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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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Shameless Pride: Why the Face of Belongingness Lives on in the Streets

There is an ongoing turmoil within the community that needs to be discussed, and so they continue to go out into the streets together. This tells us that they have more stories to tell. Their existence tells us that what the world needs is not to ignite hate but to spread love.

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Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

It is an inevitable sight: a depiction of a rainbow in several forms—a flag draped over an arm and a wristband fastened on wrists that make up a crowd. Sometimes the details are subtle: a pin attached on a collar and a hint of a dyed layer of hair, perhaps done in the middle of the night, hours before the march. Yet this expressive and riotous aspect of the Pride Month retains its sense of being triumphant through its buoyancy and evocative command. It is the time of the year when the LGBTQIA+ community dismisses every custom that seeks conformity by simply huddling together and being in the moment.

A manifestation of multi-colored resilience

Resiliency is something that is vital to any form of resistance. For Jolo Gonzales, a first-year Economics student from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, the Pride March is not merely a celebration; it is the very embodiment of the LGBTQIA+ community’s tenacity throughout the history.

“Those people who join Pride, it is a choice for them to go out and celebrate or come out as who they really are,” Gonzales shared to TomasinoWeb. “And in this country, that choice is present to those who are courageous enough to accept and to fight for who they are.”

Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

Gonzales, who identifies as a bisexual, believes that Pride Month is not just about gender and sexuality; it is about being the kind of person who you truly want to be. As a member of the community, he does not condone stereotypes among the other members, for he thinks it is contradictory to what they are fighting for.

There is an underlying issue that often remains undiscussed. According to JV Reyes, a student from the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines – Diliman, there are “threats that seek to falsely sensationalize the community” in regards to the interests that do not exactly concern it. What actually concerns the LGBTQIA+ struggle, he believes, is oftentimes disregarded by many.

“Perhaps one main struggle that, I think, each member of the community has is the conflict with fearing who you are and, eventually, fearing for yourself and the people that you value,” Reyes said. “There is the fear of rejection, which may come from our respective families and loved ones, and as well as the society we live in.”

But the community’s struggle is an intricate matter; it transcends personal battles and affects one’s social status and economic position. There is the fear of securing a stable job, the threat in one’s health condition, and the presence of violence and direct aggression. There is also little representation and recognition.

“And the thing is, despite these vulnerabilities from various threats, we don’t get as [many] rights as heterosexuals do. We don’t get as much protection,” Reyes added.

When asked if he would be able to name at least one place where he feels comfortable with his sexuality, as someone who identifies as queer, he said: “As long as this society disregards that we exist and that we deserve equal and fair treatment, I won’t feel safe of judgment and discrimination from anywhere.”

Overcoming heteronormative barricades

Jeman Malibiran, a senior high school student from the University of Santo Tomas, plans to attend this year’s Pride March. “[It] is a manifestation of resistance,” he said. “It is not merely a statement on who we are, on identity, but more so a statement about our dissatisfaction with the status quo and about how we envision such to change.”

Malibiran went on, “It will be my first time because I only recently have fully confirmed that I identify as pansexual, come out to my mother, and found true people who genuinely support my identity.”

Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

Gabriel*, a first-year student from De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde who identifies as asexual, believes that acceptance is the true meaning of the community’s struggle. “Giving them a home and a place to express themselves,” he explained.

Because the nature of his identity is rooted in fairly intimate concerns, Gabriel usually struggles when it comes to explaining how his orientation works. “It’s a bit aggravating,” he confessed. “It wasn’t just a ‘phase’ or ‘I haven’t met the one.’”

There is rarely any conversation about asexuality as well. “If there is any, it’s in the fringes,” Gabriel said. “So there really wasn’t a guide to how I felt, or how to put words into feelings. It’s not exactly a point of public discourse at the moment.”

Malibiran emphasizes that this is the reason why LGBTQIA+ members have a hard time expressing affection in public and often face stigma.

“There is still a struggle of being wrongly perceived as sinful, lustful, and disease-carrying among the community due to the dominant patriarchal mindset and the lack of education about gender and sexuality,” he added.

Carving out safe spaces

Protests are not something we should overlook; they must upset us. They are unsettling for a reason. Aurora*, a freshman student from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, has gone to two Metro Manila Pride March—one from 2017 and one last 2018—and plans to do so again this year.

“I went to the Pride March 2017 out of curiosity. I wanted to feel what a Pride march is,” he remarked. “I went to the march again last year because of the people I met. I wanted to meet more amazing people who are just like me. I wanted to experience the rain, the chants, the clothes, the program, and the love all over again.”

