Elizabeth Warren explained the story behind her recent tearful exchange with an Iowa student

"When Raelyn started to speak, all of the sudden I was back on the phone with my mother."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a town hall-style campaign event Sunday at Excelsior Middle School in Marion, Iowa.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren explained Wednesday night why she found an Iowa student’s question at one of her recent presidential campaign events so emotionally resonant.

During Warren’s appearance Wednesday night on “The Tonight Show,” host Jimmy Fallon asked her about the viral exchange, in which 17-year-old high school student Raelyn Stecker tearfully asked the Massachusetts senator “if there was ever a time in your life where somebody you really looked up to maybe didn’t accept you as much.” Warren, who appeared to choke up as she answered the question, replied that she and her mother “had very different views of how to build a future.”


“She wanted me to marry well,” Warren said during the event Sunday. “And I really tried. And it just didn’t work out — and there came a day when I had to call her and say, ‘This is over, I can’t make it work.’”

After recalling her mother’s “disappointment” during the phone call, Warren urged Stecker to “do what’s right inside and hope that maybe the rest of the world will come around to it.” The two subsequently hugged to supportive applause from the audience.

Fallon asked Wednesday what it was that made Warren and Stecker connect.

“I could see her face, and, as she started this question, I knew she was in the middle of something tough,” Warren said. “Someone she respected who wasn’t, didn’t approve of where she was.”

Warren herself had dropped out of George Washington University as a 19-year-old to marry her high school boyfriend, a successful computer engineer who went on to found a DNA testing company. However, they got divorced after 10 years and Warren remarried shortly thereafter to fellow law professor Bruce Mann.

Still, she told Fallon it was difficult to break the news of the demise of her first marriage to her mother — a memory that came flooding back during Stecker’s question Sunday.


“When Raelyn started to speak, all of the sudden I was back on the phone with my mother trying to explain that after these years, he had walked out and he wasn’t coming back,” Warren said. “And I knew how she would feel about that.”

Warren indicated things eventually worked out with her mother, who died in 1995.

“Sometimes you just gotta do what’s right,” she said.


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