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The valedictorian molded by pressure

The path to the top of the CPA licensure examinations was surely exhausting, but Lahaira Reyes believes that all of that was part of her journey and without it, her goal would have never turned into an achievement.

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lahaira reyes valedictorian
Photo by DMD Photography.

The path to the top of the CPA licensure examinations was surely exhausting, but Lahaira Reyes believes that all of that was part of her journey and without it, her goal would have never turned into an achievement.

For others, finding out that she topped the licensure exams was no surprise at all. As the valedictorian of the UST-AMV College of Accountancy Batch 2018, her family and friends were rooting for, if not expecting her, to arrive at the top. Reyes shared with TomasinoWeb the ups and downs of her journey.

Like every prospective CPA, she did everything in her power to prepare for the licensure exams.

“I think yung last sem po namin sa AMV, which is the Integrated Accounting Course (IAC), yung naging start ng preparation ko,“ she added, “kasi it is already a review of what we have studied since basic accounting, then naituloy nalang po sa review school.” As difficult as reviewing proved to be, adding to the pressure on her was the fact that she was about to take an exam that could change her life.

Time management was the hardest part for Reyes; considering the amount of topics that needed to be studied were far too many for the amount of time they had prior to the exam. Adding to that was the exhaustion from all the events following IAC: graduation, baccalaureate mass, birthdays, and other events. She couldn’t devote all her time to studying, and that was one of the many challenges that she had to face.Of course, she couldn’t just sit still and let this problem get in the way of achieving her goal, “What I did was to prioritize [sic] yung subjects na feel ko, maganda yung foundation ko ng basic knowledge then nagstart na ako sa mga bagong topics na di ko pa alam.”

Reyes was anxious over the fact that she would not be able to study all of the topics covered, especially ones that were only recently incorporated into the exam such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, but she was reassured by her review school facilitators that it was normal for them not to finish everything. “[…] namili nalang ako ng reviewers na feel ko complete na siya ng basics and may konting twists din,” she stated.

Reviewing may have been hard, but staying motivated to pursue her goals proved harder. But Reyes couldn’t lose herself, not at a time like this. She needed a reason to continue, a motivation to keep herself together—her family. “To give back to them finally kapag may work na, then yung mga taong sumusuporta sa akin, kasi sobrang nakakataba po talaga ng puso knowing [that] many people are praying for you,” she explained, “kahit nakakapressure, nakakamotivate din po.”

Despite feeling unprepared and inadequate, Reyes knew she had to pull herself together, and found strength in those closest to her.

“Everytime na I open up to someone, lagi nilang sinasabi na sana wag ako madown kasi sila nga naniniwala sa akin na kaya ko so sana daw I also learn to believe in myself.”

Not only did she have her family to cheer her on, but her batchmates believed in what she could do and achieve. Why would she let herself be pulled down by her stress, if the people around her kept pulling her up? “Yung moral support talaga from the people yung nakakapagpush na magcontinue.”

And there it was, she was ready, even though in the back of her mind she had her fears and worries, she knew her family had her back. “After nung first exam, kinabahan talaga ako. Kasi ang daming erroneous questions so yung confidence naming examinees parang bumaba kasi hindi namin alam if hindi ba talaga namin makuha yung answers or mali lang talaga yung questions.” The anxiousness was there, and only intensified with each passing day getting closer to the examination results.

“First time ko super kabahan sa kung ano mang result kasi siguro this will really make a big difference in my life.” She couldn’t focus on other things, her mind kept thinking back to how well or how badly she did on the licensure exams. “I was studying for an international certification exam that I will take the next day while waiting for the results,” she explained, “But honestly, hindi din naman ako makafocus dun sa inaaral ko.” Her mind went from the best-case scenarios, to the worst ones, going from each one of them as she let the hours and days pass by, waiting for the results.

