December Extraordinary Leader: ‘She’ll set the world on fire’

To keep track of her internship search, Cassandra Diaz looks at her spreadsheet twice a day. It carries the colors of a Christmas tree.

She uses red ink for the internships she didn’t get, green ink for the ones she did get and yellow for the ones where she is still in the running.

Last summer, Cassandra Diaz worked as a marketing intern at Madison Square Garden. She worked with two other interns from HPU — Sarah Obletz and Mitch Rissmiller.

Last summer, Madison Square Garden made the green. She worked as a marketing intern.

IMG College, the country’s largest college sports marketing company, made the green, too. She’ll be working with them this spring in nearby Winston-Salem.

That internship fits what she believes and what Nelson Mandela once said: “Sports has the power to change the world.”

Diaz is an HPU junior, a Presidential Scholar, a sports management major with a minor in sales.

She is a campus leader, and college officials have picked her as an Extraordinary Leader for the month of December. Her spreadsheet is a good reason why.

 “Coming from the Philippines, my parents persevered, and I’ve modeled my life after theirs,” Diaz says. “Nothing comes easy.”


“What is that school?”

To understand Diaz’s drive, meet her mom and dad.

Chito Diaz was the second oldest of seven. He served in the Philippine Merchant Marines, traveling the world and sending money back home to help his siblings pay for school. He then became a registered nurse, and at age 23, he moved to America.

He found work in a small nursing home in Illinois. There, he met a woman named Juanita.

She was 22, a nurse, the second youngest from a family of 10. She grew up on a farm in the Philippines. Her dad raised cattle and grew rice and sugar cane. She, like Chito, left her homeland to find a better life.

Two years after they met, Chito and Juanita married. Cassandra is their only child.

Her parents came for convocation her freshman year. Her parents plan to come back for Family Weekend her senior year.

Both Chito and Juanita provided their daughter a life they never had. Both of them had never played organized sports in the Philippines. They made sure Cassandra did in their new hometown: Wadsworth, Illinois, a tiny town beside Lake Michigan.

Cassandra swam and played golf and basketball, softball and lacrosse. Her parents helped.

Her mom would get off her night shift as a nurse, take her daughter to swim practice and sleep in the car. Her dad turned a section of their 3-acre yard into a driving range so Cassandra could practice golf. Jake, the family’s Golden Retriever, retrieved the balls.

When her college search started, Cassandra first considered the big universities in the Midwest. Then, at a holiday party with friends, she heard about HPU and someone earning a Presidential Scholarship.

“What is that school?” she asked. “And what is North Carolina?”


An Electrifying Direction

During her internship at Madison Square Garden, she got out some to do what she loves like watching New York Red Bulls play soccer.

She first looked into HPU online. She then came for a visit. She found small classes and a faculty that challenged students, helped them succeed and encouraged them to serve others.

When she came home, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to go to the much bigger Midwestern university that had accepted her in their honors program. She applied to HPU.

She was accepted, and on a campus nearly a 13-hour drive from her home, she found a new home and eventually a new direction.

She found it last year when she took the Introduction of Sports Management taught by Dr. Jennifer Lukow.

Diaz was, in her words, “electrified.”

“I wanted to break the stereotype and go beyond what the Filopino culture thought students should do,” she says. “You’ve seen the Filipino comedian on Netflix, right? He has a routine where he says about Filopinos, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a nurse.’ That’s what Filipinos did, but I didn’t want to do that.

“I wanted to do what I was passionate about,” she says. “My parents loved serving people, but my dad told me once that if he had the money, he would’ve wanted to become an engineer.

“His wheels are always turning. I think that is where I get it.”


Making An Impression

Diaz’s passion for sports is strong. Just look at her list of recent internships: HPU Athletics Department, the Greensboro Swarm, the minor-league basketball team for NBA’s Charlotte Hornets; and Madison Square Garden.

She’s vice president of alumni relations for Alpha Kappa Psi, HPU’s professional business fraternity. Out of 14,000 Alpha Kappa Psi members worldwide, Diaz was selected as one of 20 members to attend an intensive leadership retreat.

She’s also the treasurer of the HPU Sports Management Association, and recently, she arranged members to attend a symposium sponsored by the Charlotte Hornets where they listened to and networked with a panel of sports business professionals.

Her freshman year, Cassandra Diaz’s pledge class of HPU’s Alpha Kappa Psi chapter volunteered during the fall festival at the High Point Boys and Girls Club.

These entrepreneurial ideas are nothing new to Diaz.

“She’ll set the world on fire, and she’s doing the work now,” says Lukow, her advisor. “She’ll pop into my office and touch base, even with everything she has going on. She just can’t wait to get out into the real world, crank it out and make an impression on the world.”

When she graduates next year, she’ll be the first member of her family to graduate from an American university. When she does, she’ll fulfill a dream of her parents by following a mantra she always heard from her dad growing up.

“Whatever you do,” he’d tell her, “work hard.”

She has.

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