Time to graduate

I should be graduating. Like everyone else. By now, my Facebook profile photo should be me in a Filipiniana with a sablay across my chest. Months after that, I should be sending out copies of my resume to offices with heaps of them. Just like everyone else.

But missing a step along the way has rendered me out of sync with what my batchmates are up to. And now to every Tita who asks what year I’m in, I say it’s my 4th year in college with an asterisk; a disclaimer that it’s taking me five years to finish what should be a four-year undergraduate course. I’m always trying to believe it when I tell myself that should be ok, above all rolling eyes and interrogative voices in my immediate surroundings alone.

There are people who’ve taken six, eight, ten for the same thing but that shouldn’t make them any less worth looking up to. Schools that foster the ladderized and highly competitive environment that thrives on rewarding the win-all champion of a rat race to the stage make it seem so. The comparisons we pit against each other’s paces change how we see the value of our own.

And for what purpose? Against what odds and losses?

I could graduate by this time (or “on time”) if I didn’t drop out of school in the middle of the last semester. It’s been hard to explain to people who only see that I had no reason to do so given the material conditions that are within my privilege.

So many Filipinos my age can’t afford a college education or an education, period. But take it from this dispatch of what it’s like within classroom walls, they aren’t missing as much as we make them believe.

All the 3.0s to my name would tell you I fulfilled the extreme minimum of the class requirements, just enough to pass and move on to the next class I’m just as likely to underperform in. I admire classmates with the extraordinary dedication to the projects we mount in school. I see them give their all. I hear them talk about all the hours of sleep they lose to their academics all while I was elsewhere.

For more than half my life, I thought I had to be the same. Tried to blunt myself into place. My parents would be proud and I’d earn the respect my peers have for the student with the supernatural ability of time management.

But I feel less of that admiration when I observe the same people don’t show up as much for things that aren’t graded.

There have been days I’ve learned infinitely more things in riding the bus to and from school than when I was sitting in an armchair watching slide after slide after slide. But my professor doesn’t ask about the bus I take to school.

Even student organizations which should serve as our alternative spaces for undervalued areas of educational pursuit have been infected with some of the same crippling mentality.

All the big named organizations in our university boast of providing a training ground to produce “professional” members. I’m guilty of wanting the same for my organization until realizing how problematic it is to shun the personal nuances of the work from view. Being “professional” has little room for the quirks that might make work enjoyable and memorable.

We all have various and varying ways of learning. There are as many ways and means to learn as there are people who are willing to. No authority should impose a singular step-by-step checklist. If anyone does, we reserve the right not to listen.

Accommodating these quirks, others might argue, would compromise efficiency. I have a lot of these, some admittedly unnecessary (i.e. “Wait kailangan ko muna bumili ng magandang ballpen bago magsimula magsulat”), the others a make-or-break essential. There are things I can’t start doing if I don’t understand why I have to do them.

This less than desirable work ethic is a sure bane for all my would-be bosses. It already is for my professors and classmates and all the people who’ve had the displeasure of working with me, I’m sure: the classes I stopped showing up to, the papers I never bothered finishing, and the deadlines I watch pass right in front of me.

We are taught how to make the most material gains with the little resources we have. Everything is in the name of economic advantage, which isn’t always a wrong way of looking at things because this is a world that works within the constraints of money and time and several other limitations no matter how much we want to believe otherwise.

I can understand why so much of the Filipino mentality regards education as the golden ticket out of poverty or for those who aren’t at the brink of it, a fast lane for some semblance of vertical mobility. The way society breeds that desperation does so at the cost of the things that are supposed to matter most, if at all.

I want to take my time in school, spend my time believing this is the laboratory they say it is. On the other hand, my parents are waiting for my graduation photo to be framed next to everyone else’s. And I don’t hold that against them. I want them to finally be able to retire from their day jobs because they deserve to.

I’m always secretly hoping that sincerity counts for something. I wish I didn’t have to, at least not under my breath as if an admission of sin. Most people nowadays, young and old, don’t have the option of failing or of any form of delay exactly because of economic considerations. But I wish we could afford to make mistakes for as long as we learn from them.

But I can understand that that fight isn’t here within the classroom. It’s outside. So for now I can shut up and get back to writing my thesis like I should, do what I can with the rest and one more year from now, I will see you out there. #

About the writer:

Telle, 20, is a 4th year* Journalism student from UP Diliman and is the president of the UP Journalism Club. In the course of writing this essay, she realized how much she wants to be a teacher.