Last night I finally had the guts to re-open “Bobby.” You might think I am crazy, but yes that is the name I gave to my scrap book. I guess those dried santan flowers which were once red, those fastfood receipts, those Juicy Fruit wrappers, and those old letters from a friend now resting in between the pages of Bobby prove that I am one sentimental junkie. So I turned the pages and saw my past unfold before my eyes. And it was on the the final page that I felt the deepest sadness, bitterness and regret. That page contains two envelopes: one from the registrar of the University of the Philippines Manila, the other from the office of Sen. Mar Roxas.
For the record, I was one high school student who excelled in academics. Not a nerd, but not cool either – just one big dreamer. And two years ago, my big dream brought me to the UPCAT testing center in Ilocos Sur, as one among more than 60,000 graduating high school students who aspired to study at the University of the Philippines.
Months passed, and then I received my letter from the registrar of UP-Manila. I had made it, the only one from our school that did. I was ecstatic. But only for a moment. Once I finished reading the letter, I immediately realized that studying in UP was next to impossible. Being an Iskolar ng Bayan can be costly.
My life story would make a good material for “Maalaala Mo Kaya.” I was an only child. I remember being showered with all the earthly pleasures a child could imagine: school bags with wheels, toys that came with kid’s meals, etc. But then that chapter of my life ended abruptly when my father, who was working abroad, had to come home after being diagnosed with throat cancer. He died when I was 10. My mom and I were left alone. We were broke.
I remember how my mother struggled to support my education. In first year in high school, I had just one uniform. When I went home from school, my mother would immediately wash my uniform and hang it without squeezing so that there would be no creases when it became dry in the morning. We had no choice: we didn’t have a flat iron or electricity at home.
More depressing things happened during my first two years in high school. I didn’t receive my PE uniform on time since we hadn’t paid for it yet. I photocopied pages from my classmate’s workbook in Values Education because I didn’t have P120 to buy the book. Once I got home dripping wet because I had to walk under the rain from school to where I could get a tricycle going to our barrio since I just had enough money for the trip home.
In my third year of high school, I took the big leap of living with my aunt. My mom had found a new partner and had given birth to my only sibling. At first I was against their relationship, but I eventually realized that there was an emptiness in my mother’s heart that I could not fill. Maybe it was pride which made me move out of our house, but it was clear to me that they had their lives to live, and I had mine.
During my free days, I would help with the chores as my aunt ran their business. In return, she sent me to school.
But even before I graduated, my aunt told me frankly that they could not afford to send me to college – not even if I were to become an Iskolar ng Bayan. They had children of their own to feed and send to school. I was grateful for every support they had given me.
So why didn’t I apply for a scholarship or enrol under a “no income” status? But studying in UP does not merely involve getting free tuition. How would I cover my other expenses? I had to eat. I had to have a place to sleep. I had to do projects. Where would I get the money for all these?
I was desperate. I wanted to go to UP that I even considered selling my soul if somebody would buy it.
I thought of a way to get there. I wrote a letter to the office of Sen. Loren Legarda, asking for help. I received no reply. That was strike one.
I drafted another letter and sent it to the office of Sen. Mar Roxas who was then running for vice president. One month later, I received a response from his chief of staff saying they couldn’t give me a scholarship since the Department of Budget and Management had not released the senator’s Priority Development Assistance Fund. That was strike two. And I stopped there, afraid that I wouldn’t know how to handle strike three.
So that was how my dream of being an Iskolar ng Bayan ended. I looked for a scholarship in our province, and luckily I found one. Now, I am on my way to becoming a high school teacher.
I had never, not even in my wildest dreams, pictured myself as a teacher, but I had no choice. The scholarship was for an Education course. It was a choice between taking Education or not getting a higher education at all.
So now, I don’t dream big anymore. They say one should always dream big since dreaming is free anyway. But the bigger the dream, the greater the disappointment when it does not come true. Too bad that I had to be rejected first before I realized this.
I salute John Gabriel Pelias for topping this year’s batch of UP graduates. Breaking the post-war academic record despite coming from a poor family was truly amazing. But let me correct his claim that lack of money is never a hindrance once someone gets the chance to become an Iskolar ng Bayan. As my case proves, it is.
Lyndon John S. de Leon, 18, is a 2nd year Bachelor in Secondary Education student at the Divine Word College of Vigan.
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