Reyes shared that she had waited from 7 PM to 12 AM waiting for the call from parents to hear about the results, hearing the clock tick from time to time. It seemed endless—the waiting and the overthinking. Then suddenly, the phone call that would change her life finally came. “I just can’t believe it, I screamed sa dorm out of happiness and excitement,” she exclaimed, “then after minutes, nagcall na yung mama ko then yung ibang members of my family, my friends to congratulate me.” At long last, all the anxiousness and fears in the back of her head vanished, as though her heart was released from being squeezed tightly.

The destination is usually the only thing seen by others, rather than the whole journey. Behind Reyes and her success, there were people who helped her achieve her goal and made her who she is today. “First, I want to thank my parents and my whole family for their endless support,” she listed, “then my professors sa AMV kasi kahit pinahirapan nila kami nung undergrad, it is all worth it naman.”

She also wanted to thank her facilitators in Review School of Accountancy (ReSA), “kasi they really helped me na mabawasan yung pressure, madagdagan yung confidence, and sa review talaga academically.” And finally, to her batchmates, for believing and cheering her on. She never saw them doubt her even once

“And of course, to put Lord for blessing me with all that I have today and for guiding me na makarating ako dito.” Thanks to them, all of them, Lahaira turned her dreams and goals, into an achievement—a reality.

But this doesn’t mean that Lahaira’s journey is coming to an end. Reaching her destination just serves as another starting line, the start of another journey. “I think the most important lesson I learned is to keep on going on, na failure will really be inevitable in our lives and we will have our own ups and downs,” she expressed, “Rejoice and pray when we receive something good. Cry, pray, then get up again when we fall down.” This is a lesson worth sharing, a lesson that she thinks everyone deserves to know, “Wag sana nating hayaan na ibaba pa tayo lalo ng failures and mistakes natin.”

After everything else, Reyes remains humble and keeps her faith in God, strong and undisturbed. Ups and downs are unavoidable—in fact, this is what makes up a journey. Being at the top doesn’t make her invincible, it just makes her a normal student, one who fights to reach her goal, who doesn’t let anything get in her way, but instead, motivates herself to continue and get up every time she falls down.

“Let us pray for the courage and strength to face each day, try again everyday hanggang sa marating na natin yung goals natin.”

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The truth about online classes told by a struggling Thomasian

“I can’t do anything but comply with what the institution demands because I’m afraid to be left out.”

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

When technology becomes a hallmark for the future, it can be difficult to imagine a life where it wasn’t used to encompass much of our everyday activities. Then again, we knew a childhood with sparse technological influences, but all the same, we grew up at a time technology was becoming revolutionized—which makes us, to some extent, caught in the middle. And this is why it puts us in such a difficult position, because until now we live in a desperate attempt to try and bridge the gap between face-to-face and digital learning.

It becomes especially difficult at a time when some of us live in apprehension and some are mourning. When survival should be first and foremost prioritized, the need for productivity counteracts it in the most perfect example: online-based instruction.

The costs of online learning

“I can barely access any online classes due to internet speed. And I wish I can keep up, but I simply can’t,” Cecilio “Josh” Malang, an Asian Studies freshman, shared in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and resumption of online classes co-occurring, students are compelled to follow through alongside complications in connection, inaccessibility of digital-based media, inconducive learning environments, and mental health issues.

“Whenever there is a scheduled online class, I consult the president of our class and inform her that I won’t be able to attend, and she orients our professors about it. Luckily, my classmates summarize the discussions for me,” although this put him in a tough position in part because intermediary learning has its disadvantages, “they are more advanced since they have the chance to attend online classes without interruption.” 

In response to concerns such as this, the university has made it publicly known that they are working in collaboration with telecommunication companies so that students may “increase chances to participate in a virtual learning environment”.

But the question persists: is a virtual learning environment a conducive learning environment?

Malang adds that he attended an online class once through his phone, consuming an enormous amount of mobile data, but was ineffective because of frequent disconnection and inability to clearly comprehend the discussion, “It’s not like I am not trying to have a better connection. I have executed alternative ways I can resort to, but I am left with no choice but to wait for my classmates for the summarized discussion.”

