Jennibeth “Jhen” Dayao knows a thing or two about society’s limitations and not caring for them. First, being a woman and a short one at that—she’s only 5-feet and 1-inch tall—she didn’t think twice about quitting her job as an SM sales lady as soon as she heard an opening for a security guard position will give her better compensation. She passed the training process, got her license, and that was how she became a security guard, initially at Puregold and later at the Philippine General Hospital.
Life hasn’t been easy for this 37-year-old Kapampangan who’s always dreamed of finishing her college education. “Noong nabubuhay pa ang tatay ko, pangarap niyang makatapos kaming magkakapatid ng pag-aaral kahit na magbubukid lang siya,” recalls Jhen, the second of six siblings.
Thus, after high school, she enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering program at Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology (NEUST). However, after only a year of studies, her studies needed to be put on hold due to lack of funds.
To help provide for the family, Jhen needed to find work. She became, yes, an SM sales lady and found a job at a security agency. It was an opportunity at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in Manila in 2013 that will really change her life. Jhen was recommended to the school by her agency and she passed the interviews with flying colors.
It’s been almost 10 years since she moved to Benilde. In that span of time, Jhen has been stationed at the information lobby, became a roving guard, a mail delivery personnel, and a CCTV operator. “Masaya po dito,” she tells ANCX. “Mababait ang mga employees. Magalang sila kahit sa mga housekeeping and security personnel.”
Her earnings at Benilde allowed her to send her younger brother to college; he’s now a policeman. The job also allowed the single mother to capably raise her firstborn who’s now 13 years old.
As early as her first year working at Benilde, Jhen was already entertaining the thought of continuing her college education. She heard, from former housekeepers and fellow security guards, about the institution’s Blessed Arnould Study Assistance Program (BASAP), a grant for working students who wish to pursue Business Management or Marketing Management degrees. But since she was still supporting her younger brother’s education then, Jhen decided to put her own dream aside.
But just as she was beginning to let go of her aspirations of returning to her studies, her son started asking her questions about his various homework. “I realized I must learn more if I wanted to properly tutor him,” says Jhen. “I also want him to be proud of me.”
Jhen has bigger dreams for herself and her family. She wants a more stable future for her children (she is now pregnant with her second child). She wants to build a house of their own. She wants to continue the fried chicken business she and her partner started during the pandemic. She wants to fulfill her father's dream of finishing her college education.
So after her brother graduated in 2018, Jhen applied for the BASAP scholarship. Nerve-wracking as it may have been, she passed the entrance examination. Two months later, she received her acceptance letter.
Sadly, in November of that same year, her father died of a heart attack. “Parang ito lang ‘yung hinihintay ng Tatay ko,” she says of her return to school, clearly heartbroken. “He gave me the courage to study again, so I dedicated this mission to him.”
Jhen enrolled in Bachelor of Science in Business Administration majoring in Marketing Management. She admits it wasn’t a walk in the park. “Para akong bumalik sa Grade 1,” she admits with a laugh. “Mahirap pala kapag matagal ka nang hindi nag-aaral then all of a sudden babalik ka. Kailangan kong himayin lahat para mag-sink in sa utak ko. Hindi naman talaga ako matalino but I was willing to adjust.”
It was a challenge to juggle work with school. Her day would start at 4 in the morning. She would prepare meals for the entire day. By 6am, she’s at Benilde’s CCTV Room, ready for her 12-hour shift. When the opportunity allowed, she’d go over some notes. With permission from superiors and assistance from a reliever, she would leave earlier to rush to the Taft Campus in time for the 6 to 9PM lectures. She would then stay up until midnight to accomplish her homework.
After three years of toiling at her degree—and a decade since she first walked into Benilde as a security guard—Jhen finally earned her diploma. “Masaya ako kasi natupad ko ang dreams namin ng parents ko, kahit na may edad na ako. Nakaka-proud masabing may natapos na po ako ngayon. Kahit matagal natupad, nagawa ko pa rin.”
Jhen was also recently promoted as CCTV Supervisor. She promised to do her usual best in her new role as she waits for the next direct full-time position available under the college’s Benilde Center for Emergency Management, Safety, and Security (CEMMS).
She hopes her story will inspire others to pursue their dreams, no matter the challenges, no matter society’s limitations. “Kahit anong hirap man ang dumaan sa buhay, basta nagpaplano ka at may pangarap ka na gusto mong makamit, walang imposible,” she says. “Basta turuan at tulungan mo ang sarili mong paulit-ulit na sabihan na wag susuko, matatapos mo din ang lahat. Never stop learning and keep on dreaming.”