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Exceeding expectations


(First of three parts)

On April 12, I gave the commencement address to more than 100 St. Dominic College of Asia (SDCA) graduates at the Philippine International Convention Center. The school is owned by the Andaman family. It was great to reconnect with a former student, Jade Andaman, now a lawyer.

SDCA received recently Level One accreditation from the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation. One of its nursing students, Kristiana Gomez, placed eighth in the recent nursing board examinations.

Thus, it was quite fitting that the theme of the graduation was “Exceeding Expectations.”

Here are excerpts from my speech:

Work hard

Teachers do not like students who give a lot of excuses. “I flunked the quiz because my tutor taught me the wrong thing.”  Or, “I could not submit the paper because the printer broke down.” Or, believe it or not, one student actually told me: “I cannot concentrate because the weather is too hot.”

In 2005, I headed a team of Ateneo de Manila High School parents and volunteers on a study of public and private school achievers. We came up with several best practices on how these families achieve but what I want to stress here is that successful students do not give excuses.

When they do not do well on a subject, they look for the reason and try their best to overcome their difficulties. When they do well, they are motivated to replicate their success.

Let me tell you about Von Sinence, my student some years ago in freshman algebra. When Von was 5 years old, their family business went bankrupt and the family had to go south to Lanao del Norte to live with a friend of Von’s father.

Von told me: “First grade was difficult. My parents woke up early to cook foods for the canteen and boil two pouches of pancit canton for my daily breakfast. Since I did not have extra uniforms, sometimes I would go to school in ‘casual’ clothes and pay the P1 fine. Even if the school was the one nearest to our house, I still had to walk a kilometer to reach it. Often, I could not afford to buy supplies. There was also no assurance of baon every day.

Since I was new in town, I did not have friends. To top it off, all my classmates were Muslim and only spoke Maranao, which I did not understand.”

Imagine this 5-year-old boy, lonely, hungry and scared. But Von did not [look for] excuses. With the help of his family and his teachers, Von did his best. A few years later, he graduated valedictorian from Baloi Central Elementary School.

Do your best

At that time, Von’s sister, Angie, was living in Marikina. She urged their parents to let Von live with her because they all thought that he would get a better education in Metro Manila. So Von left his parents—a difficult decision, especially leaving his mother to whom he was very close.

At Parang High School, Von said: “I faced another set of problems. Despite my good grade school performance, I [had no confidence] in my abilities. I believed that Manila was different. I thought that it was a harder world. During the first week, not enough chairs were available in the classroom, so I had to sit on the floor. I also did not participate much in class because everyone spoke English, which I found difficult.  Being in the star section terrified me.”

But Von did not give up. He dutifully ate his tuna and tried his best in all aspects—academically, artistically, socially. He did jingles and rap. He represented his school in mathematics and science contests. He ran for the student council in his first year and, to his shock, got elected. He thought no one knew who he was. Four years later, Von graduated valedictorian.

In my college freshman algebra class, Von got a perfect score in the first examination. He got another perfect score in the second exam. At first I did not know where Parang High School was. Von joked: “Ma’am, yes, sabi nga nila Parang High School lang kami, hindi totoong paaralan (We are just a pretend high school, not a real one).”

Whether it was parang high school or not, Von got the highest grade in my class, better than students from exclusive private, science or Filipino-

Chinese schools. Von is a role model for students.

Von said: “What drives me to put my best foot forward is having a purpose in life. I have become an honor student not so much for myself but rather for my family. I love to see the smiles on the faces of my family, especially my mother. I want to fulfill their expectation—that I become the future breadwinner. I also want to use my capabilities to help other people. I am giving back by becoming a mentor to public high school students and I enjoy doing so.”

How did Von achieve? For Von, poverty is no excuse. Cultural differences, financial difficulties, hardships—these are not excuses. Von has high expectations for himself and he continues to do everything he can to fulfill them.

(To be continued next week)

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