“[These] celebrations are for our brothers and sisters who were persecuted and being persecuted for being who they are,” he added. “[The] March is not only parties about our genders and sexualities, [but it also] is a protest for our rights.” The true meaning of being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, for Aurora, is for them to look out for one another. “We fight for them and for those who perished in our battles,” he said.

Jules*, a first-year student taking up International Studies at De La Salle University, believes that the Pride March is, first and foremost, a protest. “We see its roots in the Stonewall riots. Nothing about that was pretty. It was queer people fighting back against the police. They laid their lives on the line so we can have a little bit of safety, a little bit of acceptance, just enough so we can continue the fight,” she said.

Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

“So when I look back at history, I see Pride March as a protest against the system, against repressive institutions, against hate,” Jules added. “It’s going into the streets to revolt as one, and nowadays we have a lot of things to revolt about as well.”

Aurora believes that coming out is not merely a self-acknowledgment; it is the declaration of one’s willingness to be part of something real and honest. “I want everyone to know that I am a bisexual man,” he said. “Because I want everyone to know that people like me exist.”

For Jules, it is something that has a different meaning for every queer person: for some, it may mean being out and proud; for others, it may mean a select few only. “You define your journey,” she said. “What’s important to remember is that being out to only a few people doesn’t mean that you are less brave. We are all brave for living our truth in ways we’ve made our own.”

Aurora admits being a victim of internalized homophobia, which is still seen in dating applications like Grindr and Blued. These applications, according to him, have a niche of homosexual men who cater Masc4Masc dating scenes, which is when masculine, discreet queer men only date men of their own description. For him, this entails heteronormative narrative of gay acceptance.

Bi-erasure is also often left unspoken within the community. “Bisexuality faces a lot of stigmas still today,” Jules said. “The conversation [between] masculinity and femininity should also be discussed. Why is there a stigma against effeminate gays? How does this stigma feed harmful stereotypes?”

“I remember being bullied for being feminine,” Aurora revealed. “It gave me some kind of trauma that still affects me to this day. I’m still scared walking down a hallway full of men, anxious to be noticed and made fun of.”

The Pride March is not only a symbol of resistance; it is also the overt prompting of the community to seek a safe space. “It’s carving a place in this unforgiving world and sharing the burden of the fight with people who understand,” Jules said.

This is why protests are unsettling—because the way of life the LGBTQIA+ people are succumbed to is unwelcoming. There is an ongoing turmoil within the community that needs to be discussed, and so they continue to go out into the streets together. This tells us that they have more stories to tell. Their existence tells us that what the world needs is not to ignite hate but to spread love.

This is what is truly inevitable about the LGBTQIA+ struggle: the community’s sheer denial to believe what it has been conditioned to think it deserves. It is the community that speaks back and takes a stand, after all—and it will do this with the message of courage and compassion. Do not wonder why they come out into the streets and leave a trace of their vivacity behind. Instead, ask why they must keep doing so.

Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms. Pronouns used in the article are the preferred pronouns of the interviewees.

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Independence Day: Of Ceremonial Defeats and Freedom Myths

The history of our country immortalizes the meaning of our life then, as well as the scuffles and tragedies that wrote our present. But what we celebrate does not often mean we remember, for why and what we see today are contradictory to the freedom we sought after.

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Artwork by Kurt Tecson

From Lapu-Lapu, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio to the warriors of the Philippine revolution and veterans of World War II—we remember the heroes who resisted those who attempted to conquer us by celebrating Independence Day. After all, history is a series of recollections. We remember Ninoy Aquino’s words—“The Filipino is worth dying for”— with such clarity that we can almost convince ourselves we have heard them even before we left our mother’s womb.

History may be a time long gone, kept only in books and mumbled in university lectures. But history signifies character and the Philippines is brimming with it. The history of our country immortalizes the meaning of our life then, as well as the scuffles and tragedies that wrote our present.

But what we celebrate does not often mean we remember, for why and what we see today are contradictory to the freedom we sought after.

In certain times we forget the true meaning of our independence. For instance, we as Thomasians no longer pause for a moment and sing the national hymn with necessary courtesy. Outside the school premises, our sense of freedom as Filipinos has been tainted in ways that now we have been constantly barraged with news of public accusations and political posturing. Aside from the execution of the war on drugs by the Duterte administration and the ongoing Martial Law in Mindanao, the China conflict has further aggravated the territorial disputes.

