Full Circle: Not a Valedictorian, Just an Eternal Student


I recently approached my college alumni network to discuss the company's new B2B model, in the context of domestic violence.
The reaction I received was enlightening, to put it diplomatically. I wasn't surprised though. DV is an uncomfortable topic. It's a topic that inadvertently causes all parties involved to look themselves in the mirror and do some real soul digging. That's not an easy process and that's not something that most people want to do. Because it causes us to have to accept the parts of us that are very difficult to accept. Nobody wants to admit that they have been "violent." Nobody wants to admit that they have "abused."
The topic of DV, especially in the context of COVID, civil unrest, and economic uncertainty is almost like this wrench thrown in the works. It causes us to face our own humanity and the little things we do that contribute to the aggregate crisis of every single thing that inhabits this Earth. We are all six degrees or less, connected to one another. Every action we do has an equal or greater reaction to something else in the network.
My critics would say that I am being "too colorful in my words" as I write this so what I have decided to do, while I finish cranking out this proposal for our upcoming DV projects, is to just share the valedictorian keynote I delivered in front of people a decade ago. They were words directly from my heart that I wrote 4 hours before I was supposed to give the speech. I was on a boat load of 5-hour energy, I didn't know how I was going to structure the speech, I called one of my closest friends who told me to just, "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW TO BE TRUE, JACKIE!!!" So I did that...and I freestyled. Have at it.
And stay tuned because I will be unveiling (very shortly) what exactly the St. Thomas Mahogany Tree Project, St. Croix Red Hibiscus Project, and Chicago Red Rose Project intend to do in the DV ecosystem. In the words of one of my cherished mentors, Cara Williams from the Virgin Islands, "Buckle up."
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May 7th, 2010
Not on Google
 I need to start off with a little confession. When I was asked to give this speech, I was incredibly honored and excited, but I panicked when I realized what Valerie and Anna were actually asking me to do. Deliver a meaningful, crisp, and unique commencement speech that accurately depicts the past two years of my UPA experience... in five minutes. I realized I couldn't just dive into the task blindly. I did have an initial sense of relief though. UPA has really taught me the benefits of outlining a speech, structuring what I'm going to present, making sure things flow, modeling off what works. So naturally, I was inclined to turn to the help of what has never failed me in college during times of great pressure and anxiety...I Googled it.
To be completely honest though, Google couldn't help me out this time. There were examples of speeches from political science, communications, medical and law programs, even from Oprah. But I couldn't find anything similar, anything remotely close enough to clue me in on how I could capture the essence of CUPPA, more specifically the UPA program, and most importantly, this wonderful group of students sitting in front of me, who I'm proud to call my friends. For a lot of the parents here today, especially those who, like my my own, still don't really understand what your child has been majoring in for the past two years, hopefully by the end of this speech you’ll have a better idea. I need to first say my thank you’s to some of the people sitting in this room who mean more than this short speech can truly capture.
 
First and foremost, to all the parents, I extend the thank you I give to my own for being anchors in your son or daughter's education. Mom and Dad—thank you for putting up with your eclectic middle child all these years, I owe you two more than I'll ever be capable of fully showing. Please join me in giving all the parents a round of applause. To Valerie Werner and Anna Baccellieri, thank you both for always being there and for consistently pushing us to cultivate our potential. I can’t imagine it's been an easy task to be the eyes, ears and hands of such a young program that draws from multiple disciplines and has students from such a wide array of academic backgrounds. To the rest of the CUPPA faculty and staff, thank you for all the mentorship and patience. I want to give a special thank you to the faculty who taught UPA's core classes and electives. On a more personal level, I want to also thank this group of faculty for commending me when I did my best, but more importantly, letting me know when I didn’t. I’ll take those lessons with me where ever I go. Another round of applause for CUPPA's wonderful staff and faculty.
And to my graduating class... in working alongside all of you for the past two years, I've learned a valuable lesson. It's that attaining a sense of fulfillment and enjoyment in any work that I do is always possible. Be it rigorous, dry, challenging, or seemingly never-ending. Good people, good energy, and good hearts will always make hard work seem worthwhile. It may not always be obvious how to bring that out in every situation, but I'm proud to say that in this program, it was never difficult to find.
Whether it was through clapping after Morghan broke world records in sneezing, laughing not at, but WITH Troy when he took us back 50 decades and mysteriously developed a confusing midwestern accent in the middle of his presentation, watching Lok randomly fall out of his chair during e-government...on a few occasions, us breaking into the wave out of excitement before we took our last final exam of our undergraduate careers, it was also through having discussions with the environmentalists in our group, hearing the opinions of those interested in transportation or gender issues, the social justice advocates, or the aspiring educational and immigration policy reformists... you've all inspired me in one way or another and I'm forever appreciative that I didn't just have the opportunity to learn alongside a talented and energetic group of students, but I also laughed.. a lot.. and it made the difficult times more bearable. I'm humbled to know my fellow students beyond pure academic levels and although I cannot speak on behalf of their individual experiences, representing the overall UPA student experience is something I was confident in relaying to everyone sitting here today, as I feel I have extracted bits and pieces from everyone in my graduating cohort by simply befriending them and gaining insight into their passions and goals in life. So if there is one facet of UPA that is truly unique, that is it. To me the experience has far exceeded the expectations of an undergraduate program. There's been a consistent exchange of differing yet positive human energy within the confines of each classroom, whether we meant for it to happen or not, day in and day out, I attribute this indescribable experience to my fellow students.
It is my hope that beyond the piece of paper you're all about to receive, in spite of the hard work reflected in transcripts, apart from the status that comes with possessing a college degree, that you've all taken away not only a sense of accomplishment from your two years in this program, but a sincere, balanced, and passionate will to use what you have learned in order to do something much greater than yourself. I don't mean that in a cliché, “follow-your-dreams” sort of way. Instead, it comes from a place much deeper in my heart, a place I got in touch with and made concrete by my experience as a student in this unique program.
So parents, here is my return to filling you in on what UPA is all about, what Google couldn't find. The program to me, has not just been about producing college grads who can recite and apply theories of the city. It has been much more than that. I look at my fellow students as current and future programmers of society. The city has been our playground, sort of like our drawing boards, to test and add to the knowledge that's out there, the textbooks have given us guidelines, the faculty have been our cherished mentors, and you, as parents, have been the foundation supporting all of this. This not only illustrates how diverse and innovative of an experience these past two years have been, but more importantly, how close I've become to a group of people who were once considered strangers. So in a larger society that has somehow constructed and preached individuality and the every person for themself mentality, I can firmly say that UPA fosters the exact opposite and I'll end on a quote I came across which exemplifies this.
Physicist Murray Gell-man once said, “Today the network of relationships linking the human race to itself and to the rest of the biosphere is so complex that all aspects affect all others to an extraordinary degree. Someone should be studying the whole system, however crudely that has to be done, because no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behavior of the whole.” I'm proud to say that UPA has successfully spoken to this philosophy of interconnectedness in order to create change and I'm confident that it will continue to do so in the cohorts to come. Thank you all for listening, and congratulations to my graduating class.
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"Waling-waling" commissioned digital illustration by my favorite 20 year old student in Hawaii, @jahzz.art on Instagram. 

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