Note: The tone and style of this post is very different than the others; I rarely write like this, so I feel a bit out of my element.

This past Sunday, I received The University of Maryland Graduate Student Distinguished Service Award. I was nominated by my advisor, and one of my closest friends early this semester, but until  Sunday night I only knew that I was a finalist among a group of equally deserving graduate students.

Among the finalists, were two other colleagues that I have worked with before. I felt in good company, and I knew they were deserving of the award as well.

They told us ahead of time that if one of us won, we had a chance to give a 30-45 second speech; this was only done with the last 4   awards of the night. I decided that in that short time I wanted to share part of my story and honor the road that brought me here.

It was a very emotional experience for me; I barely kept it together. I cried in joy, and I wished my mother could have been there:

I’m really proud to have been nominated along with these other graduate students who are such givers of their time and resources, and also deserve to be recognized. (I added how overwhelmed I was at the moment).

Growing up in a poor neighborhood, I learned from a young age the importance of service to others. I owe my service orientation to my family, especially my mother.

She lived her life so selflessly, that when she got cancer and couldn’t work anymore, her coworkers paid for her health insurance out of gratitude; and when she died, the whole neighborhood took care of my sisters and me.

So I have never taken for granted the fact that sometimes I had food in front of me because of strangers’ kindness, that I was able to finish college with the help of others… And that I was able to come to grad school because in that same spirit of service, others saw potential in me.

So I want to thank my family away from home, my advisor Judith Freidenberg and my friend Nadine Dangerfield for nominating me. I hope to keep giving back to others, so they can be as fortunate as I have been. This is for my mami.

I was surprised to hear from some people that it was not until then that they had actually heard my story. Which is why I’m sharing this bit in a post. I think it’s important for others to know of the success stories of people like me, and bask in them, since we so often only hear the bad experiences and the struggle.