Everything I Learned, I Learned from You

There we were, two very good friends since high school, propped up comfortably on the bed while looking at photos of activities of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines.

Let me share to you how inspired I was. While listening to her stories and the ardour that the students she talked about, I was moved. Also, I was encouraged by my friend.

Kate has always been good at Chemistry, I remember. She took up Chemical Engineering and graduated last April. She said one time that she wasn’t supposed to graduate, because her grade in one of the last subjects was incomplete. I wish that I could have helped her that time in any way I can or I could tell her that God may have a reason for it. It’s hard to be there for someone through text messages.

She said she was okay. Kate was ahead of me all the time as I read once in her essay that God has a purpose for the opportunities that weren’t given to us even though we may have badly wanted it. We do not understand why, but He does. She sees that in everything, it is His will over hers.

When she told me she wouldn’t be graduating last month, I had formed reservations and hypotheses in my mind. Maybe they were just joking with her. Maybe after a few days, they would surprise her and exclaim, “You’re graduating!” But no.

Nobody jokes about graduation.

Then after a few days, I remember yelling out of surprise and joy when I found out that she will be graduating! It was after a morning jog: the first time I took one because that was the time I woke up from a very bad dream and I needed to get out to breathe and to relax a bit. All the stresses I felt early in the morning was gone the moment I found out the good news from my friend.

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Kate

Kate graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the Technological Institute of the Philippines. And not only that, she graduated as a Finalist of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines.

I first heard about TOSP when we wrote an article about it when I was still in college. It’s a prestigious award, and for my close friend to be hailed as a recipient, I was so happy. Though I do not know the entirety of every hurdle and every success that she went through in college, I do know who Kate is as a friend and as a former classmate.

I’ve known her since first year of high school. We met in a Math tutorial class with Levi and Mikko under Sir Caysido, our teacher who makes his own formulas and theorems! She’s hard-working and always keeps her notes tidy and substantial. She was our group leader in our investigatory project in our fourth year, and eventually, she became a student leader in TIP. Moreover, she was also granted an opportunity to go to Japan for the Kizuna Project, wherein she and other students were involved in Japan’s recovery efforts after the earthquake that hit the country last March 11, 2011. Our friend Noreen, who is now having her Master’s classes in South Korea, also got to join the project prior to Kate’s participation.

Kate and Erika during a little gathering for my 18th birthday
Kate and Erika during a little gathering for my 18th birthday

As I write these down, I want to impart how truly inspired I am because of my friend. It is not about the title or the award – it is about how committed she is and how she loves what she is doing. That no amount of stress or conflict in strained working relationships in organizations or heavily loaded schedules can keep her from going after what she wants.

There is a worthy cause to what Kate is putting an effort to in this world. Also, she’s a loving and fun sister to her siblings and a responsible daughter to her parents. Come to think of it, I am quite ashamed for not hearing more or asking about what they went through in Japan, what else she encountered in college, and what she learned from the things she had to endure.

I know I’ll be giving the excuse that I too was quite busy with my own college life. Still, I must not give out excuses for this is a late realization in life: you have to have time for family and friends always, for those you are closest with. In the end, it’s being there for people.

Being there for them – this simple act – is enough.

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Mom when we visited Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan

Even though it is only now that I got to talk more lengthily about my friends, by how I am blessed because God gave me an opportunity to share my appreciation for them, this can be the start. They are truly amazing people and for them to be close too with my parents is certainly another big blessing. I cannot say thank you enough to the Lord for these people and the friendship that we have. It has been nine years that I have been friends with Kate. I am truly grateful for this.

Back when we were still both students, I recall her telling stories about being stressed and trying to fix things within the organization. I know only a bit of the hardships she had to endure. Now, I see the fruit of her labour and the fruits of her fellow TOSP awardees’ labours.

After solving the problems in handling an organization and putting all her best into the events they conducted, after sleepless nights of pouring over formulae and thick textbooks (that I do not have the patience or the understanding to comprehend), I appreciate the works and passion of others who are in a different field from where I am in.

Engineering (and everything technical) is a foreign concept to me; how they build rockets, how they build solar panels, how they built the International Space Station – I cannot comprehend how their minds work. But somehow, I begin to appreciate its processes and the people engaged in this practice more now.

Coming from a school known widely for engineering, I learned to appreciate and respect the hard work that my friends there have gone through. Repeating a course is not a light matter especially if it’s a heavy subject. And exams can really drain them out of their wits. There are still more that I do not know of the pressure that they feel.

Above all these, however, the fact that we were made for all different causes with various skills, talents, and interests astounds and humbles me at the same time. Knowing how hard Kate studied to reach the place where she is now and how she is truly meant for ChemEng and that she chose this course because she loves it, I understand that we are all alike.

How my heart lifts up when I look at concept art and the process of making animated movies that I love is parallel to how Kate probably feels when she’s involved in a project in her own field, to how an innovator claps his hands when an idea of making e-book readers or gadgets comes to his mind, to how an old schoolmate loves to solve Math problems for fun, how a woman covers her hand in flour as she prepares the bread to sell daily in the marketplace.

We’re all artists and innovators in our own ways. We invest in what we love. We are sculpting monuments, building boats and ships, baking cakes, holding seminars and classes, driving trucks across major roads, making deliveries everyday… And while we are doing what we love, we do not know how many people we actually motivate to do the same in the fields that they are in.

Kate inspired me to do the things I want to do with more competence, with more zeal, with more humility. I have a strong feeling inside that maybe God really does want me to write. (And perhaps, draw and take photos on the side? Hopefully.)

To write about people. To share their stories. In His will, in His time.

