The Sun Never Sets on High School

March 24, 2010. 0930 hours.

This was the day I would either hate the most or love the most. This is a moment so trying, nerve-wracking and spine-tingling that only five people are allowed to witness and be part of it inside a hollow, warm room. Only the fittest  and the strongest shall survive and surpass the nostalgic stage.

This was the moment of truth. The declaration of the top 3 honors  for the graduating batch of school year 2009-2010.

Okay, maybe I was exaggerating a little, but to tell you the truth, this was how I partly felt. The other part of me was scared and relaxed altogether because I know that things can change by just a small factor of one decimal point. The healthy competition I had with my other two competitors, Deuel and Abby, (who happened to be my two bestest friends in our batch) was a really tight, exciting one. Our scores and averages were so close that 8 or more teachers are required to meet together, calculate and decide who receives which. Although it was quite obvious that Deo (Deuel’s nickname) would be our class valedictorian, double, triple, and quadruple calculations and ‘checkings’ are required to avoid biases, miscalculations and other mishaps. To tell you the truth, it seemed like the competition was just between me and Abby. Not that we did not strive for the first, but our averages compared to Deo’s were as far as the distance a person travels by car from Makati to Ortigas on a Friday night. It’s possible, but it would take a heck a lot of patience, determination, diligence and perspiration. For that reason, I only had my hope on the second place.

So there we were–the three of us–inside our memorable room together with our adviser, Ms. Abarca, and  another high school teacher, Mrs. Cayanan. After a word of prayer, Deo, Abby, Mrs. Cayanan and I sat on our unusually cold and plastic armchairs while Ms. Abarca remained standing. She explained how the deliberation process took place yesterday evening and a past session with all our subject teachers. They made sure that all the papers and grades were quadruple checked and calculated. She pointed our attention to the set of grades she wrote on the whiteboard earlier. Our final grades were written, but our names weren’t. This added tension. Ms. Abarca then wrote our names on the board. As expected, Deuel ranked first. The question now is, who’s second and who’s third?

It was an unexpected result. Abby and I tied. Our averages were exactly the same. To the very last decimal point.

If our ranking would be based on our scholastic grades alone, then our batch would have two salutatorians. Thus our school created a system for ranking graduating honor students. The 70% would be our academics, 20% extra-curricular activities and 10% character (since our school is a Christian institution). As for the extra-curricular activities, Abby ranked 1st, Deo 2nd and I third. As for charater, Deo ranked 1st, I ranked 2nd and Abby ranked third.

The question is not who ranked first since it was quite obvious that Deo aced the competition. The question is, who will be called the salutatorian?

Ms. Abarca did a mathematical evaluation with each of the three parts of our grades (academics, extra-curricular, character) to arrive at the weighted rank. The person with the lowest number is the 1st and the person with the highest number is the 3rd. (This is because our final averages were multiplied according to the factor indicated. Our final grades in academics were multiplied by 7 [70%], extra-curricular by 2 and character by 1)

Deo had 12 points. Abby had 19 points. I had 22.

As I saw those numbers, my world nearly crashed down. I thought I would emerge victorious. I thought I would land at a “Heavenly place.” Sa Tagalog, masayado akong nag-akala. Nakalimutan ko na lahat ng akala mali. Sobrang mali.

I can feel the tears about to rush out of my tear ducts and pour profusely down my face. I chose to reserve those tears for my alone time with God. I kept a firm yet happy countenance as we opened the dividers and let our other batch mates in.

We proceeded downstairs to head to our school-church’s auditorium. I wore my black, filtering shades because I realized I could not hide the tears any longer. I chose a path not-so-distanced from my classmates to avoid empathetic questions. I only had one question and it’s directed to God and myself. Why?

I took my iPod and wished I had the song “Just Once” so I could sing to the first verse and relate. I sung it in my head.

“I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough. ‘Cause here I am back where I was before….”

Here I am again, back at #3.

Later that evening, as I knelt down in prayer, I burst into tears, the tears I have been trying so hard to control. This time, I can cry all I want and the Person I was gonna cry to would never push me aside nor be judgmental towards me. Once again, God humbled me. He made me realize that I had even more potential and diligence to pour on my education; I wasn’t just seeing it yet. It was not impossible, but it’s certainly difficult. I would rather win third in the most challenging and difficult race in the world than first in the race I know I would ace so easily. When I read the Bible that day, I was encouraged and amazed by the strong and courageous leader, Joshua. An astonishing and seemingly impossible story about him and the Israelites could be found in the 10th chapter of his book. After hearing how Joshua and the Israelites defeated the kings of Jericho and Ai and how the Gibeonites made a peace treaty with them, five Amorite kings conspired against the Gibeonites and attacked them. By doing so, they actually planned their own tragic demise. God used Joshua and the Israelites to help the Gibeonites defeat the evil kings because the Gibeonites were the only foreigners kind enough to God’s chosen nation. As the battle waged, Joshua did an astonishing thing. He commanded, in the presence of God and Israel, the sun to stand still and the moon to stop moving. As a result, “the sun stopped in t he middle of the day and delayed going down about a full day!”

Scientifically, that is impossible! To me, it is very astonishing and amazing! I am also encouraged by the story and Joshua because I know what kind of God I am serving and entrusting my whole life to. Not because we’re sinful, He no longer listens to us. In fact, He delights in answering our prayers, as long as they are aligned to His will.

I may have landed third place in high school, but that is not the end of everything. In fact, it’s just a taste to what the real competition looks like: COLLEGE. I thank God because He never bases His love and acceptance and my worth on medals and other earthly achievement. As long as I performed the best way He wanted me to, I know He’s proud of me. I can see Him smiling.

