7 valedictorians, studying against all odds

MANILA, Philippines – The surname Montoya may not ring a bell, but in Bgy Calasumanga, Panukulan, Quezon, a family that carries it is regarded as history-makers.

In the small village off Polillo Island is a family of 11 – the father, the mother, and their 9 children – whose only crowning glory is having 7 valedictorians, 9 high school graduates, and 3 college graduates. (READ: 5 valedictorians in the family)

And yet these are all worth celebrating in the barangay where there used to be no high school building, and where a college diploma is a far-fetched dream. (READ: Draw the line)

"Bale, kami pong mga magkakapatid, di kami pine-pressure ng parents namin...Likas na lang, na nage-excel sa pag-aaral. 'Di naman tipong kailangang maging first honor,” Joyce, the youngest of the 9 siblings, told Rappler.

(We were not pressured by our parents. We just excelled naturally in studying. It's not as if we needed to get first honors.)

But it became an unintended tradition; the eldest inspired the second child, the second inspired the third — on and on, until 7 of the 9 Montoya children, at one point, became valedictorian in either elementary or high school, or both.

4 of them looked for work immediately after high school to help the family, while 5 went on to college. Only 3 eventually graduated – including Joyce, who was pampered by her siblings and provided with everything she needed to finish schooling.

"Sa lugar namin, wala pong university, yun ang unang-unang problem. Malayo [ang] university, doble to triple ang magagastos, kulang sa resources,” Joyce explained.

(In our place, there is no university – that's the problem first and foremost. The next university is already far, and you'll have to spend double or triple, but we lacked resources.)

But she did not need much – for most of her stay at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, she was a university scholar.

“Sa totoo lang, nung pumasok [ako] ng Lyceum, mayayaman mga kaklase ko, kumbaga magaganda talaga ang bihis, yung [awards], yung naging strength ko para mapaglabanan. Takot ako, na-culture shock ako sa environment ko. Kaya ko ba talaga?”

(Truth be told, when I entered Lyceum, and my well-dressed classmates came from well-off families, my awards became my strength [to fight off inferiority]. I was afraid at first, and I experienced culture shock in my environment. Can I really do this?)

The provincial lass held her head up high because, for her, she had to fulfill not only her dreams, but also the dreams of her siblings and parents. 

“[Pero] something na [naipagmalaki] ko [ay] yung, valedictorian ako, scholar ako. Para sa akin, sa iyo lang yun, kahit saan ka pumunta, sa iyo lang yun, hindi pwedeng nakawin. Parang nakasuot na korona."

(I was very proud that I was a valedictorian and a scholar. For me, an achievement like that can never be taken away from me wherever I go.)

Now that she has already completed college, the civil service exam passer dreams of paying it forward. Someday, she would like to help send one of her sister’s children to school, or help another sister finish her last two years in college.

She would also like to serve in the government in the near future, but at this point in her life, her father who just went through eye operation comes first. (READ: For yuppies who want to quit, a word from Jesse Robredo)

Respect

In 2005, during Joyce's elementary graduation, both her father and mother received an award from the Calasumanga Elementary School. When it was tough just sending kids to school, they lauded Gregorio and Juanita because they were able to do it and more.

Ang sabi ng parents [namin] sa amin, [dapat] maiba man lang kami – hindi man kami mayaman, hindi man kami sikat sa lugar na mayaman, sikat [kami bilang] mabubuting anak saka masisipag,” Joyce said.

(My parents told us we should be different – we may not be rich, or known in our place as rich, but we should be known as good and hardworking children.)

Her two-step guide to success? Find inspiration in the place you are in – wherever that is, whatever the situation may be – and be determined to do something about it.

And for those who do not care enough about education, she had this to say: "Para sa akin, isa sa pagpapakita ng pagmamahal ng pamilya yung i-send ka sa school, [at isang] pagrespeto [at] pagtanaw ng utang [na loob ang] gawin ang lahat para maging mabuting estudyante. Hindi pagpapakita ng respeto sa magulang yung hindi pag-aaral ng mabuti. [Isang] malaking katalampasanan,” she said.

(For me, sending you to school is a sign of your family's love for you, and studying hard is a way of showing respect for them and giving back to them. Not doing your best in your studies is great disrespect for your parents.) (READ: Words of wisdom: 7 memorable grad speeches)– Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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