Lanyards, not medals: How a high school valedictorian finished college ‘sakto lang’ | Inquirer News

Lanyards, not medals: How a high school valedictorian finished college ‘sakto lang’

By: - Social Media Content Lead / @carlomolina_
/ 02:21 PM July 29, 2018

If there’s something Earl Joshua Alcantara should credit his newfound celebrity, it’s the relative ordinariness of his college life.

Alcantara graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) last June and celebrated his achievement with a tweet that has since gone viral.

“Pumasok ng UST na Valedictorian, magtatapos na sakto lang. Hanggang lanyard na lang mga medal ko ngayon HAHAHA. Pero marami akong natutunan sa mga taong nakilala ko. Forever grateful for the 5 years’ worth of life lessons. Maraming salamat, UST!” he wrote in his tweet.


(I entered UST as class valedictorian, I finished college with grades just enough to pass. I’ve accumulated lanyards, not medals. But I learned a lot from the people I’ve met. I’ll be forever grateful for the 5 years’ worth of life lessons. Thank you, UST!)


As of this writing, the viral tweet has garnered more than 48,000 likes and above 3,000 retweets.

In his post, Alcantara showed two different graduation photos — one showing the medals he amassed in high school and the other his college graduation photo where he was showing off lanyards instead of medals.

Alcantara’s performance in college was in stark contrast to his high school years where was always on the academic spotlight and even graduated at the top of his class.

All throughout high school at the La Trinidad Academy in Imus, Cavite, he said he overachieved in academics and excelled in co-curricular activities. Aside from graduating as class valedictorian, he was also the president of the student council.

“I was really active in high school both in academics and extra-curricular. I was the president of the student council when I was in fourth year. I maintained my grades since I really enjoyed studying then. Sipag at aral lang (Hard work and studies only). I really didn’t think about grades noon basta (before, but) I enjoyed studying and doing service to other organization[s],” Alcantara shared.


But the tables had turned when he was in college, so he finished his tertiary studies “sakto lang” (or just enough to pass). However, he said it gave him one vast realization: lessons from people we meet are the real medals in the biggest school of life.

“Life for me teaches values which are not learned in school. Teachers are those people we meet and the experiences we had that eventually mold us to become the person we are now,” Alcantara told

“That is why the medals equate [to] life lessons we get from living. Sobrang ganda lang ng idea na learning is everywhere whether we are in the university or not,” he added.

The 22-year-old Alcantara reminisced: “I was really active in high school both in academics and extra-curricular. I was the president of the student council when I was in fourth year. I maintained my grades since I really enjoyed studying then. Sipag at aral lang (hard work and studies only). I really didn’t think about grades noon basta I enjoyed studying and doing service to other organizations.”

But when he went to college, he said he got swallowed by pressure. He lost the drive to study and failed several exams and a subject. All that was left were grades enough to maintain an academic scholarship, which he also eventually lost.

“During first year, even though I graduated valedictorian, I felt the pressure of being an achiever still. My blockmates were from science high schools and graduated with honors when they were in high school,” he said.

“If you graduated valedictorian in high school, you will be a recipient of academic scholarship in UST. However, we need to maintain a sem (semester) average of 1.75. I failed exams, but not really failed subjects during my first two years in college. But during my 3rd year, I lost my scholarship. That’s when I ran as the assistant secretary (of the student council) and the time when I failed one subject,” he explained.

Celebrating ‘small victories’

His scholastic standing had served as a wake up call. Hence, he said he thought of becoming a student leader.

“I was sad at first but eventually [I] accepted it…So I applied for the student council as the presidential executive,” Alcantara said.

While doing this role, he said he learned how to celebrate ‘small victories.’ For some, victory is always synonymous to a big accomplishment that holds the largest impact. But for Alcantara, there is another definition of victory: leadership and public service (even in its smallest form).

“[Victory] for me is being able to serve my fellow engineering students as part of the student council. They trusted me to be their assistant secretary when I was in fourth year and internal vice president in fifth year,” he said.

Alcantara shared that during his stint as the internal vice president of the organization, they ratified their decade-old constitution and their social awareness campaign was even named project of the year.

He was also given the opportunity to attend the Asean Youth Exchange in Thailand and to learn about the region and meet people with different nationalities.

“I felt accomplished knowing that I have helped my fellow [students] and also motivated my team,” he said, adding that it’s hard to do both academic and council work at the same time, but there is fulfillment.

The story of the lanyards

Alcantara said that though he failed to be an academic achiever in college, he wants to show people that he gained more from meeting people and learning from them.

“For example, yung lanyards during leadership camps and conferences, naalala ko yung mga nakilala ko during that time kapag nakikita ko yung lanyard. So I think parang yung lanyards na yung nagsisignify dun sa ma taong nakilala ko and what I learned from them,” he shared.

(For example, the lanyards during leadership camps and conferences, I remember the people I’ve met during the time I was wearing them. So I think that’s what the lanyards signify – the people I met and what I learned from them.)

He said he posted the two contrasting photos on Twitter because there were people who were expecting that he will also graduate with honors in college.

“But I am grateful that after the tweet they were still congratulating me,” he added.

Alcantara advised the so-called ‘average’ students and those who struggle with their studies not put too much pressure on themselves and to accept that failing is a default feature of learning.

“It’s okay to fail sometimes. It’s part of the learning process. Without having to experience failure, I wouldn’t be able to have the courage to stand up again and fix myself,” he said.

With the graduation season over, Alcantara’s eyes are now set on passing the board exams, and if fortunate enough, he said he wants to top the licensure examinations.

“I think lahat naman ganun dapat yung mindset (I think everybody should have that mindset). Na dapat (That you) aim for the highest and wag mag-settle sa pass lang (and don’t just settle for a passing mark). Ayun I hope na I’ll pass and/or top the boards,” he said.

“For now, I’ll be focusing [on] the review. [I will] most probably work then start my own business. [I am] thinking about pursuing an MBA when I’m stable na,” he further quipped.

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As Alcantara leaves college behind, he said he’ll take the lessons of the medals and lanyards with him through life. /ee

TAGS: Academe

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