Anthony Sadler, known as one of Sacramento’s hometown heroes, flashed a smile Saturday morning as a small “Made at Sac State” pin was attached to his graduation gown.
Nearby, his father and stepmother, Tony and Maria Sadler, snapped photographs of the 24-year-old, commemorating the moments before his graduation from Sacramento State.
Sadler was one of three local young men who were lauded globally after thwarting a terrorist attack while aboard a Paris-bound train traveling from Amsterdam in 2015.
He was accompanied by two friends during the incident: U.S. Air Force airman Spencer Stone, who was 23 at the time, and Alek Skarlatos, a 22-year-old member of the Oregon National Guard who had just finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The trio made international headlines in the days that followed and were credited for taking quick action on Aug. 21, 2015, when they saw a gunman move through the train, brandishing a firearm. Within seconds of spotting him, Stone tackled the armed man to the ground and the three, with the help of another person on board, wrestled the assailant to the ground and tied him up.
French President Francois Hollande awarded the three with French Legion of Honor medals, the country’s highest honor. In Sacramento, a parade was held a few weeks later to celebrate their bravery and safe return.
“With everything that happened, it made today just that much more worth it,” he said. “That I not only overcame school but also everything else that was going on with me at the same time.”
The three grew up in the Sacramento area, with Stone and Skarlatos living next door to each other in Carmichael. Sadler met the pair while attending an independent Christian middle school, according to a Sacramento Bee article.
On Saturday, Sadler walked across the graduation stage erected on the Golden 1 Center arena floor to receive his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology (the art and science of human movement), with an emphasis on physical education. He wore a brightly colored graduation stole as he joined roughly 1,300 other students who were graduating from the school’s College of Health and Human Services.
Sadler received a nod from the college’s President Robert Nelsen, who spoke about Sadler’s bravery during the ceremony.
The milestone came about a year later than planned, Sadler said. He took a year off to attend speaking events, as well as work on a book with Stone and Skarlatos about the attack, called “The 15:17 to Paris.” The trio are in the early stages of a Clint Eastwood-directed film about their intervention with the armed gunman, he said.
“These two years feel like 10 lifetimes,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
In the crowd, a large group of family and friends cheered for Sadler as he received his diploma. He waived two fists in the air as he left the stage.
Tony Sadler, a pastor at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, said the moment was one he had waited for since his son’s birth.
“Right now we’re regular parents celebrating our son graduating from college, and we couldn’t be happier,” he said.
Sadler said that he plans on spending some of his time post-graduation consulting on the Eastwood film and continuing to participate in speaking engagements. As for job prospects, the 24-year-old said he’s keeping an open mind.
“My life has just been so crazy that I’m not trying to really dive in or commit to anything at the moment,” Sadler said. “I really just want to weigh my options and just see what’s best for me.”
Here's a time-lapse version of Friday’s Sacramento State College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies ceremony during Spring Commencement 2017 at Golden 1 Center.