SM patriarch Henry Sy Sr., wife Felicidad T. Sy and SM Chief Executive Officer Hans T. Sy at the dinner for scholars of the SM Foundation. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – They say that there's money in trash. Riel Gomez found something similar. Was it a stroke of luck? Whatever it was he found his ticket to an 'unexpected' good fortune in the trash.
'Unexpected' was how he described it because just five years ago he was a boy without dreams, a boy whose only ambition was to survive the next day.
"Habang abala sila sa pagpili ng scholarship ako walang pakialam kasi di din naman ako magka-college, magta-trabaho naman ako. Bakit pa? Di din naman kayang gastusan yung araw-araw ko. So nawala talaga sa isip ko yung mag aral," Gomez told ABS-CBNnews.com
College for him was a far fetched dream because in reality, his mother couldn't afford to send him to one anyway, he said.
In high school, he tried to support himself by selling 'ice tubig' and 'ice candy' to his classmates to unburden his mother. He also became a 'kalakal boy' collecting scrap metal to sell to junkshops.
But a friend still urged him to at least try and apply for a scholarship. When he took the advice, he could no longer find any scholarship forms.
"Till one time, may nakausling papel na may 'SM' sa basura. Ito ata yung fini-fill-up nila," he thought to himself.
The SM Foundation's College Scholarship Program was established to help provide quality education to bright underprivileged public high school graduates.
Riel Gomez earned his Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering at the FEU East Asia College. He graduated Cum Laude. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com
"Sabi ko susubukan ko lang, parang tumaya ng Lotto. Alam mo naman sobrang liit ng chance ng Lotto. Pag nakuha, mapalad. Di ko alam na ito yung susi kasi di ko alam na matatangap din ako. Mas maraming magaling kesa sa akin," he said.
After his high school graduation, he decided to return to Negros and work in a junkshop. But he soon found himself back in Manila after he got accepted as one of SM's scholars.
"Sobrang lucky ko. From unexpected thing sa buhay mo, parang it turned out na napakatinding bagay. Something na akala mong di mo na mararating," he said.
Still, he worried about his daily expenses like his transportation fee from his home in Novaliches to his school, the Far Eastern University East Asia College, now known as FEU Institute of Technology or FEU Tech, on Nicanor Reyes St. (Morayta).
"Eventually, nakahanap ako ng racket…tutor-tutor, may magpapa-canvass, may magpapabili or pupuntang Quiapo sasamahan… Doon ako kumikita. Tapos Christmas break, summer jobs nakaka-ipon ako," he said.
While finding ways to cut down expenses, Gomez was also busy studying hard. He participated in college extracurricular activities and even managed to set up a school organization.
Another big break came during his third year in college when he was offered the Study Abroad Program in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The four-month program allowed him to study any course that the university was offering at that time.
"Sinuportahan ako ng SM Foundation with regards to allowances tapos yung school ko din naman sinagot yung transpo at accommodation ko tapos may extra pa," he said.
It was that opportunity that paved the way for him to save. And combined with the money that his mother saved, they were able to buy a lot in Caloocan where their house now stands.
"It turned out na undergrad pa lang ako nakabili na ako ng lupa, pero collaboration din namin yun ng nanay ko. Siguro isa sa fulfilling achievement sa buhay yung before pa ako naka-graduate, may investment na ako," he said.
Gomez recently earned his degree in Computer Engineering at FEU Tech. He was among the 29 SM Foundation scholars who graduated cum laude.
"Never kong inexpect na makapasok ng SM Foundation (scholar), or even sa college. Ang inisip ko lang after high school mag-try ako sa fast food chains, mag try akong maging helper or any job na kahit high school tatanggapin," he said.
"Sabi ko nga yung everything unexpected sa akin narating ko,na-achieve ko, multiple times pa natanggap ko."
His advice to students is to learn to dream and take action in making that dream a reality.
"Minsan pangarap, pangarap na lang. Lagyan mo ng konting spice pangarap mo kasi ingredient din yung motivation, determination mo, inspiration. Even the smallest things kaya mong paghugutan ng inspiration, motivation," he said.
Gomez, along with 219 other SM scholar-graduates, gathered together on Wednesday to personally meet and thank SM Founder Henry Sy Sr. and his family.