It took Dante Tabunar 25 years—a time spent raising a family and taking different jobs, including selling balut—to finally achieve his lifelong dream: a college degree.
And the father of two didn’t just settle for a so-so finish.
Tabunar, 44, graduated at the top of his class on April 23 at Quezon City Polytechnic University (QCPU), with an average grade of 1.24 in his major, entrepreneurial management.
His 81-year-old mother Zerenaida was onstage to pin the Gawad Galing Akademiko medal on her son. “I wanted to dedicate this to her. It was her dream to see me finish college,” Tabunar told the Inquirer in an interview on Saturday.
Juggling his time between school and everything else, he completed his studies in just three and a half years despite the pressures from home and work.
But the milestone was made even more momentous by another celebration in the family: Tabunar graduated at the same time his son finished Mathematics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. His other child, Camille, finished cum laude in Economics at the University of the Philippines Diliman in 2011.
It took longer for the elder Tabunar because he was forced to quit school when he was 19, after his mother fell ill and he had to earn a living for the family. He got married at age 21.
He took on several jobs—house helper, printing press assistant, balut vendor and security guard—before finally getting a more stable employment at the Quezon City office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and later at the public affairs office of the city government.
It was in 2009 when Tabunar decided to go back to school. “Not a day passed without me thinking: ‘I want to earn a degree. I want to study. I want my children to be proud of me,’” he recalled.
He first enrolled in QCPU’s information technology program but eventually shifted to entrepreneurial management under a special study program for city government employees.
For three and a half years, he reported to work during the day and went to school at night and on weekends. He took six to seven subjects per semester.
But unlike the other students, Tabunar felt that he had to give it his best shot. “When I should be sleeping, I would still be doing research for my paper. I would go to work with only three hours of sleep,” he recalled.
Aside from dealing with the usual “terror professors,” he said, he also had quite a hard time in his physical education classes; he was already in his 40s, after all. Fortunately, the teachers were “considerate,” he said.
“My philosophy is this: I am going to do this anyway, so why not give it my best?” he said. ‘’But I didn’t know that I would get the highest grades in the class. It was a pleasant surprise.”
But the academic road doesn’t stop here for Tabunar, who plans to enroll in UP for a postgraduate course either in community work or public administration.
“Learning never stops. I want to have a sense of fulfillment. If my children can do it, so can I.”