CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez felt like she was in a familiar place Saturday, giving the commencement speech during Prairie State College’s graduation.
As Alvarez pointed out, she was the first person in her family who graduated from college – a fact she had in common with many of the Prairie State graduates to whom she spoke.
“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something,” Alvarez told the students. “There should be no glass ceiling anymore in any profession. We can’t let people judge us anymore by our names, our gender or our race.”
For Prairie State students who will attend a university to earn a bachelor’s degree or do graduate work, Alvarez shared memories of her time at Chicago-Kent School of Law, which she said was a major adjustment academically and personally.
“Law school was a culture shock,” she said, adding there were times when the social differences between her and other students made her wonder if she could succeed.
But Alvarez said through perseverance, she adapted and succeeded.
“Great risks really do bring great rewards,” Alvarez said.
She said that attitude led her to prevail in 2008 when she first ran for state’s attorney against several people with stronger political connections. Alvarez became the first woman (and Latina) to become the county’s top prosecutor. She took pride in being able to say Saturday that the state’s attorney’s office now employs some 54 percent women.
Alvarez was not the only one who tried to bolster the graduates' morale. College President Terri Winfree said that despite her Ph.D. from Colorado State University, she still takes pride in once being a Prairie State College student.
Political science associate professor Andrew Schott wisecracked about the derogatory tone some people take when discussing the community college.
“When people respond to you by saying, ‘You mean Harvard on Halsted?’ Look ‘em in the eye and say, ‘Harvard ain’t got nothin’ on us.' ”