Yet it is clear that several things have not descended in some of the Filipinos’ consciousness, such as that of the way of the youth to resist submission. Instead, we reprimand them for their courage in never cowering in silence.  We overlook the organized language they speak in the streets, the shared protests they cultivate in their art, and the blatant refusal they hurl with raised fists and collective voices.

Photo by Dainish Santos

We forget that the youth of today are no different from the likes of Rizal, whose command over words has proven to be one of the things we continue to hold dear. Another Thomasian we ought to remember is Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, also known as ‘Don Bosyong’, who waved the first Philippine flag. He finished law in the university and was one of the people who co-wrote the Philippine Independence proclamation.

The youth who resist are some of the heroes we must not forget. ‘Ang kabataan ay ang pag-asa ng bayan,’ Rizal said. They are the heroes who do not brandish themselves with rifles. Instead, they arm themselves with a philosophy meant for the people and the hope that the freedom of Filipinos will be recognized once more for what it truly is—the very embodiment of our country’s right to life and liberty. This is what the fight is all about: to call to mind the legacy our ancestors left behind and to live it out in our everyday life—because we must not flinch from the threats; we ought to break free from them through resistance and defiance.

The celebration of our Independence Day does not only mark the remembrance of the past; it is also the struggle we continue today for those who have been forgotten, hurt, and misled. It is our way of reminding ourselves over and over again that it is the compassion and love for the people that make being a Filipino meaningful.

We were a nation that fought for the freedom of the Filipino people. We can still be that nation today. And we ought not to forget that our country’s history, at its core, does not simply remind us—it lives within us.

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Where Champions are Born

More than 10,000 graduating Thomasians proved that champions are made, not born as they cross the Arch of the Centuries for the last time.

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Thomasian singing we are the champions
Photo by Jacqueline Martinez

Festive, as one would put it. Banners, balloons, and bubbles surrounded the field as the different colleges showcase their own unique flares as they march with pride and dignity to the beat of our very own UST Yellow Jackets parading this year’s Baccalaureate Mass last Friday, May 24.

“Salamat, UST!” the graduates chanted out loud. With every beat of a drum is a restless heart, a long-kept excitement of taking the final step towards the finish line. “Sa wakas, ga-graduate na ako!”

Screams of excitement and joy echoed the four corners of the University as the graduating students fill up the streets to take their last walk around the campus. The sky was honoring every kiss and whispers of goodbye. Hugs were warm and tender, firm and sweet. Mellow May winds touched every skin causing goosebumps, making eyes let go of tears of joy, complementing the already humid atmosphere of a day whose skies were prayed for to be patient.

Thomasians dance to the tune of their batch song," Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

Thomasians dance to the tune of their batch song,” Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon | Photo by Tantan Deang

Cameras flashing and selfie sticks dancing from left to right. Everybody was smiling, not only the graduates but also the parents and students from the lower batch bidding goodbye to their beloved seniors. Beats from the Yellow Jackets kept making everybody hyped and pumped for the big event. “Go Uste! Go Uste!” the graduates chant as they do the iconic cheer.

Among the students who are about to graduate was fourth year accountancy student Ed Russel Tayag who shared how his journey molded him to be the person he is right now.

“It was a rollercoaster ride from the beginning,” Tayag shared to TomasinoWeb. “I didn’t expect it to be hard. At first I thought that college would be just fun, but there are full of trials din pala and I’m thankful din for AMV for forming me to [be] who I am today.”

There would be times where everything seems to knock us out, pull us down, but the aspiring accountant emphasized that courage and conviction, good friends, and a proper mindset are the things we need to have to face these challenges.

“Tatagan mo lang. It would all be worth it in the end. Pahalagahan mo [ang] mga kaibigan mo kasi hinding-hindi ka nila iiwan. Always pray and believe that you can always do it. Stay optimistic,” Tayag said.

There is also the constant need to conform. A delay may seem to make you an outcast, but graduating engineering student Mary Anne Evangelista reminded everyone that we should focus more on our achievements rather than comparing ourselves to others.

“I have learned na tatagan yung loob ko. Iyong kahit sumuko ka, you just have to rest, and go on,” Evangelista said. “Kahit kailan ka pa grumadweyt or what time it [takes], okay lang. As long as you try, that’s good.”

As students ready to take on the world, there would always be realizations that what you may have planned in the beginning only remained as mere plans. Hearts fired with courage will sometimes be muted when problems arise but we should always remember to trust ourselves. Bryan Lim from the College of Fine Arts and Design shared his experiences in UST.

