Ateneo de Manila University's valedictorian for 2019 just wrote an inspiring essay on hardwork and generosity, and it's a thought-provoking piece that everyone should read.
Graduating as a cum laude for B.A. Management Economics, Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña also happens to be the President of Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila and a recipient of the 2019 Loyola Schools Awards for Leadership and Service Most Outstanding Individual as well as the 2018 Most Outstanding Jose Rizal Model Student of the Philippines Award.
The essay, titled Prayer for Generosity, was submitted by Reycel as part of the valedictorian selection process and is published on Ateneo's website.
Where she rightly celebrates her well-deserved success, she also speaks of her humble beginnings as the daughter of a jeepney driver, having to work twice as hard as her peers to get to where she is now. "I was raised in poverty—there was never enough food on our table, my parents were not always regular employees, and as students, my sister and I had childhoods filled with promissory notes for delayed tuition fee payments," Reycel writes. "I was seven years old when I joined my first rally. I stood with my father at the frontline of a jeepney strike that aimed to raise the minimum fare. For some, the rising price of fuel meant less profit. For my family, it meant skipping another meal; it meant more debt and more promissory notes."
Reycel considers her success an outlier when compared to the millions of impoverished Filipinos who might never gain the same opportunities that she was given. "My success is an exception, not the norm: rarely do we see a child from the poorest of the poor climb her way up to one of the top universities in the country, and become its highest student representative. What was difficult for me is still unattainable for others, and will remain so, even with Ateneo’s most generous efforts."
Following this, she speaks of Ateneo's generosity. Though she is grateful, she also admits that where generosity exists and is needed, an unjust system that leaves the poor empty-handed to fend for themselves subsequenly thrives. Reycel recognizes that part of her achivements and her ability to speak out is rooted on the rare privilege provided to her by an institution that only has the ability to help out a select few. "A generous Ateneo alone cannot make up for a society that does not provide fair access to opportunity for all, and a decent path to success for those who are like me."
However, with the acknowledgement of her privilege and in voicing out her journey, she hopes for the development of a system that goes beyond generosity, where proper education is not a gift but a right afforded to all. "I envision and hope for a nation where a success story like mine is not an exemption, but the rule."
"We need a more generous Ateneo, but that is not the solution to this nation’s problems. What we need is a country that resembles a generous Ateneo...We must dream of something better than this. Ateneo should not be content to sit proudly on its hill and invite others into its light. It must shine its light to the darkness far beyond its borders. I am extremely lucky to have been given a place here—it is my honor and duty to make things more just, to share whatever light I can, especially to those who have only known darkness.
Reycel will be marching as the 2019 class valedictorian later today. According to Ateneo's website, she plans on taking up a "Masters degree in Human Rights and a Doctorate degree in Peace and Conflict, while developing intervention programs for various humanitarian affairs."
You can read Reycel's full essay on Ateneo's website.