True to one’s roots: Meet the Pinoy farmer’s son with a scholarship to Connecticut's Wesleyan University
MANILA, Philippines – Wesleyan University, a private liberal arts college in Connecticut, USA, only accepts one out of over a hundred million Filipinos for its highly competitive program for a full scholarship. That Filipino just so happened to be the son of an impoverished farmer, hailing from the little-known, rural town of Sigma, Capiz.
The opportunity of a lifetime
The program only benefits eleven “exceptionally able” students annually, each one coming from select countries in Asia. It provides expenses for a four-year course of study towards a bachelor’s degree, including the scholars’ yearly tuition.
Along with getting the chance to be educated in one of America’s top liberal arts colleges, the scholarship will also sponsor one round-trip for the scholar: a trip going to USA when the student starts his Wesleyan journey, and a trip back home when the student ends it.
For Aldrean, it is this last fact that he names as the saddest aspect of his great opportunity. His family wouldn’t be able to support even a one-way flight to America on their own income. With his father barely making ends meet as a farmer, his mother deceased, and his two older siblings with families of their own to support, Aldrean will not be able to go home for a very long 4 years.
“It’s difficult,” said Aldrean. “Pero kung gusto makuha ang langit, maagi ka gid sa makitid na dalan. Kailangan ko gid ni agyan kung gusto ko mapanami ang kabuhi sang akon na family.”
(But if you want to reach the heavens, you have to go through narrow roads. I need to experience this if I want to better the lives of my family.)
A sciences-inclined student
Ultimately, it is a risk that he is willing to take. Aldrean believes that he has to take advantage of this opportunity to gain the education that he needs to help his community “socially, politically, academically.”
“I grew up on a farm,” he said. “Kung makita ko ang akon mga kaingud balay, kag akon family, na indi man gid ka as rich and as high social status, nasubuan gid ako. Gusto ko na ma-experience man nila ang life na sang, at least, middle-class na Filipino.”
(When I see my neighbors, and my family, that isn’t rich or with a high social status, I feel depressed. I want them to be able to experience the life of, at least, a middle-class Filipino.)
With this in mind, he plans to pursue economics as his major alongside physics, the science that he loves.
Pursuing two majors at once, both of them equally difficult, may be an ambitious feat. But Aldrean has been a gifted student ever since his elementary school days, as shared by his former teacher and class adviser, Florence Azarcon.
“Nakita ko na sa iya ang iya potential, ang iya na inclination academically,” she said, “Buot pa gid siya na bata, mahugod gid. Studious na siya, friendly man, obedient na siya na bata na more on the sciences gid.”
(I saw his potential, his inclination to the academics. He was also a nice kid, very hardworking. A studious, friendly, obedient child who was inclined to the sciences.)
Aldrean’s passion for science eventually brought him to Iloilo, where he enrolled at Philippine Science High School - Western Visayas Campus (PSHS-WVC). Being in a science high school enabled many other opportunities to hone his mind, and he quickly took them to prove his worth through contests, conferences, and leadership positions in the student government.
Most prestigious of the contests he joined was the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics, which he entered in 2016 and 2017. While he lost both times, he found many wins in various national and international research conferences from Palawan to Singapore.
Because the school pays for all of its contestants (inclusive of travel fare, registration fees, accommodation, and even food allowance), Aldrean was free to take advantage of all these opportunities at no burden to his family.
Aldrean graduated top 4 in his batch and received an Academic Excellence Award in physics.
As one of the Top 10 in the batch, PSHS-WVC also funded Aldrean’s travel fares, accommodation, and application fees for him to take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) in Cebu: the exams that allowed him to go to Wesleyan University.
Family, home, and pride
Alner, Aldrean’s father, fondly recalls how his son never forgets to buy pasalubong for his family from wherever his contests took him.
This is because, as Aldrean confesses, his family is the most important thing to him. His earnest dream is that he will be able to provide a comfortable life to his family, elevating them to at least a middle-class lifestyle. In the same way, he hopes to help his friends and community as well, as all of these are his home.
“Home for me are those people na gusto ko buligan, ang people na nagahatag sa akon drive na maging better ako sa self ko,” said Aldrean. “Sila ang ga-push sa akon na maging better sa akon self.”
(Home for me are those people that I want to help, the people that give me the drive to better myself. They push me to become better.)
With Capiz being a two-hour bus ride from Iloilo, Aldrean always tried his best to make the ride home every weekend, only growing out of it in his last years of high school.
Kiko Cruz, Aldrean’s roommate and close friend, mentions how Aldrean even managed to express his regionalistic pride in song form, composing the original song “Dayon Na Kita” (in Hiligaynon, “Let’s All Go”) for the school’s video entry for the 14th National Youth Congress.
With over 3,000 likes and 2,000 shares, Kiko believes the video gained traction online because of Aldrean’s strong roots. “[It] is Aldrean being proud of his region. Which is why, I think, the song really clicked with the public - his passion and pride for home made it more authentic and heartfelt.”
As Aldrean's only living parent, Alner admitted that he is conflicted with how he felt regarding Aldrean’s endeavor in the US. “Malipayon man ako, na medyo masubo,” he said. “Sa subong na tiyempo, daw minsan-minsan nahidlaw man ako sa iya ah.”
(I’m happy but also slightly sad. At this time, I think I’ll miss him often.)
Despite this, Alner believed his son could manage it, as he couldn’t help but be proud of what Aldrean has achieved and be hopeful for what’s to come.
But for Aldrean himself, he only feels proud of his achievements only when he can see how happy it makes his family.
“Kung tulukon ko ang mga tawo na gakalipay magsugataay kami,” said Aldrean. “Mga relatives na gahambal, ‘Salamat gid. Ikaw ang gahatag sang dungog sa aton apelyido,’ ganami akon buot, gakaproud ako. Nadala ko man ang ila na ngalan, nadala ko ang glory indi lang para sa akon self kundi para man sa ila.”
(When I see the people that are happy when we meet, those relatives that say, “Thank you. You give honor to our family name.” I feel good, I feel proud. I carry their name, I carry this glory not just for myself but for them as well.)
Aldrean will be landing in Connecticut on Sunday, August 25.
As he starts his four-year journey in Connecticut, Aldrean can only think that this is God’s will. “I don’t think na natabo ni by accident, I think may plano ang supernatural being sa akon kabuhi na maka-give back man ako sa less fortunate. Ang akon na dreams not for myself na but for the people that I love, for the people I call home.”
(I don’t think this happened by accident, I think a supernatural being has a plan for my life where I can give back to the less fortunate. My dreams are not for myself anymore, but for the people that I love, for the people I call home.) – Rappler.com
Dorothy Andrada is a Rappler mover from Roxas City, Capiz. She is currently a college freshman in Ateneo de Manila University.