MANILA -- Many graduates usually choose a wacky pose for their creative shot. But Earl Alcantara, a Chemical Engineering graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, had another idea.
He posted two graduation photos on his Twitter account. One showed all the medals and awards he got in high school, where he graduated valedictorian.
But for his college graduation photo, instead of medals, he held up several lanyards.
“Pumasok ng UST na valedictorian, magtatapos ng sakto lang. Hanggang lanyard na lang mga medal ko ngayon. Pero marami akong natutunan sa mga taong nakilala ko. Forever grateful for the 5 years worth of life lessons. Maraming salamat, UST!” he wrote.
The photo, which he posted last June 6, quickly went viral.
Alcantara confessed that he didn’t know why exactly he decided to post the two photos, but he knew that his closest friends and schoolmates from high school would react since they have known him as an achiever.
“I believe that nobody’s dumb. For me, everyone is average but there's always room for improvement and to make themselves better,” he said.
As the middle child in a family of five, Alcantara never felt alone or ignored by his parents. His father is an engineer working abroad, while his mom is a housewife who encouraged him to be independent.
He initially wanted to take up Electrical Engineering, the same course as his father. But when he passed the UST Entrance Test, he suddenly had doubts.
“So when the day of confirmation came, I changed my course to Chemical (Engineering),” he said.
His first day of classes at UST was a bit overwhelming for Alcantara, who attended high school in Cavite. Moreover, almost all of his blockmates came from science high schools.
“I felt nervous and pressured because even through I graduated valedictorian, everyone in my block was an achiever and I felt the pressure take over me,” he recalled.
Adding to the pressure was the fact that as a scholar, he had to maintain a certain average. But as the academic requirements started pouring in, he found himself hanging by a thread.
“I had a lot of failing grades when I was in my first and second year. I didn’t meet the grade to make it to the dean’s list but luckily I still got to keep my scholarship because my grade in PE was my saving grace,” he said, laughing.
Serving the student body
On his third year of college, he decided to forego the scholarship and joined organizations in his college and university-wide.
“I thought to myself that even if I’m not a scholar anymore that will not hinder me from doing something for myself. So I applied for the presidential executive team in the Engineering Student Council,” Alcantara said.
At the end of the term, he was offered to run for the position of assistant secretary in the next student council.
“During the campaign period, that was when everything started to fall apart. I got my first failing grade -- a 5 -- and I was so devastated I didn’t talk to anyone for a week,” he recalled.
He started going to the chapel every day to pray before heading to summer class. That was when he realized that he didn’t need to put so much pressure on himself.
So despite being on his last year of college, he decided to continue serving the student body. He rana again, this time for the position of vice president internal, and won.
“I headed projects, events, and I even got accepted for the ASEAN Youth Exchange in Thailand. It was my first conference and I got to meet a lot of different people from different countries and schools. It was a fun experience," he said.
Never give up
Even if he had to take a removal exam for students who failed but whose grades were near the passing mark, Alcantara still managed to graduate -- and on time.
“One of the best lessons that I’ve learned is that you don’t want to look back and say that you could have done better in my academic life. I don’t want to say that I wish I could have done better. I did my best and I enjoyed it because of the people that I’ve met,” he said as he looked back on his five years at UST.
Alcantara is currently reviewing for his board exams where he hopes to make a comeback by becoming one of the topnotchers.
He encourages anyone who has ever felt that they failed because they are no longer at the top to never give up.
“Do not pressure yourself and accept things because some things are meant to happen for you to eventually achieve your goals. Focus on it. If you really want it, you can do it,” he said.