Simeon Silverio Class 1964
So you won’t go to college because you are poor?
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. Class of 1964
(A talk delivered before the students of C. Arellano High School on Career and Life Lessons and Opportunities, July 5, 2012. Sim is the founder of the most successful and widely-circulated Filipino newspaper in the U.S., the Asian Journal. He was recently given an award by the California State Congress for being an outstanding businessman in San Diego. He returned to Arellano in July, 2012 to launch his pet project - a motivational lecture series for senior students named, "Gabay Kapatid". They are meant to underscore the importance of going to college and getting a college diploma. He was the first speaker in the series and his subject matter was, “Life and Career Lessons and Opportunities”. Sim took up Journalism in U.P. and is a published author of several novels and short story anthologies and publisher of "Balik-Tanaw", an update on Philippine movies' biggest stars.)
Good afternoon. I would like to thank our Arellano High School principal, Dr. Loida D. Diaz, for allowing us to do this presentation. We believe this will help motivate our students to work hard to achieve a better future. I also would like to thank Mr. Mario Arocha, the Chronicler adviser, for helping set this up. Greetings to our faculty members and fellow alumni who took the time to be here in supporting this project. At para sa mga estudyante na nandirito ngayon, ito ay para sa inyo, para sa inyong kinabukasan, at dahil ika nga ng ating dakilang bayani na si Gat Jose Rizal, kayo ang pag-asa ng bayan.
My name is Simeon G. Silverio, Jr. I graduated from Arellano High School in 1964, obtained my A.B. Journalism degree at the University of the Philippines, and took graduate courses for a Master of Arts in Communications along with a Master of Arts in Business Administration at the Ateneo de Manila University. I was a magazine editor when I migrated in 1982 with my family to the United States. In San Diego, California, I published and edited the Asian Journal, the leading Filipino American newspaper in the area, which I still operate today. I notice that all of you students are wearing the white and green uniform of Arellano. I feel out of place. I am therefore removing my polo shirt to show you this white Arellano alumni t-shirt I am wearing underneath. There is an interesting story behind it.
A week before I was supposed to come here, I noticed I was missing my passport. I desperately looked for it, emptying my closet and dumping my clothes on my bed. Then I realized I scanned the passport two weeks before to e-mail it to my travel agent for purchasing my plane tickets. Lo and behold, in the scanner it was, lying face down. When I arranged my clothes, which had been dumped on my bed, I found this t-shirt beneath the pile. Forgotten for some time, it came from another Arellano High alumnus, Jesse Tiamson, Class of 1968, during our Los Angeles reunion a few years back. I took the loss of my passport, and the eventual re-discovering of this t-shirt, as a sign to wear it in this very occasion, to be given the opportunity to tell you that there are alumni out here, scattered all over the world, who are grateful for the education and nurturing from this school. They would take the time and effort to make this special t-shirt as a gift to a fellow alumnus. And so now I wear this with true pride.
The Arellano High School of today is very much different from the Arellano High School of our time. We graduated in 1964 some fifty years ago, the time of the Beatles and the blossoming of the Flower Generation, and of course hippies. Noong panahon namin, kahoy pa lang ang building ng Arellano. Ngayon, kongkreto na (during our time, the school building was made of wood. Now it’s made of concrete). When I was in high school, we looked at the photos of the generations of students before us, perhaps from the 1950s. Maybe noong pawid pa lang ang Arellano. Maybe when Arellano was still made of nipa leaves. They looked ancient. They appeared to be in the distant past. Now when I look at our own black and white photos as students, I feel the same. Our generation looks ancient. We appear to be in the distant past. My God, we are indeed old. Before I start, I would like to request those planning to go to college after high school to raise their hands.
