Written by Ronnie Enriquez Baticulon
Today, my youngest sister will graduate as valedictorian of her high school class. As she delivers her valedictory address on the podium, my engineer father and my homemaker mother will be listening from dedicated seats in the front row. Dapper in his polo and regal in her blouse handpicked just for the occasion, they will share the spotlight as my sister accepts her gold medal.
My parents are used to the attention. After all, I achieved the same recognition in 2001, as did my sister in 2002, my other sister in 2005, and my brother last year. My parents could not be any more proud as they march with their fifth consecutive valedictorian (and 5th UPCAT passer, too). It is a feat never before accomplished in our school, and I daresay never to be replicated, considering that 300 to 400 high school students graduate each year.
Teachers, parents, and students have labeled us a family of geniuses. Acquaintances often ask, “Kanino ba nagmana ng talino ang mga anak niyo?”(From whom did they inherit their intelligence?) or “Paano ba magpalaki ng mga matatalinong anak?” (How do you raise such smart children?) to which my mother or father would reply in polite jest, “Hindi ko alam. Pinipigilan ko na nga mag-aral ang mga iyan sa bahay!” (I don’t know. I even try to stop them from studying at home!)Truth is, I prefer that we be known as a family of hard work and determination.
Back when I was in high school, my father earned between 12 to 15 thousand pesos a month working in the construction site. Even with overtime pay and occasional bonuses, the amount was barely enough for a family of seven, all five kids studying. On my mother rested the burden of having to budget my father’s salary. On weekends, she sold pancit and other food items in the village wet market to augment our family income.
We lived with my paternal grandparents because we never had enough money to rent or buy a house to call our own.
Often, my father had to ask for bale from his bosses and my mother had to approach relatives and friends, to borrow money for tuition, dormitory fees, or allowance. June (enrollment) and March (graduation) were perennially difficult times. They bowed their heads, begged for consideration, swallowed their pride, and bore every harsh word; what’s important was that every quarter our respective class advisers would allow us to take our periodic exams.
My parents would then say to us, “Kaya mag-aaral kayong mabuti, kasi kayo lang ang pag-asa namin.” (Study well, because you are our only hope.)
We children never asked for new books or uniforms – these things we obtained second-hand from generous friends we met by becoming active in the student council and other student organizations. We saved part of our allowance if we needed supplies for a school project. Every book, intramurals jersey, field trip, or JS Prom had to be justified. But these “shortcomings” (if one would even dare to label them as such), never left any of us wanting.
Despite being obviously tired from work and having to commute to and from his project site, my father would help us with our math and science assignments. His skills always came in handy for school projects that involved woodwork and electricity. And if we wanted to attend an extracurricular activity that had a registration fee, he always fulfilled his promise to find the means to pay for it.
Every morning my mother would wake up to prepare our baon (cheaper than having to buy lunch from the canteen every day), and every night before she slept, she made sure that we had clean and pressed uniforms to be worn the next day (because we only had two sets each). When we needed formal clothes for school programs, she would ask among her friends till she found two or three we could choose from. She scoured bookstores for urgently needed project materials and processed our college application forms.
My father and my mother have never missed a graduation or recognition ceremony.
The key to raising five valedictorians is that our parents never forced us to study. We studied hard and we studied well because seeing our parents’ sheer dedication, each of us wanted a better life for the entire family. There was no need to dictate which path to take. We pursued excellence, because at the end of each school year, every medal, plaque, and trophy was a token of gratitude to them.
Having just celebrated 30 years of marriage last December, my parents stand proud with one UP doctor and two UP engineers, all cum laudes, with two more engineers on the way. While debts remain to be paid, life is beginning to change for our family. We have been able to acquire our first car. My youngest brother and sister can go through college without the anxiety of lacking money to pay tuition. My father can now buy his polo and my mother her blouse without having to worry about scrimping on our budget. And we no longer have to fret about having to divide 1 liter of soft drink or the meat pieces in the sinigang equally among us children.
What remains constant is how we learned to rely on one another for support, be it “Pautang muna, OK lang?” (Can you lend me some money?) or “Puwedeng patulong ako sa project ko?” (Can you help me with my project?)
Faced with the tough challenge of having to best four prior valedictory speeches, my youngest sister will brandish the most important gold medal in today’s graduation ceremonies, but there is no disputing that two persons in the audience deserve as much awe.
My father and my mother — for their love and support that know no bounds — to them we owe all recognition.
[Ronnie Enriquez Baticulon, M.D., is a graduate of the Integrated Liberal Arts-Medicine (INTARMED) program of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. After medical school, he was given the opportunity to teach anatomy and histology in Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, and biochemistry and pharmacology in Topnotch Board Prep. He is on his fourth year of training as a neurosurgery resident, and if things go as planned, he will finish in December 2014. Please click here to visit his blog.]