One of the most-awaited moments in my job is interviewing incoming scholars and their parents or guardians.
This “getting-to-know-you” happens every summer extending to the first week of classes for the new semester. It often causes me (and my volunteer assistants) late lunch and sore throats due to the seemingly unending explanations about university rules and regulations, admission and enrolment procedures, scholarship obligations and special programs offered by the university for the scholars. Nevertheless, we love these moments as we welcome the new scholars to the “family.”
I’m used to scholars being shy at first then getting out of their shells little by little as days, months and years go by.
I’ve seen some with attitude problems but I’ve seen them change for the better too. And there are few exceptions: the ones who simply stand out from the rest. One of them is someone who has the same surname as mine. He is exactly the same guy from the first time I met him to the time I am writing this. A kind, good-mannered, humble, optimistic young man. He has impressed and inspired me so much that I wish to share with you his story.
He was simply called Jessie, one of our 2012 scholar-awardees.
His father was a construction worker who unfortunately suffered from tuberculosis and bronchopneumonia. He died when Jessie was just in 5th grade. His early demise caused eleven-year-old Jessie to grow more maturely than boys of his age. He’d already be selling bread from three to five o’clock in the morning while other kids were still asleep, . Then he’d spend the ensuing hours afterwards in school.
Upon arriving home, young Jessie could be found cleaning the house. He’d be fetching water and doing other household chores. Then he’d light a gas lamp so he could study (they did not have electricity) at night. He’d also be waiting for the arrival of his mother who would have been walking and pushing her cart all day, looking for bottles and other things to be sold.
Our scholar’s mother was a hardworking person who loved her children so much. She’d ignore her grumbling stomach as she walked from street to street. She was determined to find and sold all she could find to be able to buy food for Jessie and his brother. Sadly, she had acquired ulcer which later on caused some complications in her gall bladder.
Jessie was in his sophomore year when this happened that he had to stop studying for a while to look after his sick mother.
He was grateful that his brother and aunt were there to help him in this difficult time in their lives. And so Jessie was busy taking care of his mother while everybody was occupied with the Christmas rush. He’d feed her or carry her during the days that she could not walk. Never did he complain that he wasn’t able to hang out with his friends and classmates anymore. All he ever wished was for his mother to recover from her illness.
A few days before Christmas, Jessie was overjoyed to see that his mother seemed to be feeling much better.
Though weak, she was able to talk to Jessie just like in the old times. On Christmas Eve, she even told Jessie that she wished to eat her favorite native delicacy. Jessie ran to his aunt’s house to request this food that his mother would like to eat. And so that night, she got her very simple Christmas wish. And Jessie was glad for her.
It was December 25, 2005. Just when Jessie thought his mother was finally recovering, he found that she could no longer talk.
It was around seven o’clock in the morning when his mother experienced terrible pain. He carried her, trying to somehow alleviate the pain she was feeling, but to no avail. For in that morning when everybody all over the world was celebrating Christmas Day, Jessie watched helplessly as his mother took her last breath, right there in his arms.
Just how would a teenage boy handle a situation like that on Christmas Day? How could the rest of the world understand his pain, that he lost the most important woman in his life when everybody else was rejoicing? Would he get mad, become bitter, think that life was unfair, hate the world?
Jessie just accepted his fate.
When January came, he went back to school though he was still grieving. He still looked forward to brighter days ahead.
To everyone’s amazement, this tall, young man who seemed to have been deprived of so many things in life, even got included in the top ten students of his batch. He also garnered the fourth place in the 28th National Quiz Bee. Seeing his potential, one of his teachers helped him in applying and taking the examination at one of the most prestigious university, and he did qualify for the Civil Engineering course. But one stumbling block kept looming on his horizon – financial problems. Nobody was capable of supporting his studies. Then he learned about our scholarship program. He took the exam and passed.
And that was when I first met him–when he decided to study at the university where I was based.
I knew the difficulties Jessie experienced while the stipends were still being processed yet academic requirements must be met. Also, I knew about the days or nights he could not afford to eat. Yet, he remained brave in facing life’s storms and steadfast in his goal of finishing his college education,despite all the trials coming his way. And this young man, who didn’t have much at this point in his life, had so much talent, intelligence, kindness and understanding to offer the world.
When Jessie learned about this publication we’ve been planning for the benefit of kids with cancer, he volunteered and found time to draw our cover page. Well, I knew it was because he understood. And he wanted to help others too.
I often saw him around the campus, joking with his classmates, studying, doing assignments, enjoying life. And he never failed to wave or say hello when our paths crossed. Those who didn’t know him could never have an idea of what he went through. I feel very fortunate indeed to have known a chapter of his life imbued with lessons and meaning.
And I know that this young man, who’s now taking his Master’s Degree in Mathematics at a prestigious university through a scholarship, will be able to fill the next chapters of his life with success and more meaning. I just know that he will be the very successful person he wants to become someday.