Ready, CET, Go.

How quickly time flies? No sooner had I left than you all decided to grow up and worry about college. Parting was necessary, yes but I’ll be candid in admitting that once in a while I catch myself thinking that perhaps the happiest I’d been was in a classroom with all of you learning about forgotten things.

I want to write you not because I know better (I don’t, for sure) but because in my stay in Miriam as a teacher, I made the mistake of wasting an opportunity. The guidance counselors had invited some teachers to give advice about college. It was a strange experience to be in the Second Floor Caf trying to keep the attention of so many excitable young girls. I panicked when I realized the crowd might not find me engaging enough, especially with serious advice. So, I played it cool and relied on the fact that I was also teaching college kids. I dished out lame advice about avoiding old professors (something I wasn’t wont to do as a student, anyway) and I said that we could talk about Ateneo–because that was my ammo. That was the bait. Unfortunately, I wasted their time and failed at meeting my objectives. My fault entirely and now I’m writing to make up for it–because they deserve better and so do you. So here we go:

  1. There’s going to be a battery of tests. Depending on the number of schools you choose to apply to or the types of degrees offered out there, the one certainty is that there will be tests and they will be difficult. They design these tests to be hard because excellence requires that we accept those who work hard and deserve the slots they are given. But the tests themselves can be passed and aced. Students do it time and time and again. The coverage hardly changes. What does that tell you? It’s simple: Show up and show up prepared. Practice the maths if, like me, you suck at them. Read more books, message people in complete sentences, stop trolling–if you want better English. Ask people to help you. Acknowledge that you can’t do it by yourself. And if you’re smarter than most, don’t lord it over. Share what you know lest it be banished from the land of the Useful. But by God, Show Up! The tests don’t answer themselves and getting in through the backdoor will always make you doubt your own capacity.
  2. You are in charge of this battle. Truthfully, you need not take all these entrance tests. You just have to choose the universities you want and focus your energies on getting good marks in these schools. Do not believe for a second that you are not worthy and cannot go where you want to go. You can and you will. Whether you get it the first time or the second time (as a transferee), don’t let yourself down.
  3. Know what you want. This is the real determining factor. Your joy as well as your agony will be measured through the standards you define for yourself. That means that it’s imperative for you to start asking yourself what you’re interested in and what you possibly see yourself doing in the future. Do not be so daunted by these questions. I’ll tell you now that dreams, hopes and aspirations change through time and so, important as our decisions may be, there is always room for fine tuning. However, it’s crucial that during this transition stage, you begin asking these questions and pondering them as honestly as possible. Remember: It’s your future, not your parents or your friends.
  4. Take Heart. You need to do this because your options are limited. You will either pass or fail. If you pass and enter a course you took because it seemed accepting of “weaklings” then you miss out on your life. And you can’t press rewind–probably just Shift…but even then, you’ll have spent too much for naught and happiness will be that much farther down the road. If you fail, you will need more courage to remind yourself that these tests are not a full approximation of who you are as a person. They do not define you in any way. They just tell you where you’ll go to school.
  5. The school won’t matter. We’re always reminded that companies and employers only go for a select number of schools. La Salle, Ateneo, UP–these may be the triumvirate in the public’s perception but realistically, thinking as an employer, my money’ll go to the person who does the job best and who is driven by more than just the pay–I’ll need the person who’s got the passion for it. And that’s really the only force that’ll wake you up in the morning, that’ll keep you sane, that’ll make you happy. Imagine waking up everyday loving what you do and instinctively working to be the best at it, not out of a sense of competition with others but rather, out of a sense that the only competitor is YOU and there’s no way to go but up. And by “UP” I don’t mean vertically but rather, holistically.

And this is where I failed to convey the message properly. I only spoke of getting the “best” education out there but forgot to mention my own personal experience:

When I was a senior, I knew myself well enough to choose only two schools to apply for: Ateneo and UP. I knew that above all, I wanted to go to Europe and do something important–whatever that meant at the time. So, I took up AB European Studies as my first choice. I don’t recall what the other choices were. I don’t think I shaded any other
choices. In UP I chose Journalism and Education–self-explanatory especially seeing as I am writing this letter to my students. I urged my dad to pay for the review classes and I studied with zeal because I wanted these things. The tests were difficult. The math especially. I tried to solve as best I could but soon I found that there was really little I could do. I sat in an air-conditioned room at NIGS in UP and later at a classroom in AHS with all this fear and doubt—but during the test itself, I told my fear to go away because here I was, showing up, making shit happen.

Waiting is the killer. For months my mother agonized over my refusal to take a fallback exam. She could not make me take the test for MC College and I cried many times over this. The biggest thorn on my side came on the day they issued results. We were driving to Ateneo and in the car my parents kept reminding me to take stock of my future, to make sure I had options–to take that other stupid test. I got out of the car, fired up with all these emotions. My sweaty palms gave me away instantly as i walked toward the board where all the names had been pinned. I found mine quickly and made it a point to call my parents who just said, “Okay.” I called my sister–because she was the one more excited than I was, I think. She offered to write my essay for me and actually did (I just told here I passed it because I appreciated the gesture). All she wanted to know on the phone was whether or not it was true and if it was, did I not mistakenly read Waitlisted as Accepted. NO more words were spoken about this and in my four years of college, I would often think of how sad it was that I had no one to share this joy with.

But that’s probably the point. It’s only a test. You make it, you make it, you don’t, you don’t.

But more importantly, and I’ll end with this, you are setting out in search of an education. This has to be the foremost goal. In my mind, passing Ateneo was an achievement (oh I forgot to mention UP. I passed too but did not get the chance to explore options because my mother threatened to have me followed all day.) When I got in, I had so many expectations based on how well hyped the school was and yada yada. We were oriented, classes began, friends happened and sometime in senior year, it had been made clear to me that things aren’t always as they appear to be. I complained about many things. I wondered what all these classes were for and why some teachers had to be the way they were. I worried incessantly that perhaps I wasn’t learning enough…because it sure felt like that at times.

But this isn’t about discouraging you–I’m simply reminding you of why you’re here. YOU’RE GETTING AN EDUCATION. This means that at the end of the day, no matter where you end up, the key to your future will always be in your pocket, ready for use if you’re so inclined. Go to class, have fun but by all means, expose yourself to issues that thrill you! Have lots of non-required reading! Attend concerts–rock n’ roll and classical, baby! Expand your own horizon. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and when you get to where I’m at you’ll know why this matters.

For now, just remember: When in doubt, shade C and stick with it. Also, I’m a pretty proud Ate cheering all of you to the finish line! So get there already!

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