Fight for the Things You Care about and Keep a Grateful Heart

My family immigrated to the United States in the 1980’s during the People’s Power Revolution in the Philippines. I was nine years old, and my two sisters were ten and eight. My sisters and I were born and raised in the Philippines, had a strict Catholic upbringing, navigated a new life together in America at young ages, and all three of us attended high school and college all together—Mother Seton Regional High School (an all-girls high school in New Jersey) and Boston College.

On May 4, 2021, my family experienced the greatest heartbreak of our lives. After her 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer, my beloved older sister passed away at age 45. I found out that I received this award three days after my sister passed away. It is only fitting that I share the best advice that my older sister ever gave me: “Keep a grateful heart always.” She said this often to our family especially during her last few months in hospice care. She stressed to us that no matter the challenge, the obstacle, the suffering—in her case, the mental, emotional, and physical anguish related to cancer—that we should nonetheless keep a grateful heart. I have thought about this every day since my sister’s untimely death, and for me, it has changed the way that I now view life and all its struggles.

This past year especially, life has turned upside down for many of us—the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-Asian attacks, and more. It seems nearly impossible to “keep a grateful heart” with all the injustice we face from racism to sexism, from homophobia to xenophobia. But what I have learned is that, although difficult at times, it is not impossible. And when we start all things with a grateful heart, we become even better and stronger advocates for what matters to us most.

A grateful heart at our core allows us to have a better understanding of people and humanity— that at the end of the day, we all want the same things for ourselves and our loved ones. When we start with a grateful heart, our problem solving is much stronger and we can “fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” as one of my SHEros Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wisely said. We become better leaders because we lead with love, not fear, focusing on common ground and realizing that life is not (should not be) a zero-sum game.