A total of 125 college Tzu Chi scholars are set to write a new chapter of their lives as they graduate from the scholarship program. A graduation ceremony was held on April 8 at the Jing Si Hall to honor their endeavors.
Two keynote speakers, scholar alumnus Edison Lalimarmo and Zest-O founder Alfredo Yao, imparted their wisdom to the graduates. Like most families of scholars, they led frugal lives before becoming success stories.
As a child, Kimberly Ramos hardly took her studies seriously. Before her fellow graduating college Tzu Chi scholars, she openly admitted to passing her subjects by the skin of her teeth. The highest grade she ever got back then was 81, with most of her grades playing between 75 and 77. Even with such passing scores, in a competitive world, they count for less than those of honor graduates.
Then, a much-needed shot in the arm came in the form of one of her teachers. Whereas Kimberly barely lent an ear in most classes, this teacher managed to gain her attention. Seeing potential in her, the teacher advised her to strive for greatness while still tender.
Adding to her inspiration are the struggles of her parents. A meager Php300 a day from her father, working at a factory, is barely enough for basic needs, let alone education.
“I wanted to repay my parents’ sacrifice. I saw how my father toiled at work and how my mother woke up early to cook breakfast, as well as provided my needs. That’s when I told myself to give it my all for their sake,” narrates Kimberly, who took up BS Secondary Education at San Mateo Municipal College.
She strived hard as her community in Barangay Guitnang Bayan-I in San Mateo, Rizal slept. She strived hard even as sickness took its toll. Her mother Teresita shared that she wouldn’t sleep until her daughter was done studying.
“I’m impressed by her tenacity. When we tell her that she’ll get sick [e.g. staying up late], she continues studying. We support her as much as we can,” says Teresita.
After four years in college, on April 8, she stood before her fellow scholars narrating her story. From the dismal grades she calls “lucky sevens,” she received her diploma with the honor of magna cum laude. Of the 125 graduating scholars, Kimberly is one of a handful to graduate with honors.
But in the end, grades are just numbers. They don’t define a person as much as doing good deeds does.
“A Tzu Chi scholar’s role doesn't end with graduation. Since I’ll soon have a job, I can return here and help out with activities. I can even start donating, since I’ll be earning,” Kimberly adds.
Rags to riches
The families of Tzu Chi scholars have become more confident about striving for greatness despite living frugal lives. During the graduation ceremony at Jing Si Hall, Tzu Chi scholar alumnus Edison Lalimarmo and Zest-O Corporation founder Alfredo Yao stood before them as examples. The keynote speakers had their humble beginnings in poverty.
Six years passed like clockwork for Lalimarmo, now a teacher at a school in Caloocan City. The scholar alumnus with a degree in Education (major in English) narrated his life of poverty prior to admission into Tzu Chi’s scholarship program. He toiled in numerous workplaces, from his home sewing ironing board covers with his mother to a popular restaurant chain as a service crewman. Fatigue from endless work eventually paid off, being admitted into the program in 2009 and graduating three years later.
Working as a teacher at a college in Quezon City, he continued his studies and earned a Master’s degree sometime later.
“Believe while others doubt. Plan while others play. Study while others sleep. Decide while others have second thoughts. Start while others hesitate. Work while others dream. Save while others spend unsparingly. Listen while others talk. Smile while others frown. Praise while others insult. And most of all, strive hard while others give up,” Lalimarmo urges the audience of scholars and their families.
Meanwhile, at the tender age of 12, Yao had to pull through for his family after losing his father. Prior to his local beverage empire called Zest-O, he and his family slept in cold sidewalks on flattened carton boxes. He never finished college, having become a full-fledged businessman by the age of 17. Despite roadblocks, Yao rose to fame and earned the moniker “The Juice King” for his iconic line of juice drinks.
Yao may be a businessman, but he’s also a dedicated philanthropist. He may think about profit, but it’s not always the case.
“It’s important to know that it’s not all about the money. You have to build up your character as you go along with your life. And you have to help the society, as well,” Yao says.
He also believes that “nobody is poor.” A combination of hard work and good character will help even the poorest families better their lives. And as the graduates prepare to set off to write a new chapter of their lives, he expresses his confidence that they’ll be able to make sound decisions.
“As you start your life, it won’t be easy. Many challenges lie ahead but also many opportunities in the world. It’s up to you how to grab them,” Yao adds.