I see that there are a lot who have no intention of going to college at all. I would like some students here to introduce themselves and declare what they intend to do after high school. If you plan to go to college, tell us what college and career you have in mind. If you do not plan to go to college, please tell us specifically what you hope to do after high school. (Listen tp the students as they talked) The reason I asked you to declare your plan after high school is because I want to put you on the spot. I want you to announce to the whole world your plan, para pangatawanan ninyo iyon (so that you will take it seriously and assume responsibility for it). This matter is not a joke. This is a serious matter. This involves your future and the future of your children. If you do not succeed, you will produce a generation of poor children, grandchildren and great grandchildren . You will trigger a cycle of poverty that will affect a lot of people. Your own flesh and blood. You might already be in a cycle of poverty. Your parents or grandparents may have initiated the cycle of poverty and depravation that you and your siblings face. But unless you work and study hard to break this cycle, you will pass on that culture of poverty, that bleak future, to your children and even grandchildren. So it is up to you.
Now is your time to do something about it. While you are still young and have the time and energy to do it. Nobody else can do it for you but yourselves. You might tell yourself: “But we are poor. We do not even have the money to have food on the table. We are lucky to be alive.” Well, you can say that as an excuse. A convenient excuse. But does it mean you are willing to suffer in poverty? That you are willing to have your children and grandchildren become poor like you? It may be easy to say it now, but once you become a parent, you will realize you would give your life for your kids. That is a natural parental instinct. You would give the last of your food to your child no matter how hungry or famished you may be. You would even want to shield your children with your body, from a bullet that is about to hit them. That is a natural instinct, even among animals. So what if you are poor? So what if your parents cannot afford to send you to college?
If you ask around, there are a lot of poor people who earned a college degree. They supported themselves as working students. Okay, you might say it is easier said than done. Among the possibly 100, 500 or say 1000 people who are poor, only about 50, or 20, or 5 or even only one might make it. My question is this: Don’t you want to be that one? Remember, the stakes are so high. You must insist, no, you must demand that you are that one who will make it, among the thousands who will try. Hindi kasalanan ang mangarap. Ang kasalanan, pag wala kang gagawin para matupad ang iyong pangarap! It is not a sin to dream. What is a sin is if you do nothing to fulfill your dream. Imagine drowning in a swimming pool, alone. It is your choice. You can just let go, do nothing and die. Or you can struggle, try to stay afloat until you reach and cling to the sides of the pool. I am reminded of the movie “Catch Me If You Can.” In that movie, the lead character played by Leonardo DiCarpio was inspired by an anecdote told to him by a mentor. “There was this rat,” he was told, “which fell in a pitcher full of milk. He was drowning. Instead of giving up, the rat struggled furiously. He did not stop kicking even when his legs became so tired. He wanted to survive and live so much that after many hours, the milk he was kicking and therefore stirring settled and gelled, until it was converted into butter. Once the butter was firm and solid enough, the rat stood on top, got out of the pitcher and survived.” (Pause) No, there was no cat waiting for him as he got out of the pitcher in the story. That would not be fair.
Now imagine yourself with no money for college. Either you give up and remain poor forever, or you struggle hard and furiously like what the rat did. If you choose the latter, you can imagine yourself finishing college, being gainfully employed, being able to support your family, and providing for your parents. And who knows? You might be able to afford to enjoy vacations by travelling around the world. All because you worked hard and chose to sacrifice to achieve success! By giving up, there is nowhere to go but down. You are in your teens, yet you are giving up? You are young and you have all your life ahead of you! You will have many opportunities to try. If you fail, try again. Just keep trying hanggang magsawa ang kabiguan sa inyo. Until failure gets tired of you. Won’t you even give good life a try by working hard to go to college? You are one of the millions lucky enough to be born in this world, survive your childhood, and reach this stage of your life.
Do you want to just waste that chance and resign yourself to being poor the rest of your life? You can do it gradually. Achieving success, I mean. One at a time. If you cannot support yourself to go outright to college, get a job first. Once you have a job, you must work hard so that you will be the last one to be fired, should the company lay off employees. Make yourself indispensable to the company. Work 150 percent of what is expected. If you are required to work 8 hours a day, work 9. An extra free hour of work won’t kill you. But it might save you. It will instill in you the right value that will increase your chance of not being out of work, and therefore out of money. After all, it is about keeping your job, thereby assuring a bright future. A lot of people, once hired, take their job for granted. It is no surprise that their employer would not mind firing them. Value your job as it is your key to a good future.
