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Brooklyn College feels the ‘Bern’ at 2017 graduation

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the students at his Alma Mater

May 31, 2017 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn College graduates celebrate in waves of confetti at the Barclays Center. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

On Tuesday, Vermont Senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders returned to his Brooklyn roots to address the 2017 Brooklyn College graduating class at Barclays Center. Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn and graduated from James Madison High School in 1959, before attending Brooklyn College, where he studied for one year before transferring to the University of Chicago.

Sanders was invited to be the Keynote Speaker and named Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.  He wished the graduating class luck in all of its future endeavors and said that on behalf of himself and his wife Jane, he prayed that all “live healthy and happy lives doing the work you enjoy, surrounded in love by family and friends.”

He thanked Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson, Chief of Staff to the President Nichole Haas and the Brooklyn College administration, faculty and staff for inviting him back to Brooklyn. Sanders received loud applause when he said, “I grew up in Flatbush and like Sen. Schumer graduated from James Madison High School. My wife Jane was also raised in Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant and graduated from Saint Saviour High School a few miles away from here. In 1959 as a first generation college student I attended Brooklyn College for a year, a year which had a major impact on my life.”

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Sanders explained why he made the decision to leave the borough.

“After that year I left for the University of Chicago where I eventually graduated,” said Sanders. “My mom had died the previous year and I felt it was time to leave the neighborhood and see what the rest of the world looked like.”

Sanders explained that growing up in a financially strapped family helped shape his outlook on life. “We lived in a three and a half room rent controlled apartment,” said Sanders. “As with many of your families who don’t have a lot of money, financial pressure caused friction and tension within our household. From those experiences of growing up without a lot of money, I have never forgotten that there are millions of people throughout this country who struggle to put food on the table, pay the electric bill, try to save for their kids’ education or for retirement. People who are fighting today to live in dignity.”

The second thing that impacted Sanders life was knowing that his father had fled poverty and anti-Semitism in Poland at age 17 and emigrated to the United States to escape Hitler and the Holocaust. Many in his father’s family were not so lucky. From that experience, Sanders said that what was indelibly stamped on his mind was “that we must never allow demagogues to divide us up by race, by religion, by national origin, by gender or sexual orientation.”


Sanders implored the students to stand together and fight against racial, cultural and religious intolerance because “this country belongs to all of us.”

In addition to Sanders honorary doctorate, the distinguished alumnus award was presented to ’96 graduate Fredy A. Peccerelli, a forensic anthropologist and human rights activist. This year’s valedictorian was Kevin LaMonte Jones and Salutatorian Michael A. Franco.

Attending the ceremony were Brooklyn College alumni U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Councilmember Jumaane Williams. Also at the commencement were Public Advocate Letitia James and Borough President Eric Adams, who said, “There are two types of Americans: those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they could.” Adams summed up the graduating class’ enthusiastic response to Sanders when he added, “If you feel the ‘Bern’ then it’s your turn.”


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