MANILA - At 30, most of her peers went on to have successful careers.
At 30, some opted to start a family.
But for Grace Labrador Bacus, getting to 30 means fulfilling her dream of finishing school.
"Dili babag ang imong edad o kawad-on sa kalamposan," she told ABS-CBN News.
(Being old or poor is not a hindrance to success.)
Bacus grew up third of ninth children in a poor family at a mountain village in Talisay City, Cebu.
They were raised by parents who scrape by on what they could earn from taking different jobs, such as peddling fruits or working in construction.
"Tungod kay wala mi ikapalit ug sudan, ipares nalang namo ug asin o kape," she recalled.
(We pair rice with salt or coffee because we couldn't afford to buy vegetables or meat.)
Early on, going to school was a challenge for her and her siblings, Bacus said.
They sometimes went to school with their stomachs growling. Purchasing school supplies, as basic as ball pen and paper, was hard enough.
Despite the circumstances, Bacus graduated as class valedictorian. High school, however, proved more difficult for her.
Bacus said she had to miss class aplenty to babysit her siblings, which affected her studies.
Neighbors were also not helping. No one gets rich by going to school so might as well stay home, she recalled one neighbor telling her.
"Mao ra gihapon, mo-graduate na, magminyo ra pud dayon," she said, quoting another.
(You'll get married anyway after you graduate.)
To help her parents, Bacus shelved her plan of pursuing a college degree.
After graduating from high school, she worked as a house helper. When she turned 18, she studied dressmaking and went on to work as a sewer for different garment manufacturers.
"Dili ko gusto nga makasuway akong mga manghod sa akong nasuwayan. Maglakaw sa eskuwelahan, mosulod nga walay bawon, ug dili maka-pass ug school projects," she said.
(I don't want my younger siblings to to go through what I went through of walking to school, having no allowance, and not submitting school projects.)
Born into poverty taught her how to navigate obstacles and project a positive attitude.
Determined to succeed, she enrolled at Talisay City College after one of her siblings finished school. Her first reason was to acquire 72 units of college education, a requirement for a waitressing job in Canada that she had applied to.
For consistently getting top marks in school, Bacus was awarded a scholarship and abandoned her plan of an overseas job to continue schooling.
"I've learned how important teachers are. They can change a person's life more than I could have ever imagined," she said.
On her free time, Bacus sews bed sheets, uniforms, and dresses that help pay her school projects and allowance.
She doesn't want to burden her parents who already have too much on their plate, she said.
Her father now drives a passenger jeepney while her mother works as a street sweeper.
After more than a decade of stalled plans, financial struggles, and other sacrifices, she will march on Monday, April 8 after finishing Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in English.
Bacus said she couldn't ask for more.
Not until recently she was informed by the school faculty that she will be delivering the graduation speech. She will graduate as magna cum laude, the top of her graduating class.
"It's never too late to pursue your dreams. I just give my best and let God provide the rest," she said.