This is the full text of the “Inspirational Message” I delivered at the Recognition Rites for Grade 11 students of the Lyceum of the Philippines University, Manila on 30 May 2018.
I was born in 1979, so I am not sure whether I would show up here as a Gen X-er (show speech printout) or as a millennial. I belong to that generation which had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood; but since I am speaking before a crowd here that is generally born in the 2000s, I have decided to bring out the millennial side of me (show iPad).
It is my distinct honour and pleasure to be standing in front of you today. This is practically the first time I had been asked to deliver an inspirational speech at a Recognition Rites, and by the Lyceum of the Philippines University – Manila, no less. Truth be told, I am a product of the public school system from grade school to college. Today I want to share with you some stories from my life. Anecdotes about failing and not giving up and looking to the future with purpose.
I was already in college around the time that you were born. When I was your age, around this time, I had already completed one year (two semesters) at the University of the Philippines. But I was not sure if I could enrol in the next semester. My grades in the 2nd semester were beyond dismal: I dropped Kasaysayan 1 (Philippine History) and Math 20 (Euclidean Geometry); I got 5.0 in Math 63 (Calculus) and PE 2 (Camping), 4.0 in French 10, and 2.25 in Communications 2 (Writing). The lowest grade in UP was 5.0, passing is 3.0, and the highest is 1.0. I nearly got kicked out of UP for my “delinquent grades.”
I believe I was an achiever in high school. I may not have made the cut in the honor roll but I did bring pride to my high school when I won a national general information quiz bee and represented my school in various competitions as well, including the Math Olympiad. Also, only 6 in my batch passed the UPCAT—there were about a thousand students in the batch so I think that was a big deal at the time. So what went wrong? Looking back, I think I could chalk it up to this main factor: not following my intuition and dreams at the get go.
You see, I wanted to take up BS Journalism because I wanted to be like Jessica Soho (the journalist, not KMJS) but my parents told me, “Walang pera diyan.” I said okay but I didn’t know what else to take. And since my best friend also passed the UPCAT and he was supposed to enrol in the BS Math program, I thought why not take BS Math as well. It was all right with my parents and I’d be with my best friend. It sounded like a good plan. Unfortunately, my friend had a last-minute change of mind and went to another school instead. I was above average in Math in high school but it turned out to be that above-average was not acceptable in college. Also, I was still living in Pasay then and I travelled to Diliman every day by bus/jeep. There was no MRT yet so my one way commute to school is at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I was always too tired to study. I could have used some support but the support was in La Salle. So, on the second semester of my 1st year, I was miserable. The only thing that kept me in the university was Communications 2.
Thankfully, I was not kicked out of UP but I was in a difficult situation. My parents were disappointed with my grades, as expected. I was allowed to stay at the College of Science for one more semester but I needed to shift to another course after that. My options, however, were limited because of what my grades had become. I thought of quitting but I was the first in the family to enter UP, quitting would disappoint them all the more; and “what would my relatives say?”
So what did I do? I cried a little. Got angry at myself a little. I blamed my parents for their inability to provide the support I needed. I blamed the world for being unfair. I reacted like a normal teenager would.
At the margins of my resume you would find the inscription: “Winners are losers who never quit.” I came across that quote while flipping through an old copy of Reader’s Digest in the library. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
After reading that, I stopped brooding and started figuring out ways to make it right. I decided to make my own map, create my own rules, change the game, and make the most of whatever options left for me. Tough times do come and all of us would experience failure one time or another but winners are losers who never quit.
I talked to my parents. I told them I really needed to stay in a boarding house inside the campus. I told them that I needed to shift to another course but the only programs that could accept my ultralow General Weighted Average were BS Information and Library Science and BS Home Economics Education. I chose the latter because it was multi-disciplinary, I thought I could also take up extra courses that I liked, and I could take up the Licensure Exam for Teachers afterwards. It was a concession we had to make, albeit with some hesitation.
What followed were the best years of my stay in UP. Living inside the campus taught me how to live independently and I found time to enjoy what the campus had to offer. I found time for running, for being actively involved in the student movement, for watching discounted movies and stage plays, for talking to our professors even outside of the class and just picking their brains for ideas. I also found new friends, which even to this day I hold dearly. I took extra writing courses over and above the required courses in my new program.
I did not graduate with honors. But I was fine. It was time well-spent and I really believed that my conscious decisions, trusting my intuition, and feeding my passion, set me up for life after college.
Do not get me wrong. Life after college was frightening because of its uncertainty, and the pressure to make it big as a professional, mainly from my relatives, was almost painful. But such is life. I just had to deal with it. What helped me greatly that I know my strengths: I knew that I could write and I am blessed to have this knack for seeking order, connections, and solutions, which I got from the Math side of me. And there’s this everyday commitment and conviction to not quit and to plod on even when times get tough.
