When I was about five, my parents were set that I was bound for greatness. So they exposed me to a lot of things early: Nat Geo magazines, watercolors, puzzles, educational books, and minus-one cassette tapes. They didn’t know what stuff I would pick up for a life skill, so they simply offered everything they could, hopefully shaping me into the person they thought I would become.
Being a kid, I just enjoyed the company of these materials and somehow showed potential in all of the skills except for singing. I suck at singing because I have a natural whispering voice. Guests at home could barely hear me without me using a microphone. I was so silent as a kid, and I think I still am up to this day. So becoming a singer was crossed off the talents list early.
I used to kill time by doing sketches of landscapes and sometimes painting them with watercolor. My works would often amaze people because I could draw a proper countryside at a very young age. There was even a time I was bored of the procession of the Black Nazarene, that I decided to carve the candle I was holding. I carved Jesus’ face with thorns on his head using a safety pin. My dad proudly showed off my “work” to my relatives and they each gave me a pat on the back.
But I soon found myself growing bored of arts and crafts. My heart just wasn’t in it. Instead, I enjoyed reading books of any kind. I would even sneak into my lola’s room and try to get those books that were already gathering dust in the cabinet. I didn’t understand everything I read, though. I was simply amused of words and how they were combined to form a sentence. I would copy the sentence I saw with interesting combinations of words and let my older sister read it. We’d both laugh off because even though we didn’t understand what it meant, we’d agree the sentence just looked interesting.
Then I was enrolled in prep school. The admitting staff told my parents I was too bright for nursery, yet too young for first grade. I didn’t realize it until I finished first honor at the end of the school year. I vaguely remember studying the lessons; I can’t even imagine I got over that “living things versus non-living things” phase which was the first to be taught in science.
However, things changed when I started elementary. There were students who were much smarter than me. I would stutter just answering a math problem on the board or when forced to participate in a game where the teacher flashes cards and whoever answers first will get a point. I hated math ever since that day when I was made to stand the whole period because I didn’t know the answer to this one-million dollar question: 3 x 7? That was the reason why I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the subjects throughout elementary. My interest in studying and even reading waned because I was conditioned to fail.
My abomination for math continued when I was in high school. There was even a time in my sophomore year when my math teacher asked me to go to the board and solve an equation. I flatly said no, adding that I don’t get the point of forcing someone to answer a question he knows nothing about. He insisted, but I wouldn’t be budge. I don’t know what guts I had that day to talk back at him like that. When he realized I really wouldn’t go to the board, he shook his head and lectured me on how I refuse to learn. We continued this banter until the third year. When I was asking for his signature for the clearance form, he said I should try to participate during recitations. I simply nodded, but my brain was already running a series of perfect comebacks.
Meanwhile, in the other subjects, I regained my love for studying. I was a consistent honors recipient throughout my high school years and it was a wonder how English, Science, and Social Studies helped pulled my grades higher despite the fact that I have mediocre performance in Math. I was even considered to join an essay writing contest during the school’s foundation week.
Now this is where things got pretty interesting: some of my classmates won’t put their faith on me to win the said contest. One classmate, upon seeing me look up words in the dictionary when I was preparing for the event, laughed at me and told me that I don’t need a dictionary but an actual working brain in order to win. That comment was all I could remember when I went up the stage to receive my medal for winning that same contest she thought I would lose. I was asked to represent the school in essay writing contests since then and thankfully bagged awards.
On my senior year, I took to heart what my math teacher had advised me. I tried to catch up with the lessons even though it entailed hustling with math geniuses before the period. It got even more complicated because of the Statistics subject. But one time, during the final exams, I was busy finishing my Economics test paper when the results for the Stats test were forwarded to my adviser. She was patiently waiting for me to finish my Economics paper and when I was confident that I can submit it, she handed me my Stats results. I gaped, because who wouldn’t? I just got a 96%! I bested even my classmate who was running for valedictorian. I graduated with a second honorable mention.
Things turned awry when my family started planning out my transition into college. Because we had no sufficient funds to enroll in any of the top universities, I was forced to enter a community college in Malabon. Luckily, it offers my first choice of course: Journalism. My parents and relatives were dismayed at my choice because it was the height of media killings and because it sounded impractical these days. They were expecting I would take an IT course instead. But I remained firm with my decision. What they didn’t know—that is, until now—is that I only wanted the course to be a tool for me to socialize and overcome my fear of interacting with people. I was so introverted and shy, but I know I have the potential in writing news and features so I decided to take on the challenge.
The only thing I didn’t prepare for is the fact that I had to commute to school. I was a “carpool baby” growing up. I didn’t know how to ride a tricycle and a jeepney. I was too shy to ask drivers to take me to school and back home. So the idea of commuting, all on my own, was something I didn’t expect to come up. Even if I had to stay in my aunt’s house, I still needed to ride public transportation. My brain was telling me I can’t, that I would get lost or hit by a car, but I won it over by practicing a few days before the actual class opening. I learned how to pass on my fare and how to tell the driver to pull up to the side so I could alight.
I have a hearing condition. It had worsened during my college years that it eventually affected my class standing. There were times when I would be called twice to get my attention. Because the seating arrangement was always alphabetical, I sat at the farthest from the board. This also affected my leadership skills when I was voted to be a president of a student org. Many professors thought I was incapable of doing tasks because I was always listless. They didn’t know that it would take several tries for me to get what was being said. I even had one professor question my appointment as a leader because she thought a classmate would be a better fit. I was so hurt by this but I intended to prove them wrong. I worked hard to make a massive school event a reality, to the point that I missed lessons and even skipped meetings for thesis. Still, in the end, I didn’t get the credits for all I’ve done. Anyway, I cherished that moment because it proved my capacity as an event organizer; that I can handle people and interact with officials at the city hall.
The awards system in my college required those who want to graduate with honors to submit our class cards to the registrar for assessment. I was encouraged by some of my classmates to submit mine because they believed a couple of 1.00 grades would make me a cum laude. Upon their prodding, I prepared the requirements and went to the registrar’s office. And guess what? The people there sneered at me. They asked me what those papers were and I answered that I wanted to apply for a Latin honors. They told me right there and then that I should not get my hopes high because there were a lot who more deserving than I was, that there’s even someone running for magna cum laude. I felt humiliated that day. What they said was the only thing on my mind when I accepted my medal on stage—an award for finishing as cum laude.
And how could I forget to tell you the part where I got rejected by newspaper firms? I do understand that in order to work in the media industry, one has to have a pair of working ears. So I pretty much gave up my hopes that I would get my own column or even just a byline. The only sad thing about it was that some people started telling me that I won’t find a work related to my course. What they said is the only other thing that runs in my mind as I type away articles and beat deadlines, and contribute to a local website.
I wasn’t born for greatness. I was born to be myself, and by that I mean the self I worked hard to become. I didn’t have everything easy. I brought myself up believing life IS unfair, that I needed to adjust myself to its unfairness. But the important thing here is, I’ve been putting up a fight with anyone who has had other opinions of me. It has become a challenge for me to prove them wrong. This doesn’t mean, though, that I constantly crave their approval; I’m the number one critic of myself so I keep working to better my best. I’m actually considering going back to school to get a master’s.
To those people who have put me down, rejected me, and didn’t believe in me, I say thank you. Thank you for not believing in me because it made me believe in myself. You see, I have nothing but myself at the end of the day. I’m alone in my quest to find my own greatness.