We recently caught up with Mary Ellen “Jem” Jebbia, Class of 2002 and 2017 recipient of the Alumni Holy Child Award.
Jem has pursued a path founded in her faith and supported by her commitment for making a difference in the lives of others. Not bound by the constraints of her own religion, she has positioned herself to make a profound difference with those she reaches. What have you done (personally and professionally) since you graduated from Mayfield?
In high school (St. Paul’s School), I participated in the Seikei exchange program to study in Japan for one year. I graduated from USC with three majors (Religion, Business and East Asian Culture) with a minor in International Relations. I worked as a college chaplain at Northeastern University in Boston before taking some time off to work with the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago and completing my masters from the University of Chicago Divinity school. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D. in religious studies at Stanford University. I am working on my dissertation and researching interfaith labor movement in the Central Valley, particularly four case studies showing inter-religious cooperation (including Chinese, Sikh, Mexican, and Filipino workers, including Catholics). While at Stanford I have also worked part-time in the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life.What led you to choose religious study for your higher education and ultimately your career path?
When I was in third grade, a classmate (Nicki Witt ’02) invited me to play on a basketball team. My teammates were predominately Japanese American who I later realized had different religious backgrounds. This sparked my interest in world religions and was the main reason I chose to go to St. Paul because they were the only high school offering an exchange program for study in Japan.Has your education and experience changed how you look at things and what is important to you?
Definitely, in a few ways. Meeting classmates and colleagues that hold very different perspectives has taught me not to assume I know “the way” to do something. As a college chaplain, I learned from students how difficult being a young person can be and the importance of a support system. No matter what religious, spiritual, or ethical worldview someone holds, I see every person as worthy of love and care. As a Ph.D. student, my studies feel spiritual because I am connecting to the past of my home and (hopefully) honoring the workers that created what is now California.When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At different points I wanted to be a professional athlete, a librarian, and the Pope (the last one was a pretty steep goal).
If you could give one piece of advice to your 8th-grade self – what would it be?
I would tell myself to find a community with people who will root for you and whom you can support with all your energy. I find self-accomplishment feels good, but feeling proud of a friend when they accomplish something is unmatched. How has your Mayfield education contributed/influenced who you’ve become, personally and professionally?
- Teaching and practicing of social justice and helping others in the community
- Emphasizing of family and getting everyone involved
- Promote growth and practice of faith
- Seeking to learn from those who are not like me
Future plans? Something on your list you'd like to accomplish?
I would like to showcase the history of California religions in an Interfaith Museum/ Community Center. It would have a library and showcase art.Name one thing making you happy right now.
I have to say I’m very grateful we still have sports to watch. I’m a huge Dodgers, Raiders, and USC fan and watching the games on TV is something I like to do when not working.Hobbies/Interests?
I love to bake and enjoy eating what I bake. I learned from my mother and grandmother. I make cookies and cakes for friends and family celebrations. By word of mouth, news spread that I baked and decorated cakes. Recently, I used my talent for baking to encourage people to vote and promoted I would send them a dozen cookies if they showed me their voter registration, shared a photo of helping others to register, or “I Voted” sticker. I sent out 50 (!) dozen cookies. Today I am participating in the world’s largest bake sale with Bakers Against Racism
and raising funds for social justice causes worldwide. From now until December 21, for every dozen of cookies ordered from my bake sale: Cucuy’s Cakes and Cookies, I will donate all proceeds to Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industry. To date, I have mailed cookies as far as Rhode Island, Minnesota and Pennsylvania and raised over $400.