‘Learning’ from home

“There is a hint of compassion based on the guidelines that were released, such as disallowing professors to give a failing grade, but I feel that to show genuine compassion, it must be at its fullest extent, and not just half of it,” Malang acknowledges that the university’s decision was not without its pros, but it was not without its cons either.

Among the advantages of online instruction, he notes, are that classes are resumed as per usual meaning the academic year won’t be extended, and that students can be productive and preoccupied, thus their concerns are shifted from worrying about their well-being to a variety of academic activities.

Likewise, Malang considered some of its drawbacks such as its ineffective effort towards sustainable learning since not all students consider their homes as convenient learning areas and that most especially, students become passive learners.

When being able to submit requirements online becomes central to supposed ‘online learning’, it gives the impression that the learning process is ignored. Requirements simply bypass and impede learning and online instruction becomes a half-baked substitute for quality education that all students deserve. The magnitude of learning, at this point, is of no importance.

Resilience… in this economy?

As Filipinos, we are habitually taught the virtue of resourcefulness, resilience, and diskarte or practical intelligence, and this is because the common social context for Filipinos is one of ubiquitous injustice and inequality. We are to make do with what we have instead of acknowledging the problem and compromising so that no one may have to suffer the consequences of not being privileged enough to get by with ease. 

This concern cuts through and beyond issues of connectivity. The world is at a standstill and we are constrained to be productive by virtue of online classes. A lot of students might not be in the right headspace to accomplish anything, but they aren’t given the luxury of choices.

“No student wishes to be left behind. No one wants a grade of INP either, because they will tend to overthink,” Malang remarks—the INP option becomes counterproductive because it leaves students with more apprehension at a time when personal well-being should be ahead of everything else.

Malang also shares that he has had trouble sleeping in part because of added responsibilities on top of those he already had, “One factor that contributed to my difficulty in sleeping is overthinking on ways on how to attend online classes.”

This goes to show that this is no time to compromise student welfare and turn a blind eye to their grievances. Psychological stressors are present even in the midst of our homes where we are quarantined, and they are not to be overlooked—mental health should be prioritized just as much as physical health. 

“I can’t do anything but comply with what the institution demands because I’m afraid to be left out,” Malang says. 

This is not the opportunity to challenge resilience in students, not when the health of the entire world is being jeopardized. Especially not when students are not granted with the same conveniences—no amount of sped up internet connection can make up for that. Quality education is supposed to be a right and not a privilege. When problems of connectivity and welfare arise, it really makes you wonder how it puts the onus on the student and not on the flawed education system itself.

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Online classes: Thomasians are left with no choice

While safe from the virus raging outside that is risking people’s lives, some Thomasians are silently dealing with digital-born problems within their homes.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

Inside the safety of their homes, shielded from the pandemic, students are focused in front of their monitors while bearing constant fear of failing to comply before the set deadlines. While safe from the virus raging outside that is risking people’s lives, some Thomasians are silently dealing with digital-born problems within their homes. 

After the release of an advisory from the University of Santo Tomas that announced the continuation of online classes lasting until the end of the second term, A.Y. 2019-2020, the Thomasian community sought compassion above all else amid the pandemic and enhanced community quarantine. After all, the University prides itself with the three Cs: commitment, competence and compassion. Scattered across the country, the Thomasian population is facing varying and immense disparity of privilege and resources. 

Absolute compliance

Surrounded in dim lights, an uncomfortable dreadful night is fast approaching as the clock continues to tick and getting closer to the deadline. It is when desperation and frustration find its way towards a slouched figure that’s struggling to reconnect with their online classes, awfully aware of time slipping between their fingers.

Jude Wyndel Poblete, a freshman from the College of Accountancy, is facing difficulties more than ever with online classes because of his current situation; living at Northern Samar, their unstable internet connection combined with multiple power interruptions are the source of his worry and frustration.  Poblete experienced firsthand the inability to comply when he failed to take his mock examination from their respective college due to unstable internet connection and power interruptions that he expressed on his Twitter account. 