Levi
Levi

I do not know what makes a good writer, but maybe, it’s more of the story that we’re after here; I don’t really know. We have all the resources in the world. We know places no one has heard about (like our own houses with all its specific marks and our personal and familial sentiments tied to it) and people that only we know intimately about than others – why not share what we know?

I nod to what Malcolm Gladwell had said in a preface in one of his books; it was about finding ideas to write about.

“The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell. I say ‘trick’ but what I really mean is challenge, because it’s a very hard thing to do.”

In a grand scale, everything is already interesting. I don’t have to convince myself anymore.

If I think that cars aren’t really a subject I am too keen in holding a conversation about, maybe I can look longer at one car and think about the process. Think about the man behind the design. Think about the people who put it all together. Think about the inspiration for it. Think about the young boy whose parents do not have enough money to send him to college where he wants to make building cars for a career.

I reject my subjective views about something and look at it through a different perspective.

Replace subjectivity with perspective, and then we become curious and interested.

Replace the example of a car and think of a person we are not in good terms with, and then we become accepting and loving. Think about this person’s family, his childhood, his own fears and doubts, his need for love.

Perspective.

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Dad when we were on the Ferris Wheel in Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna

God made us all diverse and He created us with a unique purpose in mind. If everybody wanted to become a graphic designer, a super model, or an athlete, who’s going to make the sturdy buildings we live in? Who will teach the children in school? Who will sew the clothes we wear? Who will go out to sea every morning to catch fish for people to eat? Who will come up with the medications to cure us of diseases? Who will take care of endangered animals? Who will hold mass in Church? Who will create opportunities for others to get a more stable job, to have a better home for the poor, to provide for those who are in need?

The list goes on.

And if this does go on, everybody will be too busy competing with one another, figuring out who’s the best in this single field.

If we have the courage to see what others do with respect and appreciation, then maybe we won’t be comparing ourselves too much with other people’s lives or lines of work. The same goes with how we view our own efforts, our own lives.

We’re working towards a larger purpose, larger than us individually; this purpose is something that we (and those that will follow us) will benefit from in the end.

Everything is already interesting. We all are.

Everyone has a story to tell – the tilapia vendor, the sorbetero, the boatmaker, the congressman, the secretary, the janitor, the president, the coal miner, the diver. We can hear about their lives, their families, and their upbringing with the eyes of grace and love, rather than with a proud and cynic mind or that which is governed entirely by disorganized reasoning or selfishness.

God has made an infinite number of wonderful people if only we have the patience to sit a while and listen. Everything is interesting, every story is worth hearing, every person is remarkable.

To hear about Kate and her fellow TOSP awardees was an eye opener. Not only did I enjoy listening to my friend talk enthusiastically about her friends and asking about their other activities, but I also was introduced to some of the humble and heartwarming things like how one Delfin Villafuerte, a teacher, brought his favourite student KC and his best friend Andrie to Ateneo de Manila University. Kate told me about how KC had difficulty in keeping up in class and that he was a non-reader. Kuya Delfin brought the young boys to sit in one of his classes and accompanied them in their walk around his alma mater. His involvement in wanting KC to learn and to believe in himself stirred me.

“Mag-aaral ako sa Ateneo.” These were the words written by KC and Andrie when they were sitting in one of Kuya Delfin’s class. To inspire a child, to lead him to dream and to work hard for it – isn’t that humbling? To bring him to your old school and make it the motivation. To tell him that he should not listen to those who say that he is not bright, that he will not make it far. To share your knowledge so that it can help someone along the way. Reading about how KC cried and mentioned that nobody really believed in him, it broke me.

Because of this young teacher’s sincerity in helping this boy in his own way, I am reminded of a song in Church that I use to remind myself when I see how selfish I can be at times: “Walang sinuman ang nabubuhay para sa sarili lamang…”

There is much more to be said about our teachers. Much more. Their actions, especially towards those who are young and still starting out in their education, will impact the lives of their students one way or another.

As Kate and I closed the laptop when it was already 11:30 in the evening and now that I’m nearing the end of this rumination, I realize that Kate is my teacher. Indirectly and unknowingly, she imparted in me things I would never have learned any other way this clearly.

Kuya Delfin is also my teacher. Along with KC. With my Mom and Dad. With my workmates. My former professors. My superiors. Loved ones who have passed away. The 9-year-old boy I see as a little brother who loves Pokemon a lot. Ma’am Esteban, my teacher back in Grade 1. My cousins. Tito Noli. My old friends. My relatives. Strangers and people I hear on the TV. Bloggers. Tita Carol. Our pets, those living and those who are no longer hurting.

Everyone I met.

Julie

Let me share this quote from Contrarian Soul, a friend I follow on Tumblr: “Everyone is my teacher. Some I subconsciously attract. Often I learn simply by observing others. Some may be completely unaware that I’m learning from them, yet I bow deeply in gratitude.”

They are all my teachers. In one way or another, I have learned a very significant lesson from all of them: whether these are about humility, about love, about service, about cooking – anything. And as their student, I want to pass on how these people taught and disciplined an ignorant child as me.

Slowly, I am seeing Jesus in others. I am learning more about true love through other people. And it’s one of the best things. I pray that this will persist.

I may have graduated already (thank you always, Mom and Dad!) but I am still a student, and as long as I live, I will always be one (though I have to admit I do miss schooling). There will be mistakes to be made and lessons to be learned from these. Just like a pre-schooler ready to take on the world that is something new and unfamiliar to her, I want to see life in the eyes of someone who will see it for the first time.

Like the blind man whose eyes have been touched to see again, like the lame who was told to pick up his mat and walk.

Everything I need to unlearn like reserving preconceptions, noticing the flaws of other people, and being too hard on myself, God gives me the grace to empty myself before Him and let His love resonate within me.

Everything I have ever learned, I learned from my parents, my friends, and from You.

And everything I have ever understood, I understood because of God.

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