Back in high school, I took hating the first day of school to another level, by locking myself in a washroom cubicle in the morning before classes started. May it be the fear of new teachers, mean classmates, or being alone—I just traditionally cried on this day every year. So, when the first day of senior high came, I braced myself for more breakdowns because I couldn’t bear to be separated from my small circle of tight-knit friends.

Most of them ventured into STEM or ABM, while I was the only one who stayed in HUMSS. It was a routine to follow where my friends went, and what choice they wanted, even though I didn’t really want the same thing. So, this was a refreshing decision.

When I opened the door of my section on the first day of 11th grade, I felt like a lost bunny who accidentally ended up in a lion’s den. Huddled in circles or sitting nimbly in their seats were the popular honor students, debate kids, and overachievers, with their intimidating energy filling out the room.

And there I was, who simply chose this strand simply because I liked to write and speak occasionally. In the first week of school, I let the merriment of the classroom’s noise consume me from afar, juxtaposing my loneliness. I pretended to be busy or sleepy by rewriting my pretty notes.

Days passed and I found myself accompanying the noise of my classmates: sharing laughs with my seatmates, gushing over the wisdom of my teachers, crying to movies as a class, befriending these all-star students, who were just as fun without their stereotypes.

Eventually, I became part of a new barkada. We spoke a language only we could understand, treated daily sociopolitical issues and cultural criticism as part of our normal conversations, and enthusiastically supported each other’s hobbies and gigs.

Before I knew it, dismissal time became fun. It was no longer just a breather. The bus port looked colorful when my new friends and I held onto our food cups for dear life and laughed over the sleazy canteen smell on our white blouses. It was beginning to become a comfortable ride back home and I smiled like a fool.

I started using the jam-packed shortcuts to the classroom again. I stopped going to the preschool washroom too.

If you ask my old friends what I used to be like, they’d paint you an image of a shy and laidback student who only raved over boys, hangouts, and froze like a deer in headlights when asked to recite. Now, they like to joke about how political and serious I became ever since I fully set foot in HUMSS.

On the one hand, my current friends and peers perceive me as an obsessed academic who loves to recite in every class, is the first one to complete her part, asks for a word count extension, and leads in almost every group.

I became a perfectionist who desperately sought validation in my school and org roles; editorialized and romanticized productivity with every chance I had, while ensuring I looked effortless in achieving them.

I realized that at times, I was simply a performative social justice warrior. It was not enough to be book-smart, morally correct, or have strong opinions. Putting social sciences into practice should not revolve around oneself but for the common good, the ordinary lives and faces we see on ground.

I’d be lying if I said I’m still the same person I was before entering HUMSS after viewing human behavior and structures from different and broader angles. I formed an existential love-hate relationship with contradictions, writing multiple essays on hustle culture and capitalism, while still being an active yet chained participant under them.

My experience as a HUMSS student in an all-girls Catholic school is nothing short of a life-changing chapter in my life. It pulled me from my echo chambers, opening my eyes to see beneath the surface in countless ways. But even if this change is an uncomfortable and frightening process, it symbolizes how far I’ve come.

The thought-provoking immersions, the presentations, the nerve-wracking essays on the chairness of a chair, and debates with Christian religion teachers, among many others molded my deeper sense of empathy.

The rest of the world increasingly presents us with more reasons to pack it up and not even try anymore. But there will always be more reasons to stand and speak up for those who can’t. So much premium is put on mathematics and the sciences. But there should also be as much dedication and care for the humanities and the social sciences. After all, they’re the foundation of everything we live for.

We ended our final year in high school by giving speeches in homeroom class. When it was my turn, I cried once again and expressed that I was indebted to the amazing women and teachers of HUMSS who danced into my life. Words can’t do justice to how much I owe them.

But most of all, I thanked them for helping my inner child in that narrow washroom cubicle blossom into a passionate and headstrong person just like them.

For now, I’ll pat myself on the back for ticking the HUMSS option on that fateful day of March and carrying on my classmates’ and teachers’ empowering lessons in navigating this ugly and beautiful world.

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