When the university announced the resumption of online classes, Poblete anticipated what would happen, “I was really worried about not being able to comply with the online requirements given the fact that I’m at the province,” Poblete shared with TomasinoWeb. “We are more than eager to pass this term but due to some hindrances, we are left with no choice but to accept whatever happens.”

Overwhelming emotions

Once the clock hits the deadline, it’s game over. It’s a student’s worst nightmare—the submit button gone, any other chances disappear and the stunned silence that comes afterward is painful and unbearable. 

Poblete narrates that their college mock examination was supposed to boost the students’ confidence in taking their online classes. However, not being able to take the exam because of his current situation plummeted his motivation in studying, “It [mock examination] caused me to have mental distress and breakdown. I started crying and I had no urge to study for my upcoming exams anymore.” 

The reason for his breakdown is because of his fear of having an incomplete grade that will be a burden for upcoming semesters, “It’s hard to settle for a grade of INP, that’s why we are doing our best to comply with the requirements given by our professors but some factors are hindering us.” 

Not everyone is privileged

The University of Santo Tomas is one of the universities that is known in the country by providing its students with quality education. Moreover, it is a common fact that the Thomasian community, in every way,  is a perfect blend of unique diversity.

Poblete pointed out, “I hope that the university will consider the situation of those students who are UNPRIVILEGED,” because there are students that aren’t properly equipped for online classes. “Online classes are not suitable in our country since we have no strong and stable internet connection here,” he added. 

Further addressing the problem that he encountered, “It is really hard to study by ourselves because we could not digest what the book or PowerPoint presentation is saying without explanation from our professors.” Poblete emphasized that online classes do not give the quality education that Thomasians need.

Because of the hindrances that affect his online classes, Poblete asserted his dismay as he sympathizes with other students who are going through the same situation as him. “It also has been tough for us, knowing that all those sleepless nights and efforts we’ve exerted will be put into waste just because we are not privileged.”

No student left behind

Though Poblete is having a series of difficulties, he wanted to remind everyone to never feel sorry just because of their status by stating his sentiments towards the students who are struggling with online classes, “Let us be reminded that we can get through this. Never feel sorry for being unprivileged, let them feel sorry for themselves for being inconsiderate. No students will be left behind!” 

People did not predict that the one-week suspension of classes would eventually lead to more than a month of community quarantinethat March 9 was the last time they would see their block mates and friends. Not until the pandemic is over and declared as COVID-free nation. 

Thomasians are calling out for the university administration to reconsider their decision that is stated in its Institutional Continuity Plan. Poblete believes that ending the term is what the students need, “the issue here is not about grades anymore but the safety of the whole Thomasian community.”

Privilege is not given to everyone, the university must also consider the students who will suffer through repercussions because of the several limitations that the online classes have; lack of materials, unstable internet connection, an unhealthy situation that a student may be in and power interruptions. The students have  no choice but to cope with the situation that is full of disarray because of the pandemic; prioritizing their basic needs, their health, and also trying to meet their assigned deadlines.

Therefore, the voices of Thomasians are clear: We deserve compassion, we deserve a quality education. And most importantly, we deserve a healthy learning environment. 

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The Rise of Galvanize

“Unang-una, sumasayaw kami kasi masaya kami doon. So, kung ‘di na masaya, parang nawala na yung purpose mo sa sayaw.”

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Photo from Asian Hiphop Philippines Facebook page

Known for their numerous achievements starting off as champions in Step Up 2016, honing gold from UAAP Streetdance Junior Division and down to the most recent performance as a qualifier for the Asian Hip-hop 2020 in Hong Kong—this team still manages to bring home the bacon as it was recollected by Nina Reyes, Liya Escudero, Manuel Ilagan and captain, Jonas Belgica.

Behind every success is a group that started from humble beginnings, which was formed by Mr. Angelo Sicat back in 2016 when the newly added administration and system of Senior High School in UST was established.

Fronted by Coach John, the organization always brings out their best and never forgets their roots. Besides hip-hop, they also have a contemporary division in the team which is led by Coach Dany.

