We often hear our parents or teachers speak about the value of education, being a type of treasure that cannot be easily stolen by anyone. For some, it may sound like another random group of words being spoken out of nowhere but for others, these words stick like a lifelong virtue to believe in.
Just like in the case Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña, a daughter of a simple Jeepney driver but through hard work and perseverance, Bendaña will soon graduate as the top student of Class of 2019 of the prestigious Ateneo De Manila University.
According to ABS-CBN, Bendaña hopes for a country where a success story like hers would be “not an exemption, but the rule.” Back in 2017, Bendaña already made headlines after protesting against the phaseout of 15-year-old jeepneys.
As scholar and student council president, Bendaña said her 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. I may have exceeded expectations, but, let’s face it, people do not expect much from children of poor families. We are condemned by the soft bigotry of low expectations and impeded by the hard barrier of unequal opportunity,” she said in a statement published by the ADMU website.
Growing up, Bendaña said “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.” She said she was 7 when she first joined a transport strike aiming 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,” she said.
Bendaña also shared a little peek at how hard her life has been by recalling how her grandmother died after 3 hospitals refused to operate on her without a down payment, and how her grandfather “tilled land that he did not own for 60 years because land reform failed us.”
A generous university like Ateneo alone, she said, “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. I envision and hope for a nation where a success story like mine is not an exemption, but the rule,” she said.
Bendaña said she has seen affluent school mates “stand willing to speak truth and justice. If we, the powerless and powerful, can continue standing together, then there is hope for a better future, not only for this generation but for this country,” she said.
Ateneo, she added, “should not be content to sit proudly on its hill and invite others into its light,” but rather, “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,” said Bendaña.
She will graduate with a degree in BA Management Economics, cum laude. She plans to eventually take a Masters degree in Human Rights and a Doctorate degree in Peace and Conflict, while developing intervention programs for humanitarian affairs.
We applaud Bendaña for being such an admirable role model not just for the aspiring poor but deserving students but for the Filipino youth as a whole! May she continue to inspire more people and succeed in the career track she chose.