Central Penn College Valedictorian Jaclyn Keys

What’s better than 3.9 GPA? How about a 4.0 and becoming valedictorian? That’s exactly what Jaclyn Keys did, as she earned her bachelor’s in legal studies at Central Penn College.

This was her second college degree in 13 years. Keys had previously attended York College and graduated with a 3.9 GPA in 2006, while earning a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing, with a minor in Visual Communications.

Central Penn College Valedictorian Jaclyn Keys

She currently works as a communications specialist with the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR) and volunteers at the Carlisle Theatre as a member of the board of directors and marketing committee chair.

A native of Central Pa., Keys graduated from Cumberland Valley High School and currently lives in Mechanicsburg, the same town where she grew up.

We recently caught with her via email and learned more about her career journey, her affinity for the law, her drive to earn a second bachelor’s degree and her Central Penn experience.

We hope that Jaclyn’s fascinating journey to becoming Central Penn College’s 2019 valedictorian will inspire you. If you would like to lean more about out Legal Studies or Paralegal programs let us know!

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An interview with the Valedictorian

CS: What made you interested in attending Central Penn? 

JK: I decided I wanted to attend Central Penn back in 2017 when I was considering a career change. At the time, I was working in an administrative capacity for a real estate agent and I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough.

It had always been my dream to become a lawyer, and I had actually planned to attend law school (even taking the LSAT) after earning my first bachelor’s degree in 2006. But, life had other plans for me… I got married and purchased a home immediately after graduating.

Needless to say, making money became a priority with a mortgage in the picture, so continuing my education was put on hold. Eleven years later, as I was contemplating my next career move, I decided to give the law another shot; however, I was reluctant to jump back into academia for a Juris Doctorate after having so much time pass since I had last been a student.

I wasn’t sure I would remember how to be a successful student and wanted to make sure that law would be a good fit for me before committing myself to the massive amount of debt that comes along with a law degree.

I decided that a smart way to solve both of these problems would be to take some law classes at the undergraduate level to “test it out.” I knew I wanted to stay local and that I wanted to be in an ABA-approved program. In the end, Central Penn’s fantastic reputation with employers throughout central Pa., along with the fact that I could get a bachelor’s rather than a certificate or an associate, made me decide Central Penn was the right school for me.

I knew I wanted to stay local and that I wanted to be in an ABA-approved program.

CS: A lot let to you becoming valedictorian at Central Penn College. You’ve worked a lot of different jobs since graduating from York College in 2006. What advice do you have for students and recent grads about changing jobs and careers? 

JK: This is an interesting question because one criticism that I often hear about millennials is that we are too willing to switch jobs or careers compared to generations that came before us, which makes people think that we aren’t as reliable. But in my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with continually moving forward or taking new opportunities when they come along.

In my case, I left my first job out of college (an outside sales position I took just to pay the bills) when I was offered a job in the career field I wanted to be in. I left that job when I had the unexpected chance to pursue a full-time career in modeling and acting, which had been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl.

When I aged out of the type of modeling I was doing, I returned to my previous career and was very happy there. Unfortunately, the company I worked for merged with a larger competitor and more than 100 of us lost our jobs when our corporate headquarters closed. I floundered for a bit after that, trying to find a similar job. That work was so specialized that I was unable to find another position without needing to relocate, which I wasn’t willing to do. That’s how I ended up in real estate. It was another “I need a job to pay the bills” situation for me. So, I had no hard feelings about moving on when I decided it was time.

In each instance, I was upfront with my supervisors and bosses about why I was leaving and gave plenty of notice so that they were able to replace me. I wouldn’t recommend making the decision to change careers or jobs hastily. If you’ve thought it through and want to pursue something new, I see absolutely no reason not to.

CS: You’re a Legal Studies major. What led you to that major? Can you talk about your experience in that program? 

JK: I decided to pursue a legal studies degree at Central Penn because I had always planned to become a lawyer. When I got my first Bachelor’s degree back in 2006, I had planned to continue my education and become an intellectual property lawyer. Life led me down a different path and I ended up going straight into a career instead.

