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This is a true life-changing incident that happened when I was young. It was painful, unacceptable, and I felt I could never disclose it to anyone due to the disgrace involved. I have now decided it would be worthwhile, and possibly helpful, to unburden myself of this misery and share it with others.
I hope to enlighten people on how a failure in reaching my goal in college made me stronger, and made me strive to do better in my life. I have never told anyone about this life-altering episode which I experienced. I may have shared bits and pieces of it to my wife, but I don’t think she knew all the details to fully understand my dreams, aspirations and ambitions.
This happened when I was in third year college at the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman in Quezon City while pursuing my degree in Chemistry. One of the subjects required for students who major in Chemistry was a Math course in Differential Calculus. I had to take this course with the engineering students, and not with my fellow chemistry classmates. There was a conflict of schedule with my other elective courses.
This incident may not have taken place if I took the Calculus subject together with my chemistry classmates; they had a reasonable and impartial Math professor. The Math professor of the Engineering majors was legendary in campus for unjustly failing students. She was known to be very strict in her classes, that few among her students passed her courses. She was branded and classified throughout the university as a “terror” professor. The nickname was tagged to her for failing at least 50% of her students, almost every semester.
On the final examination for this course, I scored only 69%, which is 1% below the passing grade of “C”. I was given a “Condition” grade and had to take a retest to pass the course. The next day, I took the retest and passed it with flying colors earning a grade of 85%. Sadly, the judgment had been handed down; nothing could be done to change my college records.
So what was the big deal? I eventually passed the Differential Calculus course, how did this affect my life and career? Because of the “Condition” grade that I obtained, I was not qualified to graduate with Latin honors or Cum Laude, despite the fact that my grade point average (GPA) for the four years qualified me for that honor.
It was a difficult pill to swallow. After working very hard to attain the coveted goal of receiving honors in college, I felt the pain of having failed to reach my objective. I had to go through endless days of melancholy and soul-searching trying to find comfort in getting over this unacceptable event. I realized I had to stop crying over spilled milk, move forward with my life, and do something better for myself in my future endeavors, to make up for this failure.
The fact that I did not graduate with honors devastated my ego and my self-esteem. I made a personal vow that no matter what happened, I would pursue and finish my graduate studies in the US. I set this goal to show my Calculus professor and the whole world of my capabilities, boost my self-confidence, and vindicate myself that I deserved the Cum Laude honor. I sent out applications to graduate degree programs in Chemistry with several American universities, and hoped and waited for a positive response.
After finishing college, I applied for a teaching position, and was hired immediately by my alma mater UP, as an Instructor in Chemistry despite graduating without honors. My former teachers were aware that I excelled in my major subjects, and was qualified to become their colleague as a Chemistry professor. I was assigned to teach General and Qualitative Chemistry laboratory courses to pre-medical, nursing and engineering students.
I was delighted and contented with the job of teaching my favorite subject. I enjoyed challenging and educating young minds to the intricacies of the science of Chemistry. It was a privilege and honor teaching the cream of the crop of college students, who were merely two or three years younger than I am. It was my first job that I will always cherish and remember.
Two years later, using my charm and eloquence, I convinced my college sweetheart Macrine, to eagerly accept my marriage proposal. The happiest day in my life was the day we finally got married in her hometown of Boac, Marinduque, which was attended by our beloved families and friends. We settled down and started our blissful life together in our home in Quezon City. Our first house was our wedding gift from both of our parents.
A year later, we were joyful to find out that my wife was in the family way with our oldest son. With all the blessings and major events transpiring in my life, I had completely forgotten about my personal vow to do graduate schoolwork in the US. One day I was surprised to receive a notice of an acceptance for a full teaching assistantship and scholarship. It was from one of the applications I sent out before we got married. The comfort and serenity of our married life was about to be shaken.
I enthusiastically shared this good news with my wife, who wasn’t too glad to hear about it. The thought of me leaving her alone with a child on the way, to go halfway around the world, distressed her. We had several long and unproductive discussions regarding this favorable opportunity. I had to postpone my trip a few times to appease her. I was torn between choosing my ambition to do graduate studies in the US alone, or staying with my wife in the Philippines.
I had to make a tough decision before the graduate school offer expired. In retrospect, I was thankful to and appreciative of my late father-in-law who intervened on my behalf. If not, I would have been stuck in the Philippines teaching Chemistry at the university, and would have never seen the fulfillment of my ambition. I was not aware that he had advised my wife to reconsider her decision, and let me go freely to pursue my dreams.
My wife later on informed me that without her father’s advice, she would not have given me her full consent to leave her and pursue my studies. She was not aware of the importance of my personal vow to do better in life, in light of failing to obtain my Latin Honors in college.
Inasmuch as my wife was anxious with our impending separation, I was deeply saddened to leave her alone, but excited to go and fulfill my dreams. I went ahead to the US for my graduate studies, but I was totally unprepared for what was in store for me. It was my first trip away from my homeland, family and friends. I was going to live and study in the American Midwest, and I had to adjust to the western lifestyle, culture and cold winter weather without any friends or relatives to comfort me.
During my first year in the US, the reality of living alone and studying in a foreign land negatively affected my drive and ambition. I was tempted twice to nearly quit school, leave the US and return to my family to the Philippines. Graduate schoolwork while teaching Chemistry was tough and demanding. I was miserably homesick, lonely and missed my wife very badly, especially during the Holidays and Christmas.
Moreover, the winters of Chicago were harsh, and can feel gloomy and depressing. It was difficult to tolerate the cold weather. I was accustomed to the tropical climate of the Philippines. In Chicago, I oftentimes asked myself what the heck I was doing in the US, with tears running down my face, and almost freezing on my cheeks and nose because of the frigid temperature. I could be happier and warm in my homeland, and be together with my cherished family.
The promise I made to fulfill my ambition, which was triggered by the one point I missed at the final examination in my Differential Calculus class, kept me going. I did my best with my work and studies. I never again considered quitting, and I was determined to finish what I had started. I finally made it, and I completed my Doctorate degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1964.
A year after I left the Philippines, my wife and our first baby, whose birth I did not witness, joined me in Chicago, Illinois. Their presence provided me with inspiration and encouragement to fulfill my ambition.
Do you have a similar experience that changed your life? I will be delighted to hear from you.