I am Karen Regpala, 33-years old. It took me 17 years to graduate from college.
Yes, you read that right. Seventeen years. At one point, I felt ashamed to admit that. Yet, after I found myself donning that Sablay (University of the Philippines’ alternative to a toga and a graduation cap) and sitting amidst all the young ones at this year’s graduation rites, I realized that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It may not have been the ideal journey but the important thing is that I reached my destination. And it was such a bittersweet finish.
While people I know patted me on my back though, congratulating me for a job well done, I cannot own the salutations. I have accepted that I pushed myself because there were people who silently – and not so silently – egged me on. Of course, there’s family. There were also the realest of friends who never failed to tell me, “Ikaw pa! Kaya mo ‘yan!”
But the purest and most beautiful of all the words of encouragement I got was from the one person whom I failed many times but who never stopped believing in me.
See, when I put school on pause 12 years ago, I failed the best mentor I ever had. Her name is Jane Vinculado.
Jane was my professor in several classes in college. But she was more than just a teacher. She knew the difficulties I had to go through financially and she always encouraged me to just keep pushing because “Matatapos din ‘yan!” But, she did not just support me through words. She would also find odd jobs for me so I can earn extra money to put myself through school. She also took me in as a thesis adviser, knowing all too well that I needed someone with a firm hand to steer me back to the right path when I was swayed by circumstances.
Then, at the end of my supposed last year in college, I did not get to finish my thesis. I don’t think I ever apologized to her for that. It took me years – seven, to be exact – before I would set foot in my college again. I felt embarrassed when I saw her; I almost avoided her. But when she flashed that huge smile she always had for her students, I knew I was forgiven. When she asked, “Babalik ka na?” it only gave me an extra reason to do so.
I remember that same day, she sent me a message, “Alam mo naman mahal kita, ‘di ba?” I did.
Even though she was no longer my thesis adviser, she never failed to ask me how my thesis was coming along every time we’d bump into each other. When my thesis was finally approved for binding and submission to the college, I felt compelled to tell her. She gave me the biggest smile and said, “Finally!”
I remember during my graduation day, as I stood on stage, she unabashedly approached me and gave me the tightest hug. I cried a lot that day but I think I cried hardest during that hug. I almost did not want to let go. But I was unable to say sorry or thank you; still, Jane got the message. She said, “Ok na ‘yun. Tama na iyak.”
I don’t say it enough but Jane deserves it: thank you. For the years you helped me get back on my feet. Thank you. For always encouraging me. Thank you. For never letting go of the hope that one day, I will get to graduate. Thank you. For the love. The friendship. For the forgiveness. For all the things I have not mentioned here.
She probably saw it already, but I like to wrap up this article with that bit about her on my thesis’ acknowledgment page:
“Thank you, as well, to my original thesis adviser, Ma’am Jane Vinculado. She believed in me when even I stopped believing in myself. She was one of the very first persons (outside of my family) who told me that it was not a lost battle. But even before that, she was the one person who always made me see my light, my strength. I may not have been the best mentee, but she was the best mentor. I hope that by finally submitting this thesis, I have made up for all – or even some – of the disappointments. Thank you. Those words do not justify how much of an influence you have been (and still are) in my life.”