this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on october 26, 2010.

AFTER SPENDING sleepless nights by overdosing in caffeine and Stresstabs, after countless mornings struggling to get up from bed to go to a 7:30-a.m. class, after all the awkward years I’ve spent dealing with my insecurities, after all the money spent on photocopied pages of books whose authors I can’t even remember, after foregoing countless parties for an all-nighter with Almond and Powell, Sodaro, Heywood, Rourke and Goldstein, I can’t believe that the first semester of school year 2010-2011 has finally come to a close. Three full years in the university, and now I’m down to my final year. The coming semester will be the last for me as a college student.

My parents originally wanted me to take up a Science course, like Biology or Nursing, because they wanted me to pursue medicine. It seemed to be the best option for me since I graduated from a science high school. I can still remember all the fuss about college applications for admission to universities offering the best science programs. I almost gave up my passion for social sciences when, one day, I made a very impulsive decision—to enroll in a university far from where I grew up and in a place far from the one I was used to.

Since I was a kid, Tacloban and my parents’ hometown in Leyte, which is Jaro, were just vacation destinations during summers and Christmases. I still remember the cool breeze, fresh seafood and the clear, bright night skies lit with the biggest stars I never see in Manila. At night, I would play hide and seek with kids in the neighborhood and lie on the roof of our house, counting the trees and plants in the garden.

There are so many great minds, so many raw talents from so many small towns waiting to be educated—but they might not get the opportunity. Because education is a privilege.

This time around, however, I’m back here not just for a visit. And I can say now that my decision to study here in Tacloban is one of the best I made in my young life.

It was hard to adjust. I was used to the busy life in Manila and I missed all the friends I grew up with. I missed our house, my siblings. But there are lessons I learned here that I would never have learned anywhere.

When I got to have friends here, I realized that there are more important things in life than those that preoccupied me then. I thought that college was just about being cool, having a barkada, getting good grades, or getting into the most distinguished organizations there are in the campus. From my friends, I discovered that college was a privilege; that in their town, only a few kids pass the UPCAT; that they study because they have seven other siblings and their families depend on them for the education of their brothers and sisters. I learned that while I spend my money photocopying hundreds of pages from books in the library, some friends scramble to be the first to borrow them, because 50 centavos per page is too expensive for them.

I also learned that there are so many great minds, so many raw talents from so many small towns waiting to be educated—but they might not get the opportunity. Because education is a privilege. And it is so frustrating to know that there are thousands out there who deserve the best and could go places only if they had the necessary resources and access to the best education.

I have traveled to some parts of the world and the Philippines and have met people from different walks of life, and I can say—only a few people care. Only a few students in my generation have enough idealism to take the less traveled, yet more fulfilling, road. Or the dedication to help other people, and the resolve to contribute to society.

As my graduation nears, I want my last semester in this university to count. I will savor every bit of learning I can gather from my books, my teachers and my environment in order to prepare me for the real world out there. I know I came here for a reason. I want my last words to be heard and my last actions felt. Who says that it is a dilemma to choose between pursuing your dreams and helping others? I say we can do both at the same time. And it is a matter of choice.

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