A Second Look at College Life

“It is defeat which educates us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Fight the tendency to quit while you’re behind.” — Dave Weinbaum

Life is what we make it. This has long been my conviction that makes me feel accountable for the dilemma I am facing right now.

I’m already 21 but still an undergraduate. After having spent six semesters in UP and reaping a handful of failing grades, I left the country’s premier state university. I spent twelve relaxing months sulking in the comfort of my family’s home without anything to do aside from occasionally visiting our farm, surfing the Internet and watching VJ Heart Evangelista on Myx. For one whole year, I enjoyed and never longed for the tranquility of life and the unique panorama on the threshold of Mount Banahaw.

Later on, because of people and events that seemed to conspire in compelling me, I realized that I had to go back to UP and be an Iskolar ng Bayan again. It’s not that I was sick and tired of the countryside life; I just had to ascertain if I could get up where I fell down.

Returning to the institution I abandoned before was more difficult and challenging than chanting “Open Sesame!” a thousand times. It took me triple my pre-college “admit-me-please” effort to convince UP to accommodate and give her prodigal son a second chance. This therefore verifies the cliché that trying to be admitted to UP is tough, surviving as a student is tougher, and attempting to graduate is the toughest.

I am optimistic though that I can make up for my failures on my second try in the university. I know that nothing much has changed in the institution I am returning to — including the brain-whacking academics — but I am better equipped now, prepared to exhaust all possibilities and not to settle for mediocrity as I did before.

When I was still in high school, I thought college life would bring me self-fulfillment, grant me independence and magnify my self-worth. It gladly did. But the side-effects are more potent, more obvious and somehow painful. My limitations were uncovered and my weaknesses were exposed. All in all, college life made me realize that my intellectual armor is not bullet-proof. When I learned the tricks of the trade, I was already far down below.

I still remember (and will never forget) when my high school music instructress wrote me a letter on my first month in UP reminding me that, besides other things, I should keep counting my blessings and thanking God. Let me do those now.

Yes, I always got first honors from elementary to high school; I got 18 gold medals for academic achievements, 16 of which are gold; I was admitted to UP where I was granted two simultaneous scholarships; I can design webpages and do some computer programming; I eat three meals a day; and I have the most supportive parents. And I really thank God for these.

But look at me now: I won’t graduate on time nor with flying colors as most people from my hometown expects. My medals stopped accumulating. One of my two scholarships was terminated due to my academic skills downgrading. The meals I am eating don’t seem to compensate for the weight I am losing. Worst, there is no guarantee that my parents (or I myself) can financially support my studies until my diploma sees the light of the day.

The alerting sound of an alarm clock and the voice of the pandesal vendor bring me to the starting line of yet another day’s academic version of a Formula 1 race, without ever expecting a second runner-up trophy.

For sixteen years since birth, I was the king of the hill. The world used to go around me. Things could happen at a flick of a finger. I could bravely face the mirror and see someone confident and respectable standing before me.

Now, I realized that my life is not all about getting high grades, winning competitions and garnering gold medals. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. Like a house that needed renovation, I had to look uglier before I could look better.

But there is not even a slightest regret on my part. UP was my only choice when I was about to enter college because of financial consideration. It proved itself to me that it must be my only choice then and now.

Amidst all the discouragements that are coming my way, I can’t help but miss the adventurous high school days I had.

I wish I were still in high school where I was carefree and lighthearted, not worrying about which subjects to enroll, who my Math teacher would be, what books to buy and how my parents would react when they finally got hold of my class cards.

I wish I were still in high school where I could top exams even without actually taking a glimpse of my lecture notes.

I wish I were still in high school where despite being the Science Club president, the school paper’s editor-in-chief, the class president and a CAT officer all at the same time, notwithstanding my hosting of quiz bees (sometimes also competing in them) and of other school events like Christmas parties and Junior-Senior prom, I nevertheless found time for academics.

I wish I were still in high school where garnering as many as nine gold medals in a year was as easy for me as merely being who I was and doing what I could normally do.

I wish I were still in high school where I would be the least bothered when the principal or the Home Economics teacher would suspect and ask me if I was courting or the boyfriend of so-and-so because she was leaning and resting her head on my shoulder during class hours.

I wish I were still in high school where I wouldn’t mind revising an essay ten times just to make it qualified for publication in the school paper.

I wish I were still in high school where I was not taught Microsoft Windows yet managed to encode research papers with WordStar and NewsMaster and to print them using a noisy dot-matrix printer.

I wish I were still in high school where I wouldn’t have to attend the exhausting ROTC drills and to shamefully don a muddy “Type A” uniform while riding public transport on my way home.

I wish I were still in high school where I could boast of my trademark self-esteem and wouldn’t feel slapped whenever someone asks me if I’m in the Dean’s list or when I’m going to graduate.

I wish I were still in high school where I was enthusiastic and always looking forward to every tiring yet fulfilling school day (“Carpe diem” was my motto back then).

I wish I were still in high school where I was not worried about what the rest of the world expected from me.

I wish I were still in high school where I was who I still am except that I am now wishing for impossible things like these.

Of course, I do wish I were through with my bachelor’s degree. After the rocky detours that I marched upon, I hope that my remaining months in college will be a smoother voyage. Be it smooth or rough though, I will try to appreciate or at least not take it for granted for I know that later on in my life, I will also miss my college years.

After all, there’s more to love in college life. I don’t want to miss the sights.

Note: I wrote this essay in 2002 when I was on my survival years in the University of the Philippines. This is the first time I’m publishing it though.

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