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Cheers and loud applause were the response to an inspiring commencement speech given by state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, at Prairie State College’s 56th annual commencement ceremony May 16 at the Pioneer Fieldhouse in Chicago Heights. With a packed crowd of graduates and family members, Hutchinson made it clear she knew how hard the graduates worked to get there.

“You made it here when your car didn’t work. You made it here when your work interfered. You made it here when your childcare fell through. You decided to make it here,” Hutchinson said. “This is different than those kids whose parents wrote a check and sent them off to college. You did this in the midst of your regular, everyday life.”

Recognizing that many community college graduates take a different path to college, often going part-time, working full-time, and juggling family responsibilities, Hutchinson had the crowd applauding as she compared her story to their story.

“I am so honored to share this day with you. I was not a traditional student. I was in law school with three children under 11, and driving two hours each way to get there. It was long, it was hard, and it was worth every single minute,” she said.

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Sharing with the audience how sometimes others doubted her, she never doubted herself.

“No one was going to tell me that I can’t do this," she said. Someone in Hutchinson's first year told her that maybe law school wasn’t for her. She sat next to that person on the stage during her graduation from law school. “I gave him a big hug and said that law school was definitely for me,” Hutchinson said.

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Telling the audience that “no one will invest in you if you don’t invest in yourself,” she encouraged them to continue to that next step. “You get to decide this story called your life. You get to write the next chapter.”

PSC President Terri Winfree presented Hutchinson with an honorary associate in arts degree. “I was thrilled to present an honorary degree to Senator Hutchinson. It was a privilege to have her give the commencement speech to our graduates,” Winfree said.

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The opinions are solely the writer's. Jennifer E. Stoner is the executive director of public relations and marketing at Prairie State College. She can be reached at jstoner@prairiestate.edu.

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