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By Imtiyaz H. Delawala, Crimson Staff Writer

The state's highest-ranking female politician praised the value of political participation in a speech at the Institute of Politics Wednesday, telling the few students who braved the rain that politics can be one of the most rewarding professions.

"You have the overwhelming power to impact people's lives every day," said Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, who in 1991, at age of 25, became the youngest woman ever elected to the Massachusetts State Senate.

Swift said she received her first exposure to politics early in life, when her father was the campaign manager for a state senator.

"I was the cute kid in parades waving and smiling," she said.

She said her parents' active involvement in the community led her to look into a career in the public sector.

In 1996, Glamour magazine named her as one of "Eleven Women Who Could Change the Country." Two years later, Swift was elected as lieutenant governor.

During her tenure, Swift said she has focused on issues of education reform and economic development.

She lauded low unemployment numbers in Massachusetts, saying it is one of the best states in which to live or start a business.

"The business climate here has a direct correlation to the quality of life," Swift said.

But she said that strong economic conditions now do not mean government officials should become complacent.

"Even in good times, we have to address issues of competitiveness, because there will be bad times," Swift said.

According to Swift, the current administration is working to lower tax rates to make Massachusetts more competitive with other states.

"If we cut taxes to five percent, we would leapfrog states like California and New York," Swift said.

And she said Massachusetts still has to work to keep the large college student population in the state.

"We have the best colleges in the country," Swift said. "Unfortunately, students come here and then leave after graduation."

She said the state is also working to improve its own education system. According to Swift, Massachusetts has increased public education spending to over $4 billion.

Swift said the state is also creating higher standards for students through standardized tests such as the MCAS, which all public school students must pass to graduate.

"We'll expect students to show a level of skill in English and math to graduate," Swift said. "We're creating high stakes and high expectations."

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