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Ayanna Pressley addresses grads at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology

US Representative Ayanna Pressley spoke Saturday at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s commencement.
US Representative Ayanna Pressley spoke Saturday at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s commencement.(Luke Reidy/Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology)

US Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat who drew national attention last year when she defeated 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in a primary challenge, declared her solidarity with unknown and underappreciated workers Saturday during graduation exercises at Boston’s Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

Pressley, who will also be a commencement speaker at UMass Boston later this month, spoke of her struggles as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who was raised by a single mother while her father struggled with addiction.

She told graduates of the South End vocational school that sharing one’s own difficulties can help others to do the same, and when political figures speak candidly about human struggles, it helps citizens to feel that government knows their challenges.

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“I never ran to be anyone’s voice,” she said. “I ran to lift up the voices of people, to create space for the ignored, the unheard, the left-out, and the left-behind.”

Addressing graduates directly, Pressley spoke of the damage that low expectations can cause.

“There’ve been times in your life when you’ve underestimated you, your family underestimated you, when the world underestimated you,” she said. “But you know who never underestimated you? The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.”

The audience burst into warm applause.

Pressley spoke of the unsung and often invisible workers who keep industries humming, reflecting back upon the six years she spent as a hotel employee.

“I know what it is to be a part of the workforce where you make contributions every day, and you work hard, and people look over you. . . . But I want you to know that as you make contributions in construction, in HVAC, in engineering, you will never be an invisible workforce to this congresswoman,” she said.

“And I will make sure that this city celebrates and honors what it is that you contribute.”

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.