Finding Her Voice
Jackie Hai ’09 wins competition to speak at commencement
Jackie Hai ’09 aced her audition to be this year’s student commencement speaker, despite the fact she was running a fever. What makes her special, selection committee members agree, is authenticity. “Public speaking is not a strong point of mine,” says Hai, “but I feel my message is important, so I’ll get over my stage fright.”
Hai’s speech extols the value of community. She first found community at UMass Amherst when she arrived at band camp from Lexington, Massachusetts. The shy and introverted trumpet-playing freshman received loud, enthusiastic welcomes from student bandleaders.
She literally found her voice, she says, as a leader of UMass Parkour, rallying large groups of students as they ran and leapt around campus for exercise. Then, through student journalism, she found a platform to use that voice. She seized opportunities to work as a webmaster and program director at UVC-TV and to produce multimedia feature stories for the student-run online magazine, AmherstWire.com. She was a teaching assistant and participated in a community journalism project with high school students in Springfield.
Hai double-majored in journalism and philosophy and double-minored in information technology and economics. However, her many curricular and extracurricular accomplishments weren’t what qualified her to be the sole student speaker at commencement. Since 1967, UMass Amherst has chosen the speaker through a competition open to all. (The first winner was Kenneth Feinberg ’67, ’02H, an attorney now widely known as the Special Master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.)
“Our speakers never fail to delight and do us proud,” says Gloria V. Fox, director of commencements. “Our entire ceremony is focused on graduates.” A selection committee composed of students and faculty judges the written speech submissions. Finalists then audition for the committee.
When Hai stands on the McGuirk Alumni Stadium stage on commencement day, she’ll be thinking of her mother watching from the guest tent. “My mother immigrated from China more than 20 years ago and built up several businesses by recruiting the help of neighbors around inner-city Boston,” says Hai. “It’s my mother who first impressed on me the value of community.”