NUS president-elect Shakira Martin said she “should have been in jail or dead” as a teenager after she left school with no qualifications.
Speaking on BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour, the 29-year-old said she had made it “against all odds”, defying the expectations of “teachers, friends, family and pastors at church”.
“It sounds extreme, but this is actually the reality of many thousands and thousands of young people in society today,” Martin told radio show host Jane Garvey.
Last week, Martin became only the second officer in the NUS’ history to be elected union president without ever having been to university.
After dropping out of sixth form college after only three months Martin, now a single mum to two young children, was inspired to return to education after she was sexually harassed at work as a teenager.
She went on to study a leadership and management course at Lewisham College, before completing a teaching qualification.
Crediting further education with giving her “10 years worth of chances”, Martin continued: “What I want to get across is that, I’m the elected National Union of Students president, but it doesn’t mean struggle is over.
“My electric is still ticking, I’m still on emergency at home.
“The struggle is still real, but this is a great opportunity to break down the barriers for others and talk about the struggle that many many young people are suffering today,” she added.
The former teaching student called on students and young people to register to vote to help “shape the society and culture we want to live in”.
“It’s about the next generation of students and our children and brothers and sisters having an accessible education where everyone can reach their full potential,” Martin said.
“That is done by exercising your democratic right. You have the right to do that and that’s the way in which you can get change done,” she added.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
For more information about how to register to vote, click here.