Millions are unemployed. Be grateful you are not one of them. I remember reading a pamphlet of Opus Dei, a religious group, about work. It advised that whatever your job is, no matter how insignificant or menial it may be, you must value it. You must sanctify your work by doing a perfect job, then offering it to God. For instance, if you are a janitor assigned to clean a toilet, you must make it spic and span. Clean it so well that you would not mind sleeping in it. Then offer your perfect job to God. For God is perfection. He will be pleased, and you will get fulfillment and pride in your work, no matter how lowly it may appear. Once you have a job, save money to support yourself to college. Go to a technical school first. During our time, we have vocational courses here at Arellano. Students learned to repair cars, radios and televisions, and learn bookkeeping. Learn a skill, like automotive, cooking, or computer work. This will help you get a better job, with better pay, until you save enough to go to college at night while working during the day. Or you can work and save money so that you can go into business.
Remember Lydia’s Lechon? Joni’s Bakeshop? They started small. Just a one-table food stand. Now they are big corporations. You can do the same. There are countless examples. If they can do it, you can do it too! Once you have a steady career, you can work hard and play hard. Imagine after high school, you girls did not go to college. What kind of jobs can you get? Salesgirls earning a few pesos? I was told salesgirls in department stores are earning only below the minimum wage. Kaya marami sila, nakatayo lang na parang mga manikin. That’s is why there are a lot of them, standing like mannequins. With their very low pay, the department store owners can afford to hire all of them. Hundreds of them. Siguro, libre ang make-up. Maybe the makeup is free, for I notice that all of them are wearing some! Without a college diploma, you might end up as a domestic help. Or worse!
Do you want your life to be like that? Some girls are determined to get married after high school, hoping their husbands would support them. They dream of staying home, taking care of the house and the kids, and living happily ever after. Do you think that is possible? Look around. Almost all the girls who did so are as poor as rats, desperate to survive as any uneducated, jobless girl can be. Why? Because it is beyond logic. It is not realistically possible. It is a dream. It is a fantasy. To marry early and live happily ever after is a fairy tale. Hindi mo makakain ang pag-ibig. You cannot eat love, our parents use to say. Ang pag-aasawa ay hindi parang mainit na kanin na isusubo at iluluwa pag napaso. “Marriage is not a hot rice that is put in the mouth only to be spat out if one gets burned,” so said an old Filipino saying. Okay, there might be one or two lucky enough to marry well, and be supported by their husbands. But are they happy? Being dependent on somebody else? Many women who married irresponsible husbands or those with little education end up sacrificing for their children. They end up as breadwinners with no time for themselves. But why leave your future to chance? Why not take control of your life yourself, and carve your own bright future? Why not? Believe you me, there is nothing better than supporting yourself instead of depending on other people.
Of course, at this period of your puberty, you may fall in love. Falling in love at a time when you clearly cannot afford to settle down and raise a family can be conflicting. This is one trial every young man and woman had to pass through. Like a rite of passage. One must resist temptations, curb one’s passion, control one’s hormones, and keep one’s eyes on the prize - of finishing college and launching a career. During our time, we had classmates who eloped in their teens. Some lived poor, others got separated. Don’t miss out on being a bachelor or bachelorette! Enjoy the bliss of singlehood. You will be shortchanging yourself, denying yourself of much greater happiness, if you succumb to your feelings prematurely. Those feelings will pass, will fade away, until you realize that being heartbroken at this point in your life is the best thing that could happen to you. Better to focus on your career for now. We accompanied our youngest daughter on a campus tour of a university in Washington, D.C. The tour guide, aside from explaining all the advantages of going to that school, told the prospective students: “If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend you are leaving behind in high school, or in your hometown, I am telling you now to forget them. No matter how much, or how passionately you love them now. For after a semester in this school, you will not even think that they ever existed.” Crushes come and go. You will experience many of them. True love will come your way without you even looking for it. God will introduce you to the love of your life, your lifetime mate, the mother or father of our children, without even you looking for him or her.
