SHS Commencement Speaker Tamera Szijarto

Good morning, afternoon, or evening – depending on when you might be viewing this message. My name is Tammy Szijarto and I’m honored to be your speaker for this very important milestone in your life. I’m very proud of all of you, a class that made it through the stresses of a pandemic and completed your high school education. I applaud your perseverance and adaptability. 

Beyond your years of study, deepening your knowledge base and expanding your skill sets I want to share with you how taking risks takes you to places and allows you experiences you might think are otherwise reserved for other people, they are not, they are reserved for you.  

I’d like to share with you a little bit of my life story… As I was preparing this speech, I realized that I have lived a life full of taking chances. 

One day, I walk into the engineering office and said I wanted to switch my major to be an engineer. So someone assisted me and told me I needed to qualify. They went over my grades and decided to accept me into the program. This was chance #1.  

A couple of years later, I met some strangers who are now my lifelong friends. They pushed me to compete in modeling competitions, pageants, including Ms Lyceum & Ms Philippines. It’s not everyday that you meet people who believe in you more than you believe in yourself so I took a chance on them and they took a chance on me. This was chance #2. I did not win my first modeling competition, I did not win my first pageant. But in 2004, with the support of some very amazing people who trained me, and dedicating so many hours to perfecting the skills they taught me, I won Miss Philippines and eventually became a finalist in Ms. Earth 2004. This was chance #2 and it changed the direction of my life. 

This leads us to chance #3. Because I became Ms Philippines, I grew to really love being able to bring out the best version of someone so they can feel confident in their own skin. I’ve met so many inspirational people so I took the risk and invested what I had into an e-commerce platform. It was one of the first Filipino run skincare and cosmetics e-commerce store in the Philippines at the time. I wanted to fill a gap in the marketplace and help instill confidence in others. 

This led me to chance #4. To become a better business owner, I decided to get an MBA. This time, no one pushed me. I had to find out how I can make this happen. Was I an instant success here? Absolutely not, I had to retake the standardized exam because I didn’t think I scored high enough the first time to get into a good school nor get a scholarship. The first was a trial, to see if I can even make an acceptable score happen. The second was to do what I can to improve that score. With a small scholarship and a large student loan, I came to Pittsburgh alone, no friends, no family in the area. Found a student who became my roommate and we shared expenses in an old apartment. I had to walk carrying my groceries uphill in negative temperature weather with a foot of snow during winter months because I didn’t have a car in Pittsburgh. I left my car, my dogs that I love so much, and the comfort of my previous life. I sounds like I lost a lot, …but the truth is I gained so much more…I met my husband in Pittsburgh, my new life took me to New Jersey, got married, adopted a German Shepherd, had a baby, and more. Everything stemmed from the one very intentional chance that I took.  

The rule of thumb is typically you have to give up something to get something else. In my case, I gave time, effort, gave up the comfort of having friends or family nearby, my e-commerce business, to take a giant risk to focus on improving myself. 

After completing my MBA, I was offered a career to do strategy for financial services. This was chance #5 and I accepted it.  

Because of that MBA program years ago, I met the current economic development organization that approached me to assist startup founders and entrepreneurs. This was chance #6 and it has been the most purposeful and fun “work” I’ve ever had. To me, improving the lives of small business owners, supporting startup entrepreneurs that impact the community, the environment, and creates good paying jobs allows me contribute to society.  The way I personally measure success goes beyond monetary compensation. No one listening to this should tie their self-worth to some numbers on a pay stub. But rather, ask yourself these questions? 

  • Who am I and what do I want to do with my life? 
  • Am I improving the lives of others or humanity in general? 
  • Is what I’m doing purposeful? 
  • What kind of mark will you leave on this world? 

I say this to you because I have never heard anyone admirable say that the mark they wanted to leave on this world was a higher paycheck. Never. 

If you find an opportunity to grow, learn and even earn while contributing to a better society, a better planet, humanity, and enjoying the type of work you do, you’ve hit the jackpot.  

Know yourself and pursue your passion without reservation. It’s hard to know which chances you should take, and which ones you shouldn’t. You’ll make mistakes and that’s ok. Believe in yourself, and control the outcome of your future. It’s all on YOU. Only you can put that effort in. 

Each chance comes with or without a support system and you have to build the strength of character to tackle the challenges, alone if needed. Imagine a career, a life, a venture that you didn’t think was possible for YOU. If you fail, try again. If you fail an exam, review again, retake. There is no shame in doing and trying over and over. I’ve failed more times than I succeeded, but the failures do not dictate the rest of your life, the way you handle it does. Each losing outcome only meant that you have to try again. 

When you go home today, write down what you want if you didn’t think about all the constraints such as “I can’t because …” Remove the reasons and excuses that hold you back. The only way you’ll fail is if you don’t start imagining, searching, planning, and doing. 

Thank you and I hope I inspired you today. Also feel free to connect with me. My email is or ask Ms. Irene to connect us.