US Senator Elizabeth Warren stood before the class of 2015 at Bunker Hill Community College Saturday and told a personal graduation story that was familiar to many of the more than 1,400 graduates.
“I sat in the back row at my graduation,” said Warren, who gave the commencement address. “I did not sit there thinking, ‘Whoa girl! You are now on your way to the United States Senate.’ That was not what I thought.”
Rather, Warren said, she was the first member of her family to attend college and dreamed of becoming a teacher. The path to her degree, however, was “pretty checkered,” she said.
“I borrowed money. I married young. I dropped out of school. l went back and finally I got lucky,” Warren said.
“We moved to a town that was about 30 miles away from a commuter college where the tuition was $50 a semester. I grabbed that chance and I held on for dear life,” she said. “I graduated. Best of all I got that job teaching special needs kids in a public school.”
The audience of graduates, family, friends, college faculty, and staff erupted in applause.
“I can relate,” said Renarda Huggins, 35, a Dorchester resident who received a certificate in human services and substance abuse at the ceremony. “I definitely had to fight to be here. It was a struggle. I went through so many things.”
Huggins said she told her story of becoming pregnant at age 15 and raising a son in a novel entitled, “Lies He Told,” which was published in 2009.
“[It’s] just like a relief that somebody understands what it’s like to have to go through that . . . and constantly fight your way through everything,” she said. “Nothing is ever given to me so I definitely can relate to that. And just hearing it coming from somebody else is really refreshing.”
After earning her college degree, Warren graduated from Rutgers School of Law and spent nearly 20 years teaching at Harvard Law School. She made a name for herself as a consumer advocate who campaigned to protect middle-class families from predatory financial practices.
Warren, a Democrat, became the first woman from Massachusetts to be elected to the US Senate in 2012 by defeating incumbent Senator Scott Brown, a Republican.
She said her struggle to get an education prepared her for an even bigger fight — the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The government agency was established after the financial crisis to supervise banks, credit unions, and other financial companies and enforce consumer financial laws.
“The fight was just about what you’d expect, only worse,” Warren said. “The banks hated the consumer agency. . . . These guys had built business models around cheating. They had raked in billions of dollars in profits and they weren’t about to let anyone disturb their high-rolling ways.”
The bureau has been existence for just under four years and is credited with getting financial institutions to return more than $5 billion to consumers, Warren said.
She called the push to create the bureau “one more example of the lesson that is engraved on my soul.”
“You can’t win what you don’t fight for,” Warren said.
Matthew Hrono, 25, of Salem, who received an associate’s degree in science, said he liked Warren’s speech, but had wished for something more.
“I was hoping she’d announce she was running for president,” Hrono said. “She’s one of maybe a handful in Washington who actually care and don’t bow to who writes the biggest checks.”