Just focus on your studies, have fun going out with your friends, boys and/or girls, and enjoy your youth. Don’t shortchange yourself by being happy at first by marrying early, only to feel sorry the rest of your life. One way of earning a scholarship to college is by joining the school band, which I hear we have. This is another avenue you should consider exploring. Of course there are those among you lucky to have parents to support you through college. Value that great opportunity. Don’t take it for granted. Having a parental support, however, is not a guarantee for success. It depends on the attitude of an individual. When I was in college, a cousin of mine was brought to our house from the province by his mother. She requested we let her son stay in our house so that he could go to college. They could not afford a dorm for him to stay. My mom agreed out of the goodness of heart. That cousin of mine, Ely, stayed with me in my room. I would sleep in my bed while he slept on the floor. Eventually, he moved to my father’s printing business in Quiapo, for it was walking distance to his school. He wanted to become an engineer, and he had the intellectual I.Q. to tackle and succeed in the course. A year later, his younger brother Mario joined him. Mario took up commerce at the Polytechnic University in Manila.
The brothers lived in the mezzanine floor of the printing press rent free. Later, Ely had a girlfriend. They went out on dates despite the limited allowance his farmer father was sending him. His girlfriend got pregnant, and Ely was forced to quit school and go back to their barrio. Mario soon graduated and was recommended for a job at the Central Bank of the Philippines by one of his professors. During one of our family gatherings in the province, Mario came driving his brand new car. He made it big and transformed himself from being a naïve barrio boy into a successful bank executive. His elder brother Ely, the would-be engineer, was there too. No, he did not come in a brand new car. He came driving a tricycle, which he used in plying his trade as a tricycle driver. Given an opportunity, you must grab it by the horns. Don’t let it go until you cross the finish line. There will be times when you will encounter a seemingly golden opportunity that you will be tempted with at the expense of attending college. It happened to another cousin of mine, Berto. To be sure, he was very good in math. He was a genius, so to speak. He was so good that he was offered a high-paying job during his first year in college. And he only had to work on weekends. His pay would be much higher than any recent college graduate could ever get. With all the money he was making, Berto saw no point in pursuing his college degree. “Why go to school every day in the next three years only to earn much less money at a college graduate’s job?” he reasoned. Because of this, he lost interest in his studies. His parents, who were willing to financially support him until he earned his college diploma and got a good job, were alarmed. But there was no stopping my cousin from quitting school.
What’s the point? He kept bragging. But two years later, the handy calculator was introduced in Manila. That was around the year 1974. For the first time, people could solve math problems with the use of the hand-held device. My cousin’s employer found no need for Berto and his high pay. He fired him. Berto’s job, you see, was to manually compute the bets and collections in the illegal bookie operations of his boss during weekends. This can now be done with the help of a calculator even by the least proficient in computations. Berto found himself jobless. He could not get other jobs because he had no college degree. He was made useless by technology. His skill became obsolete. He could not ask his parents to send him to college, this time with a promise of not quitting until he got this degree, because they had passed away. The last time I saw Berto, he was foraging food in the trashcans in the neighborhood. We are often told to love, respect and honor our parents. One of my classmates, Marty, like a good son, did. And he lost an opportunity of a lifetime, one that would hound him the rest of his life. You see, Marty took and passed the exams for the United States Navy. He completed all the requirements, was recruited and booked to travel to the United States to start his promising and lucrative naval career. His life was made, his bright and lucrative future guaranteed. But he was the eldest, the only boy, among his younger siblings, all girls. His father took him aside. “Huwag ka nang mag-U.S. Navy (Don’t join the U.S. Navy),” he told Marty. “Your siblings are all girls. There will be no male in our family to guide them, except for me, if you leave.” Like a dutiful son, Marty acceded to his father’s request and gave up his U.S. Navy opportunity.
