“You know and I know that these are tough times for our country,” Sanders began. “But…standing up here and looking out at the beautiful people in front of me, I have enormous confidence in the future of our country.”

Sanders, like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who kicked off the ceremony, graduated from James Madison High School, a public school in Brooklyn. He went on to attend Brooklyn College for just one year before transferring to the University of Chicago.

In Brooklyn, Sanders shared a three-and-a-half-room, rent-controlled apartment with his parents and older brother.

“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,” Sanders told the audience. “People who against great odds are fighting today to live in dignity.”

Sanders also spoke to a second, but equally important reality that has impacted his life: growing up as a first-generation American.

“My father emigrated to the United States and escaped Hitler and the Holocaust,” Sanders explained. For this reason, the senator refuses to dismiss the surge in right-wing nationalism that has swept the country since the 2016 election.

Lastly, Sanders addressed the political corruption of the Trump administration—an “oligarchy” set to deprive 23 million of health insurance under its latest health bill.

“Fight back,” he urged the crowd. “Think big, not small, and help us create the nation that we all know we can become.”

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