I always regretted not continuing my education. In 2017, I decided it was time to stop regretting what I didn’t do and make it happen. The only problem was that by then I had been out of school for over 10 years. I was terrified that if I jumped back in and went straight into a Juris Doctorate program, I would fail. I decided that the best way to continue my education would be to ease myself back in and start again as an undergrad. Luckily, all of my credits transferred from my first bachelor’s degree. I was able to just take the Legal Studies core classes to earn a second bachelor’s.

I’m glad I decided to do it that way because I have really enjoyed my time at Central Penn. I feel like I’ve really learned a lot about the law and would be well-prepared to pursue a career as a paralegal or to move on to law school. The classes were enjoyable and loved the small class sizes. I was able to form relationships with both my fellow students and the professors. You can tell that the professors at Central Penn are truly invested in your success and in providing a quality education.

CS: At York, what kind of student were you? This time around, you made valedictorian. (Congrats again!) How did you stay focused… with other things going on in your life? Did you have a set study schedule? 

JK: I like to joke that I’ve always been a huge nerd. I actually graduated with Departmental Honors from York College with a 3.9 GPA. Then, I completed my bachelor’s degree in just five semesters. The truth is I’ve just always been passionate about learning. If I could be a professional student, I’d be the happiest person alive. I wish I had some tips to pass on for being able to stay focused and being a good student.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking that I didn’t also work hard for my grades. Despite my love for education, I still had to work really hard. I didn’t necessarily have a study schedule, I did save every Saturday. And sometimes on Sundays, I did nothing but homework and studying. By decided to go back to school while working full time and volunteering with my church and the Carlisle Theatre; I knew I would have to make sacrifices; I was willing to trade my weekends for more education.

CS: You were a model, an actress and now valedictorian. Sounds glamorous… was it? Can you share your some best and worst moments from those two jobs? 

JK: Everyone thinks that modeling and acting sounds like a dream job. I admit that a lot of my experiences from that phase of my life were great. Going to exotic destinations like all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic for free or being absolutely spoiled on Hollywood sets. But for every great experience, I probably had two or three bad ones.

I unfortunately don’t think that’s an uncommon ratio for young women in the entertainment industry. I’m glad I live in a world where the #MeToo movement is shedding some light on the issues that women in the industry face. I’m sorry to say that I had more than a few inappropriate propositions from industry professionals. I consider myself lucky in that I was able to walk away from those situations unharmed. But can’t say that that is everyone’s experience. I actually worked with a photographer several times who is now in prison; I count myself extremely lucky to have not been among his victims.

As for my best moments, that’s easy! One of the very last projects I worked on before “retiring” from the industry was Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. I had been brought in to do a screen test, along with two other actresses, for the role of “NASDAQ Hooker.”

“As for my best moments, that’s easy! One of the very last projects I worked on before “retiring” from the industry was Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

When I got to hair and makeup, I realized that I was up against much more experienced actresses than myself. I wanted to give it my all anyway. I was the first to get called down for the screen test. The set was filled with production staff and actors, including the stand-ins for the lead actors. I went through the scene once and was handed my robe again, but told to stay on my mark.

The next thing I knew, the lead actors were being brought in to take the places of their stand-ins. The choreographer came up to me and said that I had gotten the part and that we were about to do the first take. I was so excited.

Three takes later, I was done and Scorsese was headed toward me. He shook my hand, kissed me on the cheek, and told me that I “light up the room.” I was so surprised I just stared at him with what I imagine was a ridiculous-looking smile. It felt like an eternity before saying, “Oh, thank you!” He probably thought I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. I was so overwhelmed by the whole experience (in a good way). I’m proud I even got that much out.

CS: Now that you’ve got valedictorian on your resume, what career goals/aspirations do you have?

JK: I’m currently planning to continue my career in communications with PASR. I feel like the work I am doing really makes a difference, and I truly love my job. If I ever decide to change careers in the future, I would be very interested in practicing employment law.

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