I met John when he was in Kindergarten, 16 years ago. He was part of the first batch of 6-year olds our team had chosen to be part of a special school for gifted children, called Center of Excellence in Public Elementary Education (Centex) in the province of Batangas. Back then, all we had was a dream. The foundation I worked for, called Ayala Foundation, hoped to support 75 students each year, working hard to find the financial resources to keep the school afloat, train teachers to be excellent in their field, and produce students who are empowered and motivated to rise from poverty to create a future of their own. Throughout elementary school, the students were provided with free education, transportation, food, educational materials and a solid support system for the parents.
I used to shuttle 2 1/2 hours each way to Batangas twice a week to see John and his classmates. Apart from being with the admin team, I also taught music. Even then, I saw how diligent, smart and intelligent John was. I left Centex in 2006, but kept in touch and tried to explore ways Tim and I could still support the school even if we were away. An opportunity came when John graduated elementary school, top of his class, of course. He needed a sponsor to pursue his high school education, and we committed to help him out until he finished. He did well, once again, and graduated Valedictorian in De La Salle, Lipa.
We were so proud of him but the next step was his college education. At that point, Tim and I had Kevin and Nina, so we did not have the means to support John's college tuition. John took entrance tests to the three top universities in the Philippines, and guess what?!? He passed all three, and was offered full scholarship on all of them. John chose an excellent and prestigious school, Ateneo de Manila University and enrolled in International Relations and Diplomacy. What we could only cover was his monthly allowance, to pay for his transportation and school supplies costs. All through the years, John would send us his grades every semester and a letter of gratitude, even though we didn't expect him to. He was very involved not only in academics, but also in socio-civic activities and clubs. He had the opportunity to join the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations in Boston and when he wasn't sure if he had the means to go, (Iike a crazy cheer leader), I helped rally resources for him to get to the United States! (Thank you to all of you who helped out!)
I was so ecstatic when John sent me a letter 2 days ago saying that he has now graduated Magna Cum Laude and Program Awardee. Despite all of these successes, John found the lessons outside the classroom most valuable. In one of his letters to us, he writes, "the greatest lessons I’ll be bringing are lessons I learned from the streets, the communities, and with the presence of the people often neglected and marginalized. Thriving in a society mired in oppressive structures and abusive power relations, the call for critical awareness, dissatisfaction with the status quo and dissent against the unjust is more pressing now than ever, most especially among the youth." What a powerful statement.
John is now looking for a job (hint, hint) and although I know that opportunities will come to him, I wanted to write about him to show you how powerful education could be. John represents the many other Centex graduates who are now lawyers, pharmacists, psychologists, accountants, engineers, nurses and teachers (the list goes on and on), who were provided with an opportunity to be educated, who changed their lives for the better, and got to where they are now because of perseverance and hard work, and the support of adults around them.
I would also urge you to think about investing in the education of the future generations. Look into this website : http://www.ayalafoundation.org to learn more.