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Elizabeth Warren to graduates: embrace the unexpected

Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed graduates at Bridgewater State University on Saturday.
Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed graduates at Bridgewater State University on Saturday.Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

BRIDGEWATER -- What do Donald Trump, The Isley Brothers, and lyrics from Taylor Swift’s hit, “Shake It Off” have in common?

Elizabeth Warren wove them into a commencement address Saturday at Bridgewater State University, where she recounted her journey from college dropout to US senator in a speech that included advice, jabs at Wall Street, and laugh lines.

Warren said her life story is replete with “mistakes and twists and turns and failures.” She encouraged the Class of 2016 to embrace the unexpected and get to know who they are.

“Heck, on my day of graduation, I never imagined I would visit foreign countries. I never imagined I would be a commencement speaker. I never imagined I would get into a Twitter war with Donald Trump,” said Warren, drawing laughs and applause.

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Warren spoke at the first of two commencement ceremonies the school held Saturday and received an honorary doctorate of public service. The university is awarding about 2,200 undergraduate degrees this year, a spokeswoman said.

The speech came as Warren marches through the 2016 election season as an anti-Trump surrogate who is seen by some as a potential vice presidential pick for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“I think that Donald Trump is a truly dangerous man and there is some risk that he could be president of the United States,” Warren told reporters after the graduation. “I think it’s time for all of us to pay careful attention to him and to the issues that he has raised and to start fighting back.”

She would not say whether she would accept an offer to run for vice president.

“I have a job I love and I wake up every morning eager to do that,” Warren said.

University President Frederick W. Clark Jr. also commented on speculation that Warren might run for vice president.

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“I don’t know about this business of being a running mate,” he said. “I think she should just be the candidate.”

Clark’s remarks drew cheers.

During her speech, Warren said her first trip to college ended with her relinquishing a full scholarship, dropping out, and getting married.

“Boy, was I smart at 19,” she said.

Warren said she returned to school and became a teacher, a job she held until she became pregnant. Her next stop was law school, saying she was “about the size of a fully operational blimp” on graduation day because she was pregnant with another child.

“You may detect a pattern here,” she joked.

After law school, Warren said she could not find a job and returned to teaching, giving courses on bankruptcy law, contracts, and finance while acting as a consumer advocate.

She lists one achievement as helping to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Since its creation nearly five years ago, Warren said the agency has returned more than $11 billion to consumers.

She was elected to the US Senate in 2012, becoming the first woman in Massachusetts to hold the position. In Washington, Warren said she deals with naysayers by following this advice: Know who you are.

“As one of the great philosophers of our time has said, ‘Haters going to hate, hate, hate hate, hate’, ” said Warren, quoting Swift. “Knowing who you are helps you, ‘Shake It Off.’ ”

Jackie Salaris, 25, who graduated with degrees in special education and sociology, said she related to Warren’s story about putting herself through college.

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“I had to do this by myself, moneywise,” said Salaris, a Quincy resident who credited three jobs, loans, and “no sleep” with getting her through school.

Christopher McDonald, 24, who earned a math degree, said Warren’s advice about being open to the unexpected resonated with him.

“I’ve always tried to plan everything I do,” said McDonald, who lives in Canton. “She said that sometimes no amount of planning will prepare you for something that could happen. It made me relax a little bit in terms of trying to make everything go exactly according to how I think it should be.”

Warren’s remarks also struck a chord with another audience member. Once she finished speaking, a voice called from the crowd: “Killed it!”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.