The recently concluded graduation ceremony at the New York University in the past days came to everyone’s attention, especially in the Philippines. It’s not only because of the honorary doctorate in fine arts that famous singer and songwriter Taylor Swift received but also for the reason that two Filipinas got their respective degrees from the same prestigious school.
Jillian Robredo, the youngest of now outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo, got a double major degree in Mathematics and Economics from NYU on its 189th commencement exercises at the Yankee Stadium.
Jillian was initially accepted at NYU with a partial scholarship. Knowing that her family will not be able to afford the balance, she then applied for additional scholarships. With help from Filipino professors, Jillian eventually worked 20 hours per week as a lab assistant at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology for four years to cater the financial needs of her study.
It’s amazing to see how things changed mightily for Jillian for the past six years. After the tragic death of her dad, the late Jessie Robredo, and her mom entering into politics, Jillian took the courage to prove her worth being the only “kid” left in the family back then. Instead of succumbing to negativities, she decided to make her family proud on every milestone she took. Indeed, finishing two major degrees at NYU in just four years is really something to be proud of.
Xyza Cruz Bacani also obtained her M.A. in Arts Politics the same day Jillian and Taylor Swift got theirs.
Despite not having a college degree, NYU accepted Xyza (with a scholarship) after seeing her works in photography showcasing the life of migrant workers in Hong Kong and Asia.
Xyza’s life story is also a source of inspiration for many Filipinos, especially the OFWs or Filipinos who are working outside the Philippines. Xyza’s mom worked as a domestic helper (DH) as her first of trying her luck abroad. She landed with an abusive employer in Singapore and decided to move to Hong Kong where she met a philanthropist employer, Kathryn Louey, who became her friend.
Xyza also worked as a DH and a nanny to help her mom and the family’s needs. Knowing that Xyza has an eye for photography, Kathryn gave her an advance salary to buy the SLR (camera) so she can pursue her skill.
Her first photos served as a window for her mom to see what Hong Kong looked like. Xyza claimed that her mom chose not to go out for a day off, but rather get more pay by working seven days a week.
As her photos were posted online, a Filipino photographer Rick Rocamora discovered Xyza’s black and white style of photography. Her works were then shared to various circles of photography enthusiasts and eventually landed on a New York Times profile, and things have changed since then.
Inspired by the courage and the fighting spirit of her mom, Xyza launched her book “We Are Like Air” in 2019 featuring the lives of Filipino migrant workers.
Xyza is so proud of her achievements, including the dream of her parents for her to get a diploma. And it’s not just a diploma, it’s from the same school where Jillian Robredo and Taylor Swift got theirs, on that same day.
Congratulations, Jillian and Xyza! Thank you for inspiring Filipinos young and old.