One of Mt. SAC's Youngest Grads is Nation's Top Speaker
When Mt. San Antonio College graduate Jacqueline Yu talks, people listen. Not only will the 18-year-old Walnut resident be among the youngest graduates at Mt. SAC’s 70th commencement on June 10, she is also recognized as the nation’s top community college speaker.
“When they called my name as the top speaker, I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Jacqueline, who won first place overall and the Bovero Top Speaker Award as the outstanding speaker at the 2016 Phi Rho Pi National Tournament in April.
She won the tournament by taking gold medals in informative speaking, after dinner speaking, and communication analysis. She added a silver medal in the impromptu speaking competition for good measure.
"It was a surreal experience, but at the same time, it was really the greatest honor,” she said.
Jacqueline, who was also named a 2016 Mt. SAC Student of Distinction, competed against 500 other students from 64 community colleges across the nation. At one point in the tournament, she was the only female competitor in a room with all male competitors and judges as she gave a speech about feminism. Her other speech topics included gender fluidity and Japanese culture. With each topic, she found a passion and purpose to give a voice to those who are voiceless.
“She is very talented and very motivated, and ended up winning the most points of any individual this year at the tournament,” said Mt. SAC Communication Professor and forensics coach Danny Cantrell.
Last year, she qualified for the national tournament, but didn’t make it to the final round. It would have been very easy for her to get discouraged and maybe even quit the speech team.
“But Jacqueline wanted come back to the tournament again this year to prove to herself that she could do it, and she ended up winning it all,” said Cantrell. “Winning the Bovero Top Speaker Award is a huge accomplishment. It’s a very rare event to have one of your students win this award.”
One of the lines from her tournament speeches dealt with being so young that no one would take her seriously, which seems ironic since she usually is the youngest in her classes and does everything at an accelerated pace.
Jacqueline graduated from Walnut High School at age 15 and started at Mt. SAC at age 16. Already, she had been doing modeling and acting since she was 14. She appeared on the Disney Channel, and her work includes multiple short films, television shows, commercials, print modeling, and local music videos.
“I graduated early from high school because it was a negative experience for me, where I felt restricted from self expression and growth as an individual,” she said.
Once she started classes at Mt. SAC, Jacqueline tried a little of everything. She took classes in criminology, interior design, and theater.
“At first, I was hesitant to disclose my age in college,” she said. “I was worried that my peers would look down on me or not take me seriously.”
The reality of the situation was very different from what she expected. Instead, she would end up being asked to help students much older than her with their school work.
“Mt. SAC was very welcoming,” she said.
Then things started to snowball. She joined the honors club, the interior design club, the student newspaper, and founded the performing arts club. She was elected president of the Phi Theta Kappa honors society. Then she took a speech class.
“When I first started in speech, I didn’t think I was really a very good speaker,” she said. “I used to get so nervous before giving a speech.”
Eventually she was recruited and asked to join the forensics team.
“It was at that point I realized the importance of my education,” she said. “Joining the speech team changed my perspective, changed my life.”
Now, she still hasn’t broken up with the acting bug. In fact, after she graduates, she plans to carry a double major in communication and acting at either UCLA or UC Berkeley, where she has already been accepted. But her long-range goal is to be a communication professor and a speech coach.
“In a sense, being a speech professor is a way for me to give back for all that I have received,” she said.
When she’s not busy on campus, she also finds time to volunteer. In the community, she dedicates time as a youth leader for her church, teacher’s aide for dance, volunteer for soup kitchens, and assistant at animal shelters.
So when Jacqueline Yu walks at commencement in a few weeks, she will do so knowing that age doesn’t make a difference.
“Mt. SAC has shaped who I am and has given me confidence to know that I am capable in overcoming any obstacles,” she said.