Today marks three years since Jackie passed away. I’ve been feeling the knot in my stomach building for the last few weeks…I just can’t believe she’s been gone for three years. I miss her more every day, but I do find comfort in knowing how she’d react to life’s developments since she’s been gone. She’d be over-the-moon with pride over the triumphs of her nieces and nephews. She’d be fighting for cuddle time with all of her friends’ new babies. She’d be so happy that her parents are taking care of themselves, traveling, and making it through each day. And if she knew I was crying right now as I wrote this, she’d say, “Heath, stop crying and go do something fun…well, cry a little, because I was awesome, but then go do something fun.”

Her loss is weighing on me heavily in ways I can’t really articulate, so I thought today I would share what I was honored to say at her memorial. Jackie’s family asked me to speak about her time in LA, so that’s what I addressed in my speech. I know that Jackie wanted everyone to remember her happy, laughing, and healthy, and that’s what I am going to do today.

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I have to start by acknowledging what an honor it is to speak here today. Jackie was so incredibly important to me, truly a “best friend” in every hallowed sense of the phrase, but it would be a great oversight if I didn’t recognize how incredibly important she was to SO MANY of us at USC, and I hope I can represent us well.

There exists a pretty wonderful email chain amongst many of Jackie’s Delta Gamma pledge sisters, where we shared stories of our beloved Jackie. Besides the fact that almost all of them made me laugh, it MUST be mentioned that every single email commented on Jackie’s laugh, her kindness, her humor, and her sparkling eyes. The other thing that came up often was Jackie’s green minivan.

the minivan

Jackie’s green minivan was LEGENDARY around USC. A lot of nineteen year old sorority girls would have been mortified to drive a minivan around Los Angeles, but not Jackie. She embraced it. That car was key to our existence. We took it EVERYWHERE. If we wanted to go to the beach, or the bars in Westwood, or to pull a prank on someone, we’d all pile in the van. We’d often drive down the streets around school with music blaring and the sliding door wide open. It was a traveling party and everyone was invited. In my memories I can even imagine people running next to the van and diving in, but I’m not sure if that’s fact or fiction. Frankly, when Jackie was around, anything was possible.

I have to think that when Jackie’s parents gave her the minivan, they really had no idea it would become THE car of the Delta Gamma house. They probably thought, “It’s a minivan! It’s the uncoolest car around, there’s no way Jackie could possibly get into any trouble driving a minivan.” And she didn’t get into any trouble in THAT minivan, I swear. In fact, she used to  drive it from the DG house to the library on the USC campus. One late afternoon after a few hours of prepping for a midterm, Jackie got back into her minivan and drove away…only to realize that her key had unlocked and started an IDENTICAL GREEN MINIVAN and that she had, in fact, just technically stolen a car. She quickly turned her stolen car around and found HER green minivan parked a few rows away. As Jackie said, “Who would have thought there’d be TWO MINIVANS at USC?”

Looking back, a minivan was the perfect car for Jackie. There’s no way she could have fit all of her friends (or all of her LUGGAGE – overpacker!) in a standard-sized vehicle. Too many people wanted to be around her. So many people love her.

After we graduated and moved to Hermosa Beach, USC wasn’t far from our hearts and minds. More specifically, USC FOOTBALL wasn’t far from our hearts and minds. Even though the football team was, to put it nicely, mediocre when we were students, our loyalty to the Cardinal and Gold was true. Saturdays in the fall were spent rooting for the Trojans. When the team was home, we’d head to the Coliseum in Jackie’s green…Volkswagen Passat (she’d traded in the minivan by then, boo). We threw our Victory Signs high in the air. We sang along with the band, danced with the song girls, and cheered with the Yell Leaders. When the team got better in the years after we graduated, it felt like the sweetest reward for being dedicated fans.

I think the truest testament to Jackie’s USC Spirit is how unwavering it was when she moved into enemy territory. In San Francisco she was surrounded by Cal and Stanford fans, but she didn’t care. She’d walk through the Marina with her USC sweatshirt on, and if some dumb Bears fan hassled her she’d just throw up her arms and yell, “Scoreboard!”

Engraved on the side of the Tommy Trojan Shrine in the center of the USC campus are the five attributes of the ideal Trojan: faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, and ambitious. It’s said that if you don’t enter USC with these attributes, you will certainly leave with them. Can you think of a more ideal Trojan than Jackie Oswold? Loyal to the core, smart as could be, career-driven, extremely accomplished and truly the pure definition of courage.

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She was so many things to so many people: daughter, sister, coworker, aunt, car thief, schoolmate, pledge sister, and friend, just to name a few. I once described her as having an exclamation point after her name: JACKIE! The energy she had, her kindness, her humor, her laugh…she was magic. When she looked at you with those sparkling green eyes, you wanted to be with her, you wanted to make her laugh, you wanted to know her. She was truly the kind of  friend that everyone wants to be, but few are lucky to have. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Jackie, for being that friend for all of us.

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So in honor of Jackie, put your victory signs high in the air.

We love you Jackie! Fight on!