Get to know Ianne Gamboa, PUP's first transwoman valedictorian
MANILA, Philippines – On May 15 this year, Ianne Gamboa delivered her valedictory speech during the graduation ceremony of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). To others, it would have seemed like an ordinary sight: a woman at the top of her class, chosen to speak before her peers as they celebrated a milestone.
But this was a monumental moment – not just for Ianne, but also for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. PUP had welcomed its first transgender valedictorian.
Born Ian Christoper Gamboa, the 20-year-old AB English graduate identified as a transwoman at a young age.
"Since I was younger, [I've] really liked dressing up as a girl. I felt confident, and it emancipated me to my true self and identity," she said.
This prompted her to shift to a more feminine version of her name: Ianne.
"I identify, respect, and present myself as a woman. Therefore I prefer to be addressed [with] feminine pronouns and honorifics. I also prefer to be called Ianne because it sounds more feminine than my name at birth," she said.
While Ianne became the valedictorian of her batch in college, she did not experience the same kind of acceptance of her identity during her high school years. In high school, there were policies that forced her to follow the image and practices of males.
"When I was in high school, [I] had to obey policies... such as maintaining short hair, wearing school uniforms that are for males, entering [the] men's bathroom," she said.
"For me, the struggle for self-expression really hinders a transgender woman or man [from realizing] her or his full potential.... When you support or accept a person to express herself or himself regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, she or he can excel in whatever passion she or he has."
Since she was unable to express who she truly was in high school, Ianne said the repression had an impact on her academic performance back then. (READ: End gendered uniform restrictions for LGBT students)
"I felt that I was trapped and [could not] express my true identity.... Maybe, that was also a reason why I did not excel in my academic standing when I was in high school," she said.
In college, where she was finally able to be her true self, Ianne was more than ready for success.
"I know to myself that I am more than just a transgender woman and I can prove that [through] my merits," she added.
Taking the stage
In PUP, Ianne excelled both in her academic requirements and co-curricular organization. She became president of the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Linguistics-Research and Extension Student Society, which was able to provide monthly academic events for AB English students during Ianne's term.
She also obtained the 3rd highest general weighted average, making her one of the top 3 scholars of PUP.
"My class adviser, Ms Marissa Mayrena, told me that I was running for a magna cum laude distinction, and I also obtained the 3rd highest general weighted average. At first, I [could not] believe it and I was really in shock because being a magna cum laude is enough and a great achievement for me and for my family," she recalled.
Her academic journey concluded with Ianne named magna cum laude and PUP's first transwoman valedictorian, a feat which she hopes would help in shattering gender stereotypes.
"I felt that God really made a reason why I have become the first transgender woman valedictorian of PUP," she said.
"I hope that I inspire and motivate [the] younger generation of [the] LGBT community.... Our success will be determined by our own hard work, courage, and dedication."
In her valedictory speech, she had shared how her academic journey was "not much different" from her peers, though she faced certain setbacks.
"We queue at the same lines, we [occupy] the same spaces, and we breathe the same air.... I do believe, most importantly, that we share one important resource, and that is opportunity," she said.
"From the very beginning, I [knew] that my journey [would] not be easy. I [knew] that at some point, my choices and preferences [would] become an issue.... I am glad that all these years, PUP welcomed me with open arms."
She emphasized that people could tap their full potential if allowed to freely express themselves. (READ: Letting love win: How my parents' love made me a winner)
"When a transgender woman was given a fair and equal chance in the academe, [she was able to] excel in her passion... [If] we give enough respect to our education with our perseverance and dedication, we can achieve our dreams."
Ianne hopes to give back to the nation by working for the government. – Rappler.com