Celebs turn back-to-school dreams into reality | Inquirer News

Celebs turn back-to-school dreams into reality

By: - Reporter / @InqEnt
/ 06:22 AM December 09, 2023

Celebs turn back-to-school dreams into reality. Diana Zubiri graduates with a degree in applied arts major in theater arts from Miriam College in 2015. —DIANA ZUBIRI/ INSTAGRAM

Diana Zubiri graduates with a degree in applied arts major in theater arts from Miriam College in 2015. —DIANA ZUBIRI/ INSTAGRAM

When Diana Zubiri entered show biz in the early 2000s, she was resigned to the possibility she might never earn a college degree.

“I knew I would no longer have time to study, so I thought, ‘OK, I will just focus on being a breadwinner.’ Instead, I sent my sibling and my pamangkin to school,” she said in a recent roundtable interview, shortly after being introduced as the celebrity ambassador of the Signet Institute in Australia.


Acting projects and endorsements were many. The comfortable life she had been dreaming of for herself and her family was finally in her hands. And yet, she couldn’t shake off that nagging feeling that something was missing. “I was yearning to go back to school,” she said.


By 2010, Diana was already a star and a household name, having played Sang’gre Danaya in the iconic fantasy series “Encantadia” and starred in numerous shows and films. She had enough savings and felt financially stable. It was about time she prioritized her own dreams.

“There was a time when I was like, ‘Paano naman ako?’ I had to think about myself, too. ‘What if ‘di na ako active sa show biz? What will my fallback be?’ That convinced me to study. Buti na lang may konti akong ipon,” she said.

Diana took up theater arts at Miriam College. She was then a single mother to his firstborn son, Joaquin, with her late ex-husband, Alex Lopez. She had to cut back on work if she wanted to finish her studies.

“I had to pass up on projects and lie low for a bit. I had a child. So I had to divide my time among my career, studies and personal life. That was one of the biggest challenges for me, one of the sacrifices I had to make,” said Diana, who’s now married to Filipino-Australian businessman Andy Smith, with whom she has two daughters, Alijah and Amira Rose.

Because it had been a while since she last attended classes, Diana admitted feeling intimidated by her younger classmates. “I had no stock knowledge, so I had a hard time adjusting. I remember crying because my classmates were all so young but better than me. I was like, ‘Nai-insecure ako sa mga bagets, ano ba naman ‘yan!’” she said, laughing.

While she would have preferred to take a complete break from show biz, Diana couldn’t stop entirely because she had bills to pay. “At one point, I thought, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” said Diana, who juggled drama series “Bukas na Lang Kita Mamahalin” and “Juan dela Cruz” while studying.


But she willed herself to the finish line, even if it took her a year longer. “I was already 30 when I graduated. It was tough. I had a lot of absences, so it took me five years to finish what was supposed to be a four-year course,” Diana said.

“Pero kinaya naman. I made it. I’m proud of myself,” she added. “It was all worth it.”

Diana’s story is commonplace in show biz: Young aspiring celebrities forced to put their studies on the back burner—or give them up all together—to fulfill their dreams and make the most of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

And then there are others, like Yasmien Kurdi, who didn’t have much choice but to prioritize her career because she had to put food on the table.

“My parents weren’t well-off when I was young. I had to enter show biz to earn money, provide for my family’s needs and send myself to school. But once I got in, my taping schedule became so busy I wasn’t able to finish my studies. I had to sacrifice my dream of getting a degree and put my family first,” she told the Inquirer in a Messenger chat.

After all, the cutthroat world of entertainment waits for no one. “Our job isn’t stable. They can replace you easily when they find an artist younger and better than you,” pointed out the actress, who admitted that her lack of a college degree used to be one of her insecurities in life.

Yasmien Kurdi graduates with a degree in political science from Arellano University in 2019. —YASMIEN KURDI/ FACEBOOK

Yasmien Kurdi graduates with a degree in political science from Arellano University in 2019. —YASMIEN KURDI/ FACEBOOK


Yasmien’s first two attempts to return to school fell through because of her busy schedule. But third time’s the charm. In 2019, at the age of 30, she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in political science from Arellano University.

“A degree allows you to network effectively. It keeps your doors open for future opportunities, or in times of need,” said Yasmien, who previously took up foreign service at New Era University, before shifting to nursing at Global City Innovative College.

She was more determined this time. She cut down her work load so she could focus on her studies without sacrificing quality time with her husband, Rey Soldevillar Jr., and their daughter, Ayesha.

“It was challenging for me. But it all boils down to time management. You should prioritize your work, academics and family over less important things,” she said. “And because I really wanted to finish my studies, there were times when I had to lie low from the biz… Young people are luckier these days because there are more options for working students.”

When things became too overwhelming, she turned to Ayesha for strength and inspiration. “I wanted to set a good example for Ayesha and encourage her to finish her studies to help her succeed in life,” said Yasmien, who’s pregnant with her second baby.

Growing up in Kuwait, Yasmien knew of the maltreatment some Filipino domestic helpers experience at the hands of their employers. Given the chance and the time, she would love to take up a Master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy.

