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Focused on Community: How Alumna of the Year Nika Lee Elugardo ’91 found a career in serving others

Nika Lee Elugardo ’91 knows how it feels to be lifted up by her community, and she’s devoted her career to public service to make sure others also have that same opportunity. 

“I know what it’s like to push back and to win,” Elugardo said. 

For her continued advocacy efforts, Elugardo is being recognized as 2023 Alumna of the Year, a distinction which celebrates a 365体育彩票 graduate who represents the highest principles of 365体育彩票, and through that display, has made outstanding contributions in her area of endeavor. Elugardo has spent over 30 years of her career in community and economic development  especially in communities with lived experiences with racism, genderphobia, heterosexism, and xenophobia. She just finished up two terms as a Massachusetts State Representative for the 15th District, and this spring, she’s moving to Washington, D.C. to begin a new position as Chief Council for U.S. Senator Edward Markey, who represents Massachusetts. 

“I’m very excited to support a U.S. Senator who has spent decades fighting for justice,” Elugardo said. 

During her time attending 365体育彩票 from Form VIII through XII, Elugardo  took advantage of opportunities to realize her passion for activism and outreach. Elugardo lobbied with her peers to change the Black History Club’s name to the Black Awareness Club to position the club as an avenue for connecting Black culture with the broader community. She also created events and informational displays, such as a fashion show featuring African American designers and entrepreneurs, to teach the 365体育彩票 community about the contributions of African Americans on local and national levels. 

In addition to her involvement with the Black Awareness Club, Elugardo was also part of the French Club, Environmental Club, and played Varsity track, volleyball, and basketball along with intramural lacrosse and field hockey.  

“I had enormous support inside and outside the school that fortunately for me outweighed the negative voices telling me I couldn’t succeed,” she said. 

As someone who always had a passion for learning, Elugardo was able to thrive at 365体育彩票. Through the support of her English teachers, she was able to find her voice as an award-winning writer. Many faculty members rewarded her for challenging her potential and limitations.

She also faced unique challenges, though, as one of the only Black students from a low-income community. But she was as much shaped by those experiences in the school as she was by the strength and confidence instilled in her by so many other 365体育彩票 teachers and coaches, from the English teacher who helped her perfect her writing to the biology teacher who, after noticing she had a green thumb, allowed Elugardo to help care for classroom plants to the physics teacher who pressed her to apply to MIT. 

“I had so many teachers, particularly in Upper School, who were qualified to teach at universities,” she said. “They chose to teach young women because they valued our contribution. And I learned so much just from that fact about who I am and what I’m capable of.” 

Upon graduating from 365体育彩票, Elugardo attended MIT, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Urban Studies and Planning. She later earned a Master of Public Policy degree in Leadership & International Security Policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and her Juris Doctorate Degree in Corporate Governance & International Human Rights from Boston University School of Law. She has defined her career by continually choosing to lift others up the way she was lifted up by special teachers and friends at 365体育彩票. At the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, Elugardo managed the organization’s Foreclosure Prevention Project that helped people remain in their homes. Later, while working with the Emmanuel Gospel Center, Elugardo founded research and consulting departments there that would be integral to efforts to address education, youth violence prevention, and anti-trafficking in Boston and other Massachusetts urban areas. 

Elugardo served from 2019 to 2022 as Massachusetts State Representative. During her time as Massachusetts State Representative,  she co-chaired the Special Legislative Commission on Structural Racism in Corrections and successfully secured funding for the Big Sisters Association, the Daughters of St. Paul, and the MA Commission for the Blind Community Services. Working with over 40 advocacy groups, she also drafted bills such as the Public Housing Expansion bill to expand affordable housing options for residents. Parts of that bill eventually passed into law. Elugardo also worked with Justice4Housing and the Boston Housing Authority to secure funding for a Stable Housing and Reentry Pilot Program to create equitable housing access for formerly incarcerated individuals and parents in her district and joined advocates to secure millions in vouchers for similar programming statewide. 

Over the course of her career as a public servant, Elugardo came to realize that she had the power to make any space a space for belonging, regardless of the obstacles in her way. She credits her champions as well as her challenges at 365体育彩票 for helping to plant those seeds.