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Pressley calls UMass Boston grads ‘President Trump’s worst nightmare’

Rep. Ayanna Pressley addresses UMass Boston graduates
"I encourage you to be skeptical. Ask the question that changes the conversation. Shake the table. Upend the status quo. Just do not become cynical." (Photo: Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff)

US Representative Ayanna Pressley praised the hard work and diversity of UMass Boston’s Class of 2019, calling the graduates “President Trump’s worst nightmare.”

“Represented here today are dreamers and doers, immigrants, people of every race identity, every gender identity and sexuality, sisters rocking Senegalese twists and hijabs,” Pressley told the 2,783 graduates and their families gathered on the lawn of the waterfront campus for the commencement.

Martin T. Meehan, president of the UMass system, told the crowd on the sunny morning that Pressley “has not been afraid to speak up, stand up, and, in some cases, cause trouble.”

At a school where many of the students hail from Boston, Pressley highlighted her love for the city, which she described as her “chosen home.”


“I love this city. I love its grit and its drive, its skylines and its history,” said the rising star in the Democratic Party. “More than anything, I love its people. If America is our great experiment in democracy, then perhaps we should call Boston our great experiment in community.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (left) received the Chancellor's Medal at the University of Massachusetts Boston 2019 Commencement. Martin T. Meehan (right) is the President of the University of Massachusetts.Jonathan Wiggs/GlobeStaff/Globe Staff

The university honored Pressley, the first Massachusetts woman of color to be elected to the House of Representatives, with the Chancellor’s Medal for Exemplary Leadership.

Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor of the university, singled out students who she said exemplified the school’s community of strivers.

Tony Martin, who earned a degree in music with a minor in political science, is a Coast Guard veteran. He grew up in Texas in a low-income neighborhood and is the first in his family to graduate from college.

Kim Tran emigrated from Vietnam with a 4-year-old daughter and enrolled in Bunker Hill Community College. Despite working 60 hours a week to support her child and family back in Vietnam, Tran graduated from Bunker Hill with a 4.0 GPA. On Friday, she earned a degree in nursing and became the first person in her family to earn a degree.


After the ceremony, graduates and their families embraced. In University Hall, Weymouth resident Jeanne Walker was sitting at a table, waiting for her son Kyle, who had earned a degree in electrical engineering. Walker herself is an alumna of UMass Boston and was thrilled to see her son graduate from the university after first completing a little over two years at Massasoit Community College.

“Just seeing him grow and become the man I knew he would be,” Walker said. “More confident. It just blows my mind that he can talk about algorithms and all this other stuff, and I just don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. He’s just so excited about learning all that.”

The Walkers are celebrating by going out to dinner at The Range Bar & Grille in Hingham, a family tradition for graduates.

About 20 feet away, Nona Charles, who earned a degree in biology, laughed and took selfies with her family. She plans to move to New York City, where she grew up, and work in research at a hospital. She felt overwhelmed with emotion and had some advice for incoming freshmen to ponder.

“Times will get hard,” Charles said. “You’re going to think you want to drop out, but just keep persevering because it’s worth it in the end.”

Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at