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U.S. labor secretary to give commencement speech at Bridgeport

Sat., May 14, 2011

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who’ll be Bridgeport High School’s commencement speaker, has some traits in common with many of the students who’ll hear her address.

Solis is the daughter of Hispanic immigrants and was the first in her family to go to college, said Principal Tamra Jackson, who learned from the White House on Friday morning that Solis will travel to the town 125 miles west of Spokane.

“At first, I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t know who she was, but after I read her bio I got really excited,” Jackson said. “It’s a good fit for our students and our community.”

The commencement will take place June 1. Gov. Chris Gregoire also will speak.

Bridgeport was one of three finalists in the Race to the Top commencement challenge to have President Barack Obama speak at graduation. Obama chose Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn.

Bridgeport High School, with 150 students, is 90 percent Hispanic; 100 percent qualify for free and reduced lunches.

Many are first-generation high school students – yet 82 percent are college-bound at graduation.

Bridgeport has a population of about 2,400.

Jackson said some students, although proud that their school was a finalist, are upset at what they’ve read about “the politics,” such as the school not being chosen because Washington state already was likely to favor Obama in the 2012 election.

But students are still excited that their school has been nationally recognized and that a member of the president’s Cabinet will speak at their commencement, Jackson said.

According to Solis’ biography on the White House website, she was first elected to public office in 1985 as a member of the Rio Hondo Community College board of trustees. She served in the California state Assembly from 1992 to 1994, and in 1994 made history by becoming the first Latina elected to the California Senate. Obama nominated her to serve as secretary of labor in 2009.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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