Because our parents were both public high school teachers, it was not uncommon to hear them during family dinner dialogues reiterating the importance of studying hard and getting into good schools. They often said that graduating from good schools would give my three siblings and me a fighting chance in the rat race. We took their advice to heart, tried hard not to disappoint them, finished our studies, and immediately looked for employment after our graduation.
I studied hard to be accepted in one of the top universities in the country as I had often heard that graduating from this school would easily open doors for me in the corporate world and that I would not anymore have to exert extra effort in getting the job and the position that I wanted. When I obtained my college degree, I was confident that finding a rewarding job would be easy because of my academic credentials. Although I was quite lucky that I did not experience rejections, unlike other applicants, and got accepted by all the companies I applied to, I found it hard to comprehend that they offered me only entry-level positions despite my educational attainment.
The idea of starting from the bottom did not conform to my vision of earning a high salary and enjoying a view of the city from my corner office while finishing reports. Still, I accepted a particular job offer from a business process outsourcing company as I deemed it was the closest one to my dream job. I thought that I was invincible and smarter than most of my colleagues. When I got my first taste of expletives and insults from my superior for what was deemed substandard work output, I realized that being equipped with academic prowess alone is not enough for me to survive in the corporate jungle. I was ashamed because I was so full of myself at that time.
The common notion is that when you graduated from a prestigious school, you are given more privileges in terms of salary and fringe benefits than your counterparts who obtained their degrees from relatively “unknown” schools. While there is no doubt that top universities produce intellectuals who are most likely to become politicians and luminaries in the near future, being an alumna of a prestigious school, however, only feeds one’s ego and seldom contributes to character development in most cases. Those people who bank on their good scholastic background tend to lose the importance of hard work and perseverance in the workplace as they think they can get away with everything because of their so-called entitlement.
I actually found some of my coworkers who graduated from relatively “unknown” schools to be smarter and more reliable than me. I always sought their advice on how to tackle a difficult work scenario as I found them more resourceful — madiskarte — than me. I often saw them being commended by our superiors because of their skills during town hall meetings. I recognized that being intelligent in school does not translate to becoming a rock star in the workplace. Working with them was a humbling experience as it put my feet back on the ground. I also understood that perhaps they just did not have the opportunities I had when I was a student. Indeed, good grades do not entirely make a person.
In the workplace, an employee needs to empathize and cooperate with coworkers with different backgrounds and ambitions to get the work done. An employee does not have the right to whine that he/she should be given less work as he/she came from a prestigious school. Based on my own experience, I was self-possessed with the idea that I would easily get respect from my coworkers because of my academic background. I was proven wrong, however, as it takes more than good grades to be successful in my chosen endeavor because I have to work hard just like everybody else to earn my promotions. It is interesting to note that experiencing failures in the workplace can teach a person a lot about corporate life and that discipline, hard work and humility weigh more than educational attainment in the workplace.
I found myself in government service after working for five years in that BPO company, and I was careful not to make stupid assumptions again regarding my academic capabilities. In this new work environment, the stakes are higher as I am now a part of the largest employer in the country which is responsible for the welfare of the population. Despite the number of government officials who graduated from prestigious universities, the country is still at its lowest level. Perhaps it is now high time for them to get their feet back on the ground and to put their true talents to the test.
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Sherylyn A. Villamora, 29, is a special investigator at Land Bank of the Philippines.
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