“In my stay in UST, I’ve learned that not everything the way you planned [getting to the university] pans out.” he said. He started in the College of Rehabilitation Sciences and has now graduated with a degree from the College of Fine Arts of Design. “It’s [experiences]  really different and I have experienced so much in the five years that I was here.”

Sometimes, the world takes you to where you really belong. There would always be hardships, trials, and fear, but all of these are part of the journey. “To my freshman self, go with your gut because in the end of all of this, you’d still end up where your heart is.” Lim said.

A Thomasian writing her farewell message on a uniform

A Thomasian writing her farewell message on a uniform | Photo by Jacqueline Martinez

With pens in their hands, this year’s valiant legions wrote farewell messages on one another’s Type A uniforms as part of the age-old tradition. They were laughing as they screamed their heartfelt messages to one another, as drum beats overpower their farewells. Feet were stomping in joy, running towards old and new friends alike, unbothered by the splashes of mud from the ground that was dampened by an earlier drizzle.

The University Grandstand calmed down. The skies reflected lilac, distinguishing itself from fragrant violet, as the shy sun slowly laid repose on the western horizon, surrendering to ominous-looking clouds, the cool wind engulfing everyone, signaling a shift to solemnity as Thomasians prepare for the Holy Mass.

“This is your endgame,” University Rector Very Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, O.P. said in his homily. “Having spent thousands of hours in the University, reading voluminous pages of books, answered hundreds of examinations, survived the tensions of graded recitations and practical tests, you are here today rejoicing, for these experiences would finally end.”

Endings usually have sad implications, ‘bittersweet’ as the Rector would put it, but he reminded everyone that endings, as part of every journey, should excite us for it opens a door to a myriad of possibilities.

“Such words like ‘I love you 3000’… are memorable, because these words express not only the pain that goes along with living but also a fervent desire for a good beginning,” he added.

Leaving the University also means leaving all the cherished memories we made inside the campus. Reliving her experiences in the University throughout the years, Asian Studies major Denielle Nicole Viray nostalgically shared how she became emotional that she has had to let go of the University that she became emotionally attached with.

“Since high school kasi nandito na ako sa UST, so marami na akong na-witness na achievements ng school na ‘to and I’m really proud na ga-graduate ako ngayon as a Thomasian student and hindi basta-basta makakalimutan yung Thomasian spirit na meron itong Thomasian community.” Viray said.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed. The University Grandstand turned into a sea of candles, waving back and forth in majesty. A familiar rhythm embraced the crowd, conjuring a spirit that transcends the souls of each and everyone—the Thomasian spirit. The crowd sang the UST Hymn with firm conviction and appreciation.

Students don the Thomasian Cross on each other

Students don the Thomasian Cross on each other | Photo by Gillian Robles

Shallow tears trickled down as if they were already aching to break free from warm eyelids. The mixture of joy and sadness that enveloped the atmosphere turned into excitement as the iconic conversation from the blockbuster movie Avengers: Endgame played.

And, one by one, the sparks that illuminated the dark skies danced through the beat of the drums of Queen’s We Will Rock You. Gasps upon gasps, the Thomasians, with their heads staring up high at the magical display of colors, shouted “We Will Rock You” in unison. This is where champions are born.

Thomasians watch in awe as light rain down from the night sky

Thomasians watch in awe as light rain down from the night sky | Photo by Gillian Robles

The graduates raised their fists as they sing the last piece “We Are The Champions”. They spread their arms, like birds ready to leave their nests, the widest and looked at their fellow champions with pride and dignity. The sky turned golden yellow, celebrating the royalty of the Thomasian success, as the song reached its climax.

They exited the Arch of the Centuries as new beings, noble and great. Years ago, they entered the Arch with flaming passion, now their passions are roaring as ever to face the endgame.

With their friend's standee as proxy, Thomasians ran towards the Arch of the Centuries

With their friend’s standee as proxy, they ran towards the Arch of the Centuries | Photo by Jacqueline Martinez

Hands held each other, they ran to the finish line. They gave their loudest roars as they plunge into a whole new world, a door to a series of possibilities.

“Champions are made, not born,” they said. This thought lingered to every single one as the crowd subsided, emptying the historic walls and streets of the University.

Once again, it was still and quiet. The Main Building stood strong, its Blue Cross guarding the campus. The centuries-old Arch celebrated peacefully in front of España Boulevard its new set of graduates and said, “Yes, as life is a process, as they enter their new lives, they are once again born.” She giggled for a moment and sighed “and this is where champions are born.”

Roll up the curtains for the Tigers who have finally earned their stripes—their journey as Thomasians has finally come to an end.

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