I love taking selfies. I get teased about it, but I snap tons of pics of myself, often with friends and family or with my co-workers, to help mark or celebrate a special event or occasion. There was one occasion, though, when seeing myself threw me for a loop. During a recent visit to my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I saw my portrait hanging on a wall to honor those who received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. A selfie is one thing, but what a strange feeling to see your portrait! All I could think about was the tremendous interconnection in my personal and professional life that brought me to this moment.

As I reflect on being honored, the word that comes to mind is thankful. I am so thankful for this recognition, especially because I share this with so many people in my family and the profession of nutrition and dietetics. I’ve learned a great deal throughout my career, but the biggest learning is brought to life by my favorite African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

This is the highest honor bestowed upon an alumni acknowledging one’s professional or life’s work. This was a humbling recognition and award to receive. Again, no one receives an award like this without the help of many, many other people, so thank you.

The first person I want to recognize is Liz Harmon Miller my dear cousin. She recognized my work and was a champion for my nomination. Thank you.

My journey to get here today started in my childhood and UIC played a pivotal role in that journey. The education, training, classmates and teachers at this top-notch educational institute helped me achieve my dreams. It may be cliché to say that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but the saying couldn’t be truer of me. I had a huge village that has supported me since I was a child. Thank you.

I grew up in a working-class family of eight (I’m number 6 and the youngest female). My Dad was an electrician and my Mom a high school math teacher. We didn’t have much money, but one thing was clear to all eight kids, we were expected to go to college and to figure out how to pay for it ourselves. All eight of us graduated college and many of my siblings went on to get advanced degrees. Five out of eight studied at UIC for part of their education.

My success would not be possible without my amazing, strong 94-year-old mother, who is my hero and role model. Thank you. Additionally, the unwavering support and wise advice of my two amazing sisters also helped me throughout my entire life, helping to shape me and get where I am today. Thank you.

To my children; Joanne who is following in my footsteps as a registered dietitian nutritionist in food and business and my son Stephen who also graduated from UIC, they make me proud every day. Thank you.

Of course, to my loving and hugely supportive husband Jim. He is my champion and supports me every day. Thank you.

To my work family both the staff and the dairy farm families we get to represent. Thank you. We were able to create Fuel Up To Play 60 (FUTP 60) , which is the largest in-school nutrition and physical activity program making a difference in the health of millions of children’s lives. This program was recognized by the White House and USDA and so many other leading organizations as a program that makes a difference to inspire children to eat better and move more. Go to www.FUTP60.com to learn more.

And lastly and most importantly I want to thank God. Thru Him all things are possible. Thank you.