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tv   Michelle Howard Address at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  CSPAN  June 13, 2015 1:35pm-1:53pm EDT

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but i had a baby on the way and back then, there were rules about pregnant teachers. so i had to give it up. but at one -- i won a big battle. and that made me bolder. and each time i fought for something i believed in and won i believed i could do it again. the challenges got bigger, the results got better. the twists and turns became more and more unexpected. so i just want to fast-forward to a fight from a few years ago. at the time of this fight, i was a professor. just like your teachers. at for about 20 years, i had been doing research on what was happening to america's working families. i saw people getting slammed cheated on, credit cards pulled, checked on mortgages, and it got worse and worse. i watched as big banks raked in
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billions of dollars by trapping people in debt. and i watched as millions of families lost their homes, their paycheck, lost their hope. what really burns me deep was that there was plenty of law to stop those banks, but the government agencies that were supposed to enforce those laws couldn't be bothered. i wanted to change that. and that is when i had an idea. what if we built a new agency? what if we gathered up all those laws about mortgages and consumer loans and give to one agency and we gave that agency the tools to enforce the laws? a sort of financial cop for american families. and then we held that agency accountable? a tough cop who was willing to take on wall street and big banks. what would happen then? i talked to everybody i could
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about this idea. i went to washington, i talked to folks in congress, policy gurus, newspaper people, anybody i could. pretty much all of them told me two things. first, that is a good idea. that is actually an idea that could make a difference. and the second thing they told me, don't do it. think about that. they gave me 1000 reasons not to do it, but the reasons all boiled down to one very painful point. you can't win. don't do it because you can't win. don't even try because you can't win. you will never get to this consumer agency passed into law. they pointed out that the biggest banks in the country would hate this idea and they would send hundreds of millions of dollars to stop it. and they said to me, you are
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just a teacher. you've got nothing. you've got no money, organization, political juice. it won't happen, so don't even try. i heard this, but there was something deep inside me that just refused to believe them. they said don't try, and what i heard was try harder. and that is what i did. i jumped in and i fought for that little agency because i truly believed it could make a difference. the way i figured it, you don't win anything that you don't fight for. so i was ready to fight as hard as i could. the fight was just about what you would expect, only worse. the banks hated the idea of a new consumer agency. duh. these guys have built whole business models around treating people and they spent millions and millions of dollars to make sure that there was no cop to
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stop them. they hired an army of lobbyists and i say that, no joke. as the battle heated up when i went to down to washington to fight for this little consumer agency, those lobbyists thundered through the halls of congress in herds. people like me were pushed against the wall like we were invisible. the biggest, most powerful lobbyists in washington, they thought they could eat us for lunch. and sometimes when i was pushed up against those walls, i thought they just might do it. but i didn't back down, and neither did anyone else. we kept looking for ways to make it happen. writing papers, organizing groups this is david taking on goliath. we won. we actually want. >> [applause] senator elizabeth warren: i
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still can't believe it when i say that's little consumer agency, the consumer financial protection bureau, is now the law of the united states. >> [applause] senator elizabeth warren: now before you go, and you say to yourself when this is all over, you say, i just clapped for the creation of a government agency i must be turning into a total nerd. let me just remind you about this little agency. it has been up and running for just about four years now and it has already forced the biggest financial institutions in this country to return more than $5 billion directly to people they cheated. that is government working for us. >> [applause] senator elizabeth warren: that is how it works. >> [applause] senator elizabeth warren: so, look, i get it. i know that building an agency
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to keep people from getting cheated on credit cards and mortgages may not be on your bucket list. it sure wasn't on mine. at least, it wasn't on my bucket list until it was on my bucket list. and that is really the point. i believed in the good that this little agency could do and so i fought for it. even when people told me i couldn't win. the truth i learned along the way was pretty basic. you can't win what you don't fight for. so, i say to each of you, you want to change something? nobody is going to give it to you. you've got to fight for it. i wanted to be here today not just to be on the same stage where the boston symphony orchestra, james taylor, and lady gaga do their stuff. i wanted to be here because i believe in what you can do. i believe in what you can do if you fight for what you believe in. no matter the odds, no matter who you are up against, if you
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fight, amazing things can happen. amazing things will happen. after all, we are here to celebrate your amazing graduation and to think of many more amazing things to come. so, thank you all and keep fighting. >> [applause] senator elizabeth warren: thank you. thank you. >> [applause] >> new hampshire senator kelly ayotte the livid this year's commencement address at penn state law school, where she graduated in 1990. she would go on to earn a law degree before becoming a prosecutor for the new hampshire justice department and eventually the state's first
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female attorney general. this is just under 20 minutes. >> [applause] senator kelly ayotte: thank you. >> [applause] senator kelly ayotte: well, first of all, i want to thank you for that very kind introduction and i am honored to be here with president baron trustee benson, members of the university administration the board of trustees, faculty parents, family, friends, but most of all i am honored to be here with the class of 2015. congratulations on what you have accomplished today. >> [applause] senator kelly ayotte: i have to say, it is wonderful to be back here on campus at penn state. and with what you have accomplished in receiving your law degrees today, you can look
