The Imprint of Returning to College

Editor’s note: Excerpts below were taken from the graduation speech of our interviewee, “Kuya Gil”.

I’ve been asked many times by classmates, professors, friends, Why have you returned to college? My usual, casual response is: “I am bored. I have nothing to do.” But frankly, the real reason involves a story that is not so easy to share over small talk. The real story seems too long and serious to share in class. People perhaps expect to hear something like: “I am here because I want to learn more,” which is not entirely untrue either.

Alam ko majority of you want to hear the story of your Kuya Gil. “Bakit ang tanda na niya, nag-aral pa siya ng college?

I got married very early and was not even 21 yet when my son, Gerald, was born. At age two, Gerald was diagnosed with hemophilia—a disorder in which one’s blood cannot clot normally and quickly to mitigate bleeding. As a child, he was extremely susceptible to injury; minor bruises and small bumps led to disastrous external or internal bleeding. Unlike yours, Gerald’s body could not heal fast enough. It was tragic for us, his parents, to know that there is no cure for hemophilia: that it would be a life-long concern.

My wife and I were not rich; such medical services in the Philippines were as expensive and elusive as they are now; and each hospitalization Gerald needed was a heavy financial burden. I, my wife, and our supportive relatives had to pool our resources together to get through each hospitalization.

So it was understandable that getting a college degree was no longer on my mind. Nawala na sa radar ko ang college degring pinapangarap ko.

In the late 80’s, the EDSA revolution became a turning point for our country and was soon followed by several, coup-d’etat attempts. The Philippine society languished in its own kind of hemophilia: a long history of wounds that refuse to heal. Finding a stable job to support my family in the Philippines was hard. Faced with my financial burdens, I had no other alternative.

Leaving my family to work in another country was perhaps one of the most painful decisions I had to make in my life.

In 1986, even though Gerald continued to suffer from hemophilia and we still racked up expensive medical bills, he made it to college to take up Physical Therapy in De La Salle Dasma. I was proud as any father could be, and I felt sacrifices slowly paying off.

However, in May of 1990, I received terrible news from my family that Gerald started to bleed severely from one of his kidneys. It was through God’s blessings that Health Secretary Dr. Enrique Ona himself, then the Director of the National Kidney institute, performed the surgery that saved my son’s life. After Gerald’s recovery and over long distance phone calls, I was advised to go to the US if I wanted access to medical treatment for my son.

It was the only way. I held off: migration to the US seemed too major a disruption to my family’s already turbulent life.

I held off, that is, until the Gulf War erupted. In the latter part of 1990, tension in the Middle East rose as the US and its coalition of powerful, technologically advanced countries started to close in on invading Iraqui troops. I, along with many other overseas workers, fled for our lives back to the Philippines. But another heavy decision had to be made. And in December of the same year, Gerald and I flew to the United States.

Soon enough, Gerald was admitted to the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford under the care of a reputable hematologist, Dr. Bertil Glader. It was there in the US where Gerald finished his schooling under medical assistance.

Despite all these challenges we went through, I still consider my family – especially Gerald – to be blessed.

Now that all these have come to pass and Gerald now able to take care of himself, I was faced with that one thing that I have not been able to do. Surprisingly, I felt like doing it: finally getting that college degree. I told my wife and kids, my kids especially, since both of them are done with their college education. Ako naman. You can imagine their surprise…

But it took only a few seconds for them to say, “We’ll support you, Dad! All the way. Go! Go! Go!”

It is on this journey towards getting a college degree where I, through your help, have realized some very important things.

The desire for life-long learning is something that cannot be taught or systematically instilled, but it is essential if we want to make something of our lives.

The desire for life-long learning is cultivated within individuals exposed to the right environment and challenging situations. It is deepened by one’s commitment and personal reflection.

We should never stop learning as individuals. I am a good example of that.

Now, I feel complete and satisfied.

I am now fulfilled.

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