Santa is real, alive and kicking not in the North Pole, but in sunny Cebu. She—yes, this Santa is female—is Harvard-educated, tall and slim, and speaks Bisaya. She doesn’t answer to Santa either; everyone simply calls her Ms. Candice, the University of Cebu’s beloved chancellor, Candice Gotianuy, the heiress and only child of the school’s equally popular founding president, Atty. Augusto “Gus” Go.
The Cebuana Santa is one generous lady. One of her father’s favorite stories of his daughter is that time she treated a hundred students to breakfast after learning about a student who missed a scholar’s meeting because she missed the first meal of the day. Recently, Gotianuy’s believers, meaning the staff, faculty and students of UC, got another peek at their chancellor’s generosity when, last December 9, Candice posted a surprise announcement on her Facebook page. Addressing UC’s community, Candice wrote: “Make a Christmas wish and I’ll help make it come true. 😊 Please write your wish in the comment section below. I will choose a few wishes before Christmas break.” The post revealed a social media-savvy Santa who coined the gift-giving project’s official hashtag, #UCMakeAWish.
This wasn’t just an impulsive gesture by Candice. “It's Christmas, and I wanted to do something special for the UC community,” she said. “I've also been wanting to get to know my students better and I actually learned, through the wishes, what their needs and concerns were.“
Right after posting, the wishes started coming, with Candice closely watching the developments together with her ad hoc screening committee. Noticing the lack of wishes from older faculty members and staff which she thought may have something to do with their familiarity with the Internet, she requested the younger ones to help “the elders and post on their behalf.”
On December 11, Candice announced that she’s closing the comments section. To manage expectations, she added a cautionary note which said: “If you weren't chosen, I suppose one way to look at it is that there are others who need help more than you. So please DO NOT WHINE OR VENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA! Remember I can always take a screen shot and exclude you next time... ;) Accept it graciously. It is, after all, a wish.”
Though she described UC’s students as generally hardworking and respectful, the caveat seemed apt for the times. “In an age where kids grow up with social media being an extension of their personality,” explained Candice, “I've observed the need to guide them on the possible consequences of their posts. I also wanted to remind them, gently, that a wish is a privilege and not a right.”
Over 1,400 wishes were posted, some of them quite amusing. Joey de Vera knew UC’s chancellor wouldn’t give him her white Lexus, so he asked for the next best thing: “May I wish for your parking space instead for my humble car so I won’t be late in coming over to class?”
“I don’t believe in fairies,” Joey added, “but I believe in you!”
Animal lover, Kevin Dale Uy Tabayocyoc asked for food for stray dogs because “I spend 50 percent of my allowance to feed strays cats.”
There was an urgent wish for cash so one student can fund her “sex change.” Desielo Villarin wrote: “I have a problem with my birth certificate, my gender is male instead of female and I have to process it before graduation.”
A student who goes by the handle Kokoy Smash wants a full-on shebang, asking for “an exclusive big party celebration for all of the UCnians” with performances by “different OPM bands in the metro, December Avenue, Parokya ni Edgar, Bisdak, and many more.”
One of the most creative posts will have to be Pau Bentulan Ceron’s who started with an intriguing quote—“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Ceron explained they don’t have electricity at home and he needs the money to fix this. To drive the point, he uploaded two photos of the kitchen, taken with and without flash, letting the wish-committee know that “without light, life is dark as bad days.”
Many asked for shoes, medical assistance, food for the homeless, scholarships and tuition fee discounts, even simple things like a bucket of chicken from Jollibee for noche Buena, and so on and so forth. Candice read all the comments one by one, and handed over a short list (a 500-page print out of screen shots) to her screening committee. It was tough making the final choices but the chancellor drafted her own criteria. “I looked for wishes that would bring the most meaning into their lives - reunions, food, new shoes. Our students come from the lower socio-economic class and the things we take for granted are the things they value most. I also looked for sincerity and politeness.”