I eventually passed the licensure exam for teachers and taught basic and intermediate Algebra alongside with Technology and Home Economics subjects at a high school somewhere in Makati City. As they say, tough times don’t last but tough guys do.
The next story that I wanted to share is that of the Communications 2 class that I passed.
Back then, talk was rife among freshmen about this legendary professor in Comm 2: Fr. Alfeo Nudas, SJ. It sounded weird to hear of a Catholic priest teaching in UP but it also piqued my interest so I enrolled in his class. Apparently, that was his last semester in UP, where he had been teaching for the last 20 years.
The list of required readings was given on the first day of class and boy was it long. And then the craziest part was the oral final examination on Les Miserables. I contemplated on dropping the subject after the first day. It was too much. Or so I thought.
Each meeting, as it turned out, was an interesting journey into the minds of some of the world’s greatest writers. I was hooked after the 3rd meeting, when we discussed Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, the half of which I can still recite up to today. Fr. Nudas taught us how to write good essays and critiqued with compassion the essays we submitted every meeting. He also asked us to critique the ideas he puts forth in his columns in the now-defunct intelligent newspaper, Today.
One particular class discussion that stuck to me to this day was on his article entitled, “Trickle Down University.” In that article he asked if UP students knew what being a “Iskolar ng Bayan” really meant. He wondered if the money that funds our education really trickles down to the poor and benefits them through basic services or in any other way. This was in the light of the university’s clamor for greater state subsidy for state colleges and universities and the brain drain phenomenon which had been plaguing our country since the 70s. He asked us if we were aware that the money the government spends for our education in UP are from the taxes paid by every Filipino, even by the poorest of the poor. He told us, “Whenever a woman from the mountains would buy shampoo from a store a portion of that money goes to the national treasury in the form of taxes, a part of which is being set aside for your education. She pays for your tuition, in a way, yet she herself cannot send her children to school.” His point was that this ought to make us think twice about working abroad after we get our diplomas. His voice cracked but the instruction was clear and firm.
Back in 2004, I was on my second year as a teacher then, many of my co-teachers, including my special someone, resigned and went to the US. It was the “in” thing back then. Teachers went to the US in droves. My special someone urged—nagged—me to apply. We could start a new life in the US, probably get married there. Math teachers were greatly desired so the chances of getting hired is high. I was young, I could earn dollars and help my family greatly, and be with the love of my life.
I gave it a thought for a while then abandoned it as quickly. Nudas’ voice still rings fresh. #WalangForever
I stopped teaching and shifted to doing freelance research and writing, the highlight of which was documenting cases of child labor in the hospitality industry. My biggest break came when I got the chance to document an international gathering of a religious congregation here in the Philippines in 2006. There were only two Filipinos in that Conference: myself, as the documentor, and Br. Armin Luistro, a Lasallian Brother and former Secretary of the Department of Education, who they asked to facilitate their Conference. I guess my work left a good impression on Br. Armin and so he asked me to join De La Salle Philippines in 2007 as its Information Management Associate. I worked at DLSP for four years and it opened many doors for me.
Currently, I am the IT and Information Management Officer of the Private Education Assistance Committee. I was also assigned to handle the Senior High School Voucher Program applications when the Department of Education decided to hand its management and implementation to the PEAC. And just very recently, I was appointed Data Protection Officer of the company. The work that I do in the PEAC gives me a natural high. Knowing that my work benefits students and teachers, in one way or another, gives me a sense of fulfilment. Partaking in the national conversation about Philippine education was beyond imagining back in 1997. Thankfully, I did not quit. Thankfully, I stayed.
Believe me, guys. Time flies. Four to six years from now, you would be donning your college togas and clutching your diplomas. Continue being the good students that you are. If you fail one time, cry a little, but hit the reboot button quickly. As early as now, I am asking you to commit to doing something good for the country, no matter how small. We need more men and women with integrity in Government service; we need business people who would create jobs and employment for more Filipinos, we need experts in the fields of science, computing, and engineering. We need philosophers, artists, and teachers who would pass on the values that we hold dear as a people to the next generation of Filipinos. We need people with passion for the environment and health care. We need people who would stand up for human rights and the rule of law.
As a parting word, let me say that I could not have been where I am right now without the support of the people around me: my family, my friends, the people I have worked with, and the teachers who nurtured my potentials. I am grateful to them everyday. After this ceremony, if you haven’t yet, I encourage you to say “thank you” to your parents, friends, teachers, or anyone who you think had been of help to you. If you are a Senior High School Voucher Program beneficiary, or from a DepEd school in grade school or junior high school, thank the Filipino people by committing to contribute in your own little way to make positive change in society. This even extends to those who had not been able to take advantage of the SHS vouchers or any form of government subsidy for that matter. We are now having a discussion with the Commission on Higher Education on the implementation of the Tertiary Education Subsidy. If it pushes through, some form of government educational assistance would again be available to you to help you achieve your dreams.
Follow your intuition. Don’t quit. Strain forward! Thank you very much and once again, congratulations!