"I was just totally enamored. It was like a thunder bolt," Richardson said. "This is what I want to be. I want to be like Humphrey. I want to be a political leader."
When Richardson began to pursue politics, he found his first job as an unpaid intern working for Republican Rep. F. Bradford Morse from Massachusetts. Richardson later went on to serve as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Although his father was a staunch Republican, Richardson soon moved his loyalties over to the Democratic Party.
"The fact that I was brought up in Mexico City by my mother and my grandmother to be a strong Catholic -- I had a very strong sense of social justice, of helping the poor."
He continued as a low-level staffer at the State Department and other divisions of government, and after nearly a decade in Washington, he and Barbara made the move to Santa Fe. For 14 years, he served as a House rep from New Mexico.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Richardson ambassador to the United Nations, and eventually U.S. Secretary of Energy.
During his time in Congress and as ambassador under the Clinton administration, Richardson is credited with negotiating the release of several American political prisoners and servicemen overseas.
"The fact that I've made the difference in the life of a human being, and maybe I outwitted somebody that's a world leader, usually bad guys, " Richardson said.
After a brief stint in the private sector, Richardson returned to public life in 2002 when he was elected governor of New Mexico. He said he is committed to his life in politics.
"My philosophy is that if you have an opportunity to make a difference. If you have the skills, you should do it," Richardson said.