Atty. Go started the University of Cebu 54 years ago, and built it (with the help of his daughter later on) to what it has become today, the largest privately-owned school in the country with four campuses and 56,000 enrollees. As the sole owner, the school popularly known by its acronym, UC, has made Atty. Go one of Cebu’s wealthiest.
Niño Ardiza, a linkage coordinator for UC’s partner institutions, described the father and daughter Augusto and Candice as very approachable and “considerate of the difficulties of the students who mostly come from poor families.” Come enrollment, students without money for tuition can just pay P500 and march to Atty. Go’s office to sign a promissory note. “We also have a lot of working scholars - over 300 in the main campus alone - who are employed in UC’s five branches in exchange for tuition and allowance,” Niño further explained.
Despite their success, father and daughter remain humble and focused on their roles. The unattached Candice has been asked to run for public office in the past but brushed them off, content with her work in UC and spending her free time with her horses and two dogs, or traveling to favorite destinations.
Last Dec. 15, Candice announced on her Facebook page the first batch of granted wishes petitioned by several people from the UC community—a Jollibee party for 200 of Cebu’s street children, complete with giveaways, loot bags, and mascot. Days later, the screening committee organized a mini-event called Shoes Galore for everyone who wished for shoes. They herded the students to SM Seaside and set them loose in the shoe section, free to choose any pair that their heart desired.
Candice’s page started to fill with heartbreaking posts, such as a video of criminology student Dave Obcial taking a brand new motorcycle for a spin around UC’s seven-floor hall. Rosalio wished for a motorbike for his father, a habal-habal driver who couldn’t afford the rental fees for the vehicle.
Maryelle Visitacion, a junior high school student, posted a video of her 31-year old father’s reaction when informed of the scholarship she wished for him so that he can finish his education. Raymond James Jagdon also posted his photo, thanking Candice for giving him the tuition fee discount so he could buy a ring for the ringhop, which came with freebies that he said he will give to his parents.
Candice was also pictured comforting a sobbing Anthony Macapagong who lost his father last summer to a heart attack and his brother who committed suicide a few months after. Anthony wished to take his mother to a faraway place where “she can forget her sorrows,” he wrote on Candice’s page. The Civil Engineering student got his wish, plus an additional ten SuperCat passes (care of FastCat’s owners) to any destination in the Philippines.
Rosalio dela Calzada’s literally backbreaking days are over; Candice gave him the wheelchair that he asked for his diabetic grandmother whom he would carry on his back from his house all the way to the hospital for her monthly check-up. There was a photo of a 32” flat screen TV that now belongs to Carlyn Ann Canillo’s lola, who took care of the UC student and her siblings after losing both parents years ago.
If there’s one story that played out like a Pinoy comedy teleserye, it has to be Melvin Monton’s. The IT student wanted a plane ticket so his OFW father, Alvin, can come home after a 12-year absence. The Singapore-based Alvin can also have the chance to visit his ailing mother who is confined in a Cebu hospital.
Not only did Melvin get his wish, Candice’s team organized a surprise homecoming for his mom and siblings, to be documented by a team from UC starting with Alvin’s arrival. Unbeknownst to the group, Melvin’s mom had her own plans, arriving ahead of everyone else at the airport. There was one more surprise for the group who arrived at an unusually dark Monton home. “Nagka-spark,” Melvin explained, “kaya nagka-brown out.” His 16-year old younger brother Marc only recognized Alvin after the elder Monton turned on his phone’s flashlight.
UC’s students are known to be taught compassion in the classroom, and social awareness and civic responsibility through the school’s outreach activities. In the university’s adopted communities, criminology students, for example, train barangay tanods, education undergrads offer tutorial services, and medical students are taught to conduct health-related missions. Candice says her gift-giving project cleaves close to one of the school’s visions, which is to give hope and transform lives. Despite the fact that she was the one who played Santa a few days before Christmas, Candice knew she received a big present herself: “I thought I was the one giving out gifts but in the end, they enlarged my capacity for gratitude."
To see the video of Candice's Christmas project, visit https://www.facebook.com/chancellorcandice.gotianuyfirstacctfull/videos/2632180830132933/U