When ‘sablay’ means ‘tagumpay’

Maria Victoria Dio Mendoza
I may not be an overachiever in graduate school, but I can say that I was humbled by the academic misfortunes or series of sablays I had gone through

VICTORIA MENDOZAThe long-awaited good news was sent from the heavens, Oh yes! Pasa ka na!! Woooohhh!” [Yes, you’ve passed!] 

It’s official. I will be wearing my sablay (UP graduation sash) again after 7 years!

The bearer of the good news was Ate Ida, the graduate programs administrative staff of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Business Administration. I received her SMS while I was having my “me time” in the mall. Perfect, since I got to savor the joy all by myself at that very moment. I was all smiles, sending ecstatic messages to relevant people, updating them of my humble victory.

It was a victory too big a deal for me.

Back in 2011, when I decided to pursue graduate studies full time, I also had a full-time job on the graveyard shift. The combination was crazy. I would attend classes with my mind wandering, unable to absorb the discussions.

I was the perfect example of a physically-present-but-mentally-absent student, on a daily basis. During most of our meetings, which sometimes lasted until 9pm, I would ask my group mates if I could catnap because I could no longer bear the exhaustion. I would also have to report to work at 3am. Even if they may have found it uncomfortable to allow me to take a rest in front of them, they still said “yes.” Out of pity, I suppose.

Plus, how could they say no when I would already be putting my travel pillow on the table? By mid-term, I chose studies over labor and resigned from my job. Nonetheless, I was not able to catch up with the lessons and found myself taking a removal exam in Management Science toward the end of the first term, something which I never experienced throughout my undergrad days. After much prayers and bargaining with Him, I got my first ever tres (passing grade in the UP system) as a student.

It was only then that I fully appreciated the meaning of these words I once saw printed on a shirt being sold at the UP Shopping Center:

“I think that I shall never see

A grade as lovely as a three.

A three I’ve earned from blood and sweat

When failing is a serious threat.

A three I’ve asked from God all day

Knowing praying is the only way.”

FINISH LINE. The UP Sablay is the official academic costume of the University of the Philippines. Photo by Mark Sherwin Bayanito

A solo Sagada adventure immediately followed that hell-of-a-ride term. Amid spelunking and trekking, I soul-searched and reassessed the disconcerting events.

When I was “bargaining” with Him, I specifically stated that if MBA was really meant for me, He would let me pass the removal exam. He did, so I faced the next term holding on to that conviction. He even blessed me with a new job, perfect timing for my transfer to a new apartment.

The work schedule was very ideal and the pay was enough to cover my rent and other pertinent expenses. Yes, I would once in a while run short of cash, as would other working students I suppose, but I was fortunate that my family was always keen and eager to assist.

I hadn’t full recovered from the stress of taking the first term’s removal exam; yet, there I was again at the end of the second term – my name included in the roster of students with a cuatro (conditional grade) in Managerial Accounting (ManAcc).

Admittedly, I started doubting my brains. I was a Communications graduate and I love words. But Accounting and Finance? Not in my vocabulary. Apart from not having a solid foundation in these fields, I really found them too difficult to comprehend. Or maybe my rusty brain cells have stopped processing numbers altogether. It was also at that point that I began asking myself, “Why am I here in the first place?”

So imagine the agony and disgrace of this second removal exam – a prolonged torture since we were scheduled to take it a year after learning about the depressing news.

The third term was expectedly the most taxing, with five subjects to juggle, though amazingly it went by like a breeze. I forced myself to attend ManAcc classes handled by another professor (definitely a more pleasant and considerate one) during the fourth term, since she would be the one to make the removal exam.

For the second time, I negotiated with Him, and He once more allowed me to continue. It was an early Christmas delight for the retakers.

But as they say, bad luck comes in threes, and the third mishap for me was certainly the most heartbreaking: I had to retake one of the five comprehensive exams or else I would not graduate. The course? Not surprising: Finance.

From the time I was informed until the time of the actual retake, my inner self was crumbling. Three weeks of all sorts of disintegration. Only a handful knew about this as I was too reluctant to share the anxiety and embarrassment. I even kept it from Mama to save her from worrying, although she eventually discovered it – which, until now, is a mind-boggler for me. Powerful maternal instincts, I guess.

After enduring five terms with a total of 42 units, those three hard-earned letters (MBA) can now be formally affixed to my name. Relieved is an understatement. I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude to Him and my Papa in heaven, whose photo I usually talked to when I would try to keep myself sane during solo review sessions in my unit.

Humiliation paved the way for humility. I may not be an overachiever in graduate school, but I can say that I was humbled by the academic misfortunes or series of sablays I had gone through.

There is a graduation speech delivered by an Engineer that is going viral on Facebook, and I can very much relate to his emotions and insights. He said, “Ang speech na ito ay inaalay ko para sa mga estudyanteng lumagpak, muntin-muntikan nang masipa o yung sa lahat ng paraang pwede, ginawa na para lang makatapos. Saludo ako na kahit pangit ang transcript mo, taas noo ka pa rin ngayong graduation at proud na proud sa sarili mo.” [I dedicate this speech to all the students who have stumbled and have almost been kicked out or to those who have tried everything to finish school. I salute you because, even if your transcripts are not the best, you proudly stand with me today as fellow graduates.]

I also happened to see a photo saying “Sa UP lang synonymous ang SABLAY sa TAGUMPAY” [Only in UP can failure be synonymous with triumph]. I cannot agree more. Sablay now has a deeper meaning to me: victory. After all, my name stands for that. – Rappler.com

Victoria Mendoza, 27, is a writer and multimedia producer.