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back on the years of hard work in a law school and take great pride with what you have achieved. and you can look ahead with confidence in knowing that you have received an excellent education at the dickinson school of law here at penn state. and that this education will allow you to reach your full potential and to make a difference. i have to say, i regret there was no law school here when i went to penn state as an undergrad, and so i'm so glad to see all of you here and graduating from this great institution today. on this cap this as an undergrad, -- this campus as an undergrad, i had the opportunity to have my first experience with the triad leadership as a student leader. and it was here not only that i gained a phenomenal education but it was also here that i had the opportunity to appreciate
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the reward of what it means to work with other people, to get things done, to try to solve problems for the greater good and i have to say -- i have to mention, i did have a lot of fun here, too, because who doesn't like penn state football? one of the things i can assure you as you go forward to all of you today is that not only have you received a law degree that is going to prepare you for success in the future, but with this graduation, you are joining one of the greatest alumni communities in the world. because everywhere you go, you will find penn state is -- stateers. you will find a network of people who share your network of experience, who went to mentor you, what to help you. so really take advantage of that alumni network as you are
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treading a path in the career because i can tell you, we have a very active alumni group in the state of new hampshire and there's not a place you will go in this country well you won't find a fellow penn stater and around the world. it seems like yesterday i was sitting where you were, and i remembered feeling full of lots of optimism, fear, and also in debt, i have to say, which i'm sure many of you are. many of you may know what your next step is. some of you are going to go off and work for a judge or you are joining a law firm, working in a company, or perhaps becoming a government lawyer. and you may think you have the -- the plans chartered already for your career, but i can assure you there is one thing about your career path as you go for it right now -- there are going to be many twists and
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turns along the way. and rather than thinking of those bands in life -- bends in life as a detour, look at them as opportunities. opportunities to find a career that you love in law. after i graduated from law school, i have to tell you the thought of becoming a murder prosecutor or attorney general or, for that matter, a united states senator, that was not on my radar screen. when i went back to new hampshire after graduating from law school, my plan was to go work for a private firm because i had to pay some student loans off and make money and really just be in the private practice of law. which can be very rewarding. that is what i did. but my life changed because you
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will find that with your law degree, there are many opportunities to use your degree in many different ways. so one day, the firm that i was working at a new hampshire there was a partner who came to me and he asked me to cover for him at an arraignment in federal court, in a criminal case. and so, of course, you are eager to prove yourself and i said yes, i will do it. what i didn't know at the time is that he was sending the -- setting me up in a very significant criminal case. it was one where it involved a bank robbery in new hampshire where, unfortunately two guards were murdered. and it involved charges against five defendants that were charged with committing bank robberies up and down the east coast of the united states. and this was a case where i walked into federal court and, i have to say, i had never done in
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arraignment. i had only been a lawyer for a few years. and i felt way over my head and i was surrounded with many other experienced lawyers. even my clients had more experience in the courtroom than i did. >> [laughter] senator kelly ayotte: in fact, i have to tell you the first time i went out to meet my client because he was charged with a very serious matter, i went down to the cellblock and i met this very tough looking individual. and here i am, a young woman and he looked at me, i looked at him, he had a look of terror on his face, this tough guy, and the only thing i could think to tell him is, don't worry. i am not your only lawyer. [laughter] so, at that first hearing, i spent most of the day at that arraignment just looking at the other experienced lawyers in the room thinking, am i standing in
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the right place? as many of you who may have looked at and study the criminal law, the arraignment is just to appear in court. you really don't have to do much at that point other than obviously enter a plea for your client. but then the real beginning of the proceedings happen after that. on my way back to the office that night, i'm thinking about this case and i'm thinking wow, this is a big case. and i'm obviously a new lawyer. but the more i thought about it, the more i thought this was an exciting opportunity to do something i would never do. so i went back to my partner and i said, i want an opportunity to work on this case with you. obviously, he was much more experienced. but he gave me the opportunity to work on this case with him. and as a result, my first jury trial, i spent three months in federal court. i learned about a dna evidence.
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i had the opportunity to cross examine witnesses. and most of all, i found a different path in my career. i realized that i wanted to be in the courtroom. i realized that i wanted to serve the public because it looked very exciting, first of all, to be part of an important case on either side and to know that it made a difference to the people of our state. so i applied for a job as a prosecutor at the attorney general's office and i wasn't hired on the first try, but i kept at it. and they finally hired me. in fact, i took a pay cut to take that first job at the attorney general's office. but it was worth it. because after that, i spent years prosecuting cases and within a decade at the attorney general's office, i became the first woman to serve as attorney general in our state. and what i took from that experience is that -- don't be
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afraid to take on cases or new jobs or new issues that really stretches your boundaries. and really pushes you. and it looks difficult and it looks like you are may be over your head. there are people that will help you, but it will push you on to the next level and allow you to really push yourself to show what you are capable of. the other thing that i took from that whole experience is that sometimes what looks like a detour in your career is actually something that is going to bring you to your true calling. and something that you have a passion for. i think that passion is the secret ingredient that drives hard work and excellence. for me, i passion is to serve the public. to be in the arena of public policy to ha


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