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My UP obsession

05:04 AM May 27, 2022

The year was 2019. I was about to leave my mom’s workplace when I saw posts from students who were currently at UP Diliman where they took photos of the list of UPCAT passers. I applied for broadcast communication and film programs but did not make the cut.

I couldn’t feel my legs when I saw the last person listed within the first letter of my last name. But since I had to leave for school, I broke the news to my mom who did not seem to actually care about which university I would get into. “Okay lang ’yan,” she said. Then I left, trying to show no sign of disappointment, when deep inside I wanted to cry so hard and throw myself to whatever concrete I’d find.

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UP was a sacred institution for me. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who often told stories about how great its students and professors are. The image that I eventually formed in my head was of someone who is effortlessly intelligent, a prodigy. I would often hear lines such as, “Taga-UP ’yan,” and responses like “Ah, kaya pala,” whenever we watch TV personalities whom we collectively perceive as experts in their field. Jessica Soho and Kara David, for example. I wanted to be like them, and the only thing I thought could lead me to their path was getting into their university.

When I finally stepped into our school, I had already anticipated a more hellish day. Hearing the cheers and celebration of people who passed the exam made me want to leave immediately, but I was lucky to have friends who took the situation lightly with me.

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Still not losing hope, I opened the admissions portal and checked my UPG. I could still apply for reconsideration for UP Los Baños, but under a different program. Had the choice been purely mine, I would not have hesitated to try my luck with another program and then shift to my priority program after a year. But it was easier said than done. Even without my parents’ confirmation, I knew we did not have the financial capacity for me to add another year of studying when I already had an additional two years in high school.

I looked away from the chance and just waited for the entrance exam result to another Manila university, which I fortunately passed. Three years have passed, and I should have already moved on. But it seems that the only thing that’s moving forward is time. I tried resorting to avoidance—muting words such as UPCAT and UP in my Twitter feed. It was helpful for quite some time, but, internally, I still could not find satisfaction in studying at my current university, especially when some professors do not encourage critical thinking.

Until I came to my senses that the only one to blame is myself. Had I doubled my effort in studying for UPCAT during high school, I would have passed. Had I focused and worked on the strengths rather than the weaknesses in my current university, I would have learned to build a more positive relationship with it earlier.

I always looked at UP as if it was the only institution capable of instilling knowledge, challenging, and sufficient enough to put every graduate in reputable places, when it can also be as flawed as any other academic institution. It was easy for me to idealize UP students and their achievements without thinking about the obstacles they had to go through to reach them.

I also realized that every time I looked at Diliman, I was dismissing the hard work and dedication of the people who built and are consistently building strong foundations in my university, as well as my schoolmates who are entrusting their future to it.

Even if opportunities sometimes favor our affiliation with an academic institution, I learned that the more powerful force is the one initiated and fueled by passion and trust. After all, a UP student and a local university student can see the same light of day and experience the same intensity of storms.

And so, I finally moved on, trying to spend my remaining years of student life not looking at what might have been, but on what could be.

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Julius Pagtalunan, 20, is a communication student at a university in Manila.

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