My First Keynote

Since I started M2M Gifts™ in 2017, I've noticed that almost every commencement season, I share my valedictorian story. I used to not. In fact, I remember a conversation I had with an amazingly accomplished friend in academia about this whole topic of unapologetically owning your awesomeness (who will be so mad at me for dropping her name so I won't - THE IRONY).


Anywho - I used to hide from people that I was valedictorian. I felt like it was rude to say that in conversation (thanks Filipino Catholic guilt). When I told Soulit this, she started laughing at me and was like, "Are you effing kidding me? Jackie, you inspire women everywhere (+ women of color especially) that you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. Say that sh*t."

So here we are.

I have my Bachelors in Urban Planning + Public Administration from the University of Illinois - Chicago. I'm a proud UIC alum. We were a small but mighty cohort. And fun fact: I didn't deliver the commencement speech as valedictorian because I had the highest GPA in the class. I think I had the 3rd or 4th highest.

I delivered it because faculty selected me from a pool of the top five. Or three? Who knows. But we all had to write an essay arguing why we thought we should deliver the speech. I don't remember what exactly I wrote but I know I wrote about how I come from a long line of immigrants from the Philippines.


Some of them farmers. Some of them now doctors (yay big sis Jen!). Some of them cooks. Some of them lawyers. My paternal grandmother a beloved teacher who passed from breast cancer all too young. My maternal grandmother who raised 8 children almost entirely on her own.

I wasn't the smartest one in the room and I KNEW that I wasn't. So when I wrote that essay, I spoke to what made me - ME. What made me like nobody else that was vying for that opportunity to speak + shine. 

That's why I was selected. And that's what I always encourage young people to do when they're feeling imposter syndrome. Or comparing themselves to others. You are the only person like you in this entire universe. Amongst every atom in the cosmos. There is nobody else like you (yes, even you identical twins).

My heart goes out to anyone graduating this year who doesn't get to have a commencement ceremony or get that moment to shine on stage. Or has to do a virtual one. I know educators  + administrators are pivoting + doing what they need to do to give students + faculty the justice they deserve in this strange climate but - I get it. It still sucks. 

All that said...we have a limited edition graduation box available for those students needing a little bit of uplift right now. I remember that burnout from those last few weeks leading up to the finish line. I've got you. Take care of yourselves. Stay away from 5 hour energy shots. And if you get one, enjoy your graduation box from us! Very smarts!

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