The sun has not set over my time yet. It’s only beginning to rise.

Twice Rejected

“God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”

– o – o – o – o – o – o – o – o – o –

When a student steps in his senior year of high school, he usually hears 2 prominent questions being thrown at him:

  1. “Where are you going to study for college? &
  2. “What course are you going to take?”

I am no exception. Whenever people ask me these questions, my answers are ready and “overscratched” like old CDs.

“UP Diliman or Ateneo de Manila. Course? BroadCom [Broadcast Communication] in UP, AB Com in ADMU.”

Sometimes I would include “UA&P, course Integrated Marketing and Communications.” I rarely verbalize La Salle. Not that I find it bad, but not as good as the former three. (In spite of my bias, I hold great respect for all current and former students of La Salle, especially my friends and relatives.)

With a heart set for what its master wants, I applied for all four schools and took all four tests. Ranking it from 1-4, 4 being the hardest, I would say: La Salle, UA&P, UP, ADMU. Because of my “personal rank,” (which I realized later on was soo foolish of me to do) I was quite confident I would pass all four. Not to mention I indicated quota courses in all schools.

The months pass, the good times roll. I was doing great in school (I was 2nd honor last quarter–first ever in my entire life!), ministry, family, and friends. Christmas was awesome, vacation was awesome, I got lots of money. Then the new year kicked in. News of entrance exam results spread like wildfire. Students flock computers and websites take ages to load (or maybe it was just Ateneo! :D). The first two weeks of January were still okay because DLSU and UA&P results came in early. In fact, UA&P sent me a personal letter on Christmas Eve. I passed both schools! Yes, praise God indeed! But I was not too ecstatic. I begin to get nervous. I was still awaiting the two heavier, better universities.

The Ateneo Admissions Office released the ACET results at exactly 1 PM last Saturday, January 16, 2010. I nervously typed my 4-worded name. Thanks to the busy server, I had ample time to inhale all the air and exhale all the anxiety.

THEN….boom.

“Sorry, your name is not on the list…….”

I refreshed the page. To check if this was indeed the 2010 result, I typed my classmate’s name. Then….boom.

He passed.

Did I tell you I was fasting that day? By God’s grace and constant reminder, I did not harbor jealousy against this close classmate of mine who also happens to be my best friend in school since second grade. I can say, with a smile on my face, that I was genuinely happy for him. He deserves it.

But since I did not pass, I felt differently. Suddenly I realized the gravity of the test results. Questions race in my mind. “Does that mean I’m not that smart than people say I am? Did I go bonkers on my essay?” Unfortunately, answers were unavailable. I could only take a deep breath, let it go, and accept the hard facts. My hopes for passing the UPCAT waned. And just as any non-“passee” would think, I thought of facts that would justify my failure to pass. “Malayo naman ang Ateneo at UP. Ayaw ni mommy na mag-commute ako ng ganun kalayo. Mangangapa ako sa kaka-commute. Mas mabuti nang sa UA&P kahit mahal, o sa La Salle kahit….hindi ko gusto.” 😦

Then another week passes. This time, more results. More bad news.

My name was not on the UPCAT passers too.

Thankfully I’m not the other desperate and dedicated seniors who really mope over the “destruction of their lifelong dreams,” but I was just as sad. I can remember my dad, coming home from work, excited to view the results. I can also imagine the gloom that covered his face. Although he didn’t mope (none of us did!), I can tell they were sad. Somehow, as the eldest daughter whose known for making her parents proud, I felt I let them down. I felt sorry for my dad. He patiently and lovingly accompanied me to all the 4 schools when I took the test, skipped work just so I can apply, and even treated me to a delicious meal afterwards. He wanted me to go to Ateneo. I did my best to hide my sadness that day by laughing constantly and watching other more intelligent kids play their instruments. :)))) (Bio channel–world’s greatest musical prodigies)

The following day after the not-so-shocking revelation of me not passsing UP, I cried out to the LORD. I cried not because I didn’t get into my dream school or that He didn’t let me in. I cried because I realized how awful the stench of my character really is. God opposed my pride. He opened my eyes by closing the doors I believe to be opportunity. People always tell me, “Kaya mo yan! Mapapasa mo yan.” Not that I blame them, but this statement led me to believe I can actually pass all four tests without working up a sweat. I mean, I did not attend review classes (even if I knew I should) and I did not take reviewing seriously. And again, I was mistaken. No pain, No gain.

In spite of all the failures and mistakes I’ve committed, I praise my Savior, Jesus. I can hear Him telling me, “I don’t want to oppose you! I want to give you as much grace as you need, but you won’t let Me. You know that your pride and I don’t get along.” I thank Him for sparing me from the more painful chastenings I can undergo have I not realized my mistakes early on.

Lord Jesus, thank You. Right now, I still got problems. I like UA&P over DLSU, but not as much as ADMU or UP. I have two reasonable reasons:

1. UA&P is 5 times more expensive than my present school. That’s the annual fee. Multiply that by 5 again, and add thousands of pesoses. That’s my entire college fee.

2. I’ve never really dreamed to go to La Salle. Reasonable enough. 😀

So now I’ve got a new prayer. Lord, if you want me to go to UA&P, please provide the finances we need, and please teach me to be content with whatsoever I have. If you want me to go to La Salle, please give me a heart to see your grace and hand in it. Even if mine are not so in to it. And of course, give my parents wisdom and understanding.”

Farewell Ateneo. Farewell UP. Guess we’re not meant for each other.