Keeping up with an outstanding record, the team manages to hold up with the demand for new members every year since Senior High School only has 2 academic years. Because of this, graduating Grade 12 members are to be replaced by new ones who still have two years in their hands.

Nevertheless, despite a short exposure they still aspire for one another most especially for new recruits, “Kini-keep pa rin po namin yung bond, parang ayaw namin ma-feel na leftout sila basta as one po kami nagw-work.

Additionally, they practice devotion and praying before every competition which shows how much they value their efforts and how thankful they are with the bond they have. With this connection, they can say that they are unique from other dance organizations because of the values they uphold which strengthens them, “Nilalagay namin sa center si God.

Just like other organizations, they feel that pressure is part of the process of performing most especially how they always manage to win over every competition that they can get their feet and hands on.

“‘Tas laging sinasabi ng coach namin na ang mahalaga is mag-enjoy kayo, na after ng performance wala kayong regrets. So, manalo-matalo, masaya pa rin naman po kami and hindi namin hinahayaan yung pressure na yun mabago yung mindset namin.”, as the members narrate how they deal with expectations from the public. Trust is what makes them serve the best moves in the stage.

When asked how they accommodate their academic responsibilities notwithstanding the countless hours they dedicate to training, they find a way to patch it up by helping each other out. The key to this is by communicating with teammates, “Parehas din ng struggle mo, like, if parehas kayo ng strand makakausap mo siya in a way na magtutulungan kayo for acads and tsaka time management.”

With loads of challenges and trials upon their shoulders, they admitted that there was a time wherein it did cross their minds that they wanted to quit. But then, each of them realized that staying is much more worth it than walking away from the passion that they have for dancing.

As Nina and Liya recalls enthusiastically, “Kasi pag passionate ka po sa ginagawa mo talaga, sometimes, yung physical mo ganyan yung mental mo. Parang ayoko na talaga pero parang you find yourself pa rin doing what you love parang nasa heart mo na talaga eh.”

Manuel even shared how he battled the fear of quitting, “Ipapa-realize talaga sayo ng coach mo kung ano yung purpose mo kung bakit ko ginawa yun kahit mahirap siya. Doon mo mare-realize na it’s for your dreams din, para din sa sarili mo, para sa parents mo, para maging proud sila sayo.

Kung hindi siya masaya, hindi siya sayaw. Kasi, unang-una, sumasayaw kami kasi masaya kami doon. So, kung ‘di na masaya, parang nawala na yung purpose mo sa sayaw,” as Jonas denotes what drives him more amidst the difficult problems he faces as the captain.

With the mention of training, it is understood that it takes a lot of work and practice to master the art of dancing but some still think that it doesn’t fall under the category of sports.

Kasi naging mainstream na yung basketball, yung volleyball ganon. As in yun na yung tinitignan na permanent sport, ganon yung mga tao kasi parang limited lang yung understanding nila to what dancing really is kasi tingin nila gagalaw-galaw lang yun pero hindi nila alam na may certain requirement and certain kind of preparation na kailangan mo gawin para ma-achieve mo yung ganong klaseng mga movements,” they said.

Jonas Belgica, Darlo Emmanuel Ilagan, Lia Resabella Escudero, and Niña Marie Reyes | Christine Annmarie Tapawan/TomasinoWeb

There has been a stereotype about dancers and competitions because people think that since dancing doesn’t require a person to lift weights and only perform on stage for around 4 minutes, it’s not fully regarded as a sport––which is not right because it also needs training and proper discipline. The same as the amount of hardwork and effort that is put into sports like basketball and other sports. 

They reiterated that educating people about what dancing is all about will greatly change this kind of mindset.

They hope that this would change but are still grateful for the support they receive most especially with the upcoming Season 82 UAAP Streetdance and the 2020 Asian Hip-hop competition this coming May.

Dancing, whatever the genre an individual chooses to exhibit, is both a sport and art that expresses words into graceful and prodigious movements up to any extent the body can procure.

Freedom.

Love.

Fulfillment.

Competence.

For them, these four words resonated the sensation of being a dancer of Galvanize.

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