He ended up as a minor government employee, with low pay, having difficulty making ends meet while supporting his family. He could not even afford to send his children to college. “I gave up the chance to migrate to the United States and avail of the benefits of living in the land of milk and honey, to be able to help look after my sisters as my father had wished,” Marty recalled. “Ngayon ako ang nakatingala sa kanila (Now I am the one looking up to them).” All of his sisters married U.S. Navy personnel and are enjoying a luxurious life in the United States. Si Marty ang naiwanang nag-iisa sa Pilipinas. Marty was left alone by himself in the Philippines. Had he joined the U.S. Navy, he would have retired by now, with plenty of investment properties, and enjoying vacations all over the world. Nagtatampo pa siya sa mga kapatid niya. Ni hindi man lamang daw siya mapadalhan ng kahit isang lata ng karne norte. He is mad at his sisters, for they would not even send him a can of corned beef. Working hard and becoming a success, however, is not a guarantee of happiness. I have a friend who grew up poor but was a hard worker and was determined to be a success. While working in a printing press, he saved some money and bought a used car. He had the car fixed, then sold it at a profit. He bought another car, did the same, and made more profit. Through the years, he kept doing this sideline, buying and selling cars at a profit, while working in his day job, until he accumulated enough capital to put up his own printing press business. With more money coming in, he bought a house in an affluent community in New Manila in Quezon City and saw it increase in value in just a year. He sold the house at a huge profit and started doing the same over and over again. “Now, if I want to go abroad tomorrow, I can afford it,” he told me one time. But his eyes looked sad. He seemed unfulfilled. Something was missing. He could afford to have many things in life, but could not earn the respect of his peers. They knew he was just a high school graduate, and he was often left out in the conversations during dinners he hosted for well-heeled friends, most of them educated. He could not comment on political topics, on conversations about history, about the fine arts, about philosophy, on sociology, and literature. He became so desperate that when I mentioned to him about my plan to put up a business magazine, he offered to finance it. He wanted to be named as its publisher, for the title would earn him prestige and the respect of his peers. And finally, you think you have an excuse not to go to college because you are poor? That your parents cannot afford to feed you, much more send you to school? Earlier, I mentioned my father’s printing press business in Quiapo, Manila. We lived in its upstairs apartment while I was going to Arellano, before we moved to our house my parents built in Quezon City. Across the street of our printing press was a brothel. One of the sons of a prostitute and a pimp was a playmate of ours named Bong. When we were young, one of our playmates, the son of a Chinese merchant, would throw a piece of Bon Bon chocolate on the street, squeeze it with his slippers, and Bong would pick and eat it. To our amusement, he would gladly show us his mouth, with the chewed chocolate and pieces of dirt sticking in his teeth. For us children, it was like a freak show. Bong was happy to have a taste of the chocolate candy no matter what. Bong’s criminal career grew before our eyes. He was in and out of jail for petty crimes he committed. Yesterday, when I visited my sister in the printing press, she asked, “Remember Bong? The street’s mischief?” “Yes of course,” I answered. She pointed at a small girl, in her late teens, who had just asked permission to use the bathroom. She was Angie, Bong’s daughter. She lives in the street, and my sister, out of pity, would let her use the shop’s bathroom. She and other street children would sleep on the sidewalk at night. She would cover herself with an umbrella whenever she would change her clothes. What surprised me was an essay my sister showed me. “This was written by Angie, Bong’s daughter,” my sister said. Turns out that Angie is going to school during the day and seems to be a good writer. One of her handwritten essays was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a leading local newspaper. As Angie got out of the shop’s toilet, I did not recognize her. She was now dressed in a school uniform, ready to go to school. Now ask yourself: Who do you think will have a better life, this girl who lives in the street or you? I guess it is the street girl because she is so determined to defy all odds to improve her life by getting an education.
Remember, your bright future is up to you to happen. I hope I was able to pique your interest, tickle your fancy, and make you consider giving college a try, no matter how difficult it may be for you. I also hope we can do this once a month, with at least four alums of this school, doing a presentation at a time, sharing the life and career lessons they learned and encountered, so that we can convince you to follow a path to success. That’s the least we can do to extend our gratitude to our alma mater, Arellano High School, which shaped our minds, honed our skills, and served as our jumping board to a good life. I am sorry for the lack of time, but if given another opportunity, I would like to share with you my experiences in carving my journalism and business career from the time I entered Arellano High School to this day. I would now like to entertain questions.