“It was also one of the reasons I took up political science… We used to live in Kuwait during the Gulf War (from 1990 to ‘91). I saw many of our overseas Filipino workers get maltreated. It had me wishing that, one day, I could help voice out their suffering,” Yasmien said.

Valerie Concepcion graduates with a degree in psychology from Arellano University in 2018.—VALERIE CONCEPCION/ FACEBOOK

Valerie Concepcion graduates with a degree in psychology from Arellano University in 2018. —VALERIE CONCEPCION/ FACEBOOK


Like Yasmien, Valerie Concepcion considers her daughter as a driving force behind her decision to go back to school.

“I started out in show biz when I was in third year high school, so I had to finish high school through a home program. And then, at 16, I had my first daughter, so I really needed to work and earn money. That was why I didn’t have the chance to go to college,” Valerie told the Inquirer in a Zoom interview.

Because she was blessed with continuous projects, the thought of earning a degree slipped from Valerie’s mind along the way. But as she watched her daughter, Heather (with her former partner Jeremy Carag ), grow up, she realized she needed to set a good example.

“I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter. I want her to see me finish school. Children do give you a new perspective in life,” said Valerie, who also has a stepdaughter and a newborn son with her husband, Francis Sunga.

Since her husband is an American citizen, the prospect of relocating her family to the United States will always be on Valerie’s plate. And should that happen, she figured that it would be better to arm herself with a degree before making that drastic leap.

“‘Why don’t you go back to school?’ my husband asked me. There’s always that chance that I may have to move there, so I might as well have a backup plan. It would be easier for me to find a job there if I have one,” pointed out Valerie, who had previously enrolled at AMA Computer College in 2014.

“I took up marketing first. I didn’t like it, so I shifted to psychology. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish it,” said the 35-year- old actress.

Years later, Valerie decided to pick up where she left off and pursue psychology again—this time, by way of Arellano University’s Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program. Although most of the lectures were conducted remotely, she still had to go to school for exams, presentations, reports and thesis defense.

But despite the hybrid setup, juggling acting and studying still proved to be a challenge. “There were times when I would be doing my papers or reviewing during taping day. But if you focus on something and want to make things happen, you will find a way to achieve them,” she said. “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

In 2018, Valerie finally graduated, fulfilling a “lifelong dream.” “It’s never too late for us,” Valerie said. “I wasn’t able to march, so this accomplishment didn’t sink in right away. But after some time, looking back at it, I appreciate it more.”

Does she have plans of pursuing further education? “The idea of working in the medical field once crossed my mind. But when I saw what my eldest daughter needs to study for her nursing course, I was like, ‘Never mind!’” she said, laughing.

Ronnie Liang graduates with master’s degree in management, major in national security and administration (MMNSA) from the Philippine Christian University in 2022. —RONNIE LIANG/ FACEBOOK

Ronnie Liang graduates with master’s degree in management, major in national security and administration (MMNSA) from the Philippine Christian University in 2022. —RONNIE LIANG/ FACEBOOK


Ronnie Liang worked at a fast food restaurant and a video rental store, among other jobs, just so he could send himself to college. He managed to finish his education course at the Holy Angel University before pursuing a career in music. But while he has built a rewarding career as a singer, his desire for higher education never left him.

In 2022, Ronnie completed his Master’s degree in management, with a major in national security and administration, from the Philippine Christian Academy. This year, he started working on his doctorate degree in development administration, also at the same school.

“I have always had this aspiration to complete my studies and earn a PhD. This is something I have been affirming to myself since I was in college,” said Ronnie, who’s also an Army reservist, a licensed private pilot, and manages his own advocacy initiatives like the Project Ngiti Foundation, which helps children with cleft lip and palate.

For Ronnie, who’s also a step away from becoming a licensed commercial pilot, time management is always the biggest challenge.

“The assignments, case studies, dissertations and the deadlines are quite demanding. On top of that, I had to align those with my other commitments such as tapings, shows, recording sessions, commercial pilot training and army duties. I’m also responsible for my foundation,” he told the Inquirer in an email interview.

“None of these are easy. But I can confidently say that I derive immense satisfaction from knowing that I have utilized my time in a productive and meaningful manner,” he said.

As a reservist, Ronnie actively takes part in relief operations and has been sent to various places in the Philippines. His experiences on ground, he said, informed his decision to take up courses related to national security.

“I have witnessed firsthand the events that unfold on the ground… I realized that I must strive for greater knowledge in order for me to effectively contribute and be of service to our country,” he said.

Ronnie doesn’t see himself retiring from the biz anytime soon. He believes that he still has a lot to offer as a singer and actor. But should that moment come, he can take comfort in the fact that he has equipped himself well and built a strong safety net.

“Education is important because it provides security in times of uncertainty. It also gives you options in case you’re no longer that successful or needed in the entertainment industry,” he pointed out.

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It’s not about neglecting the present, but rather, preparing for the future. Some careers last for three… maybe six months, after a few years. I’m thankful to God that I’m still here after 17 years. I have learned a lot. It has been a humbling and life-changing experience… But there are still things beyond my control that I need to prepare for,” Ronnie said.

TAGS: Celebrities, School

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