“The Kalayaan Effect” by Andrew Mendoza

They say the average audience attention span is only about 5-10 minutes, so if there is anything that I want you to remember from my talk, it is this mantra that I live by: Never Settle for Mediocrity. Today I only want to talk about two stories from my life. One is a story of regret and the other a story of redemption.

I always felt up against the odds, even at a very young age. In the pre-school I attended in Hong Kong, I was the only non-Chinese student enrolled in the whole school. Every student already knew how to speak Cantonese while I only spoke Filipino. Despite this hurdle, I was still able to graduate with top honors together with the opportunity of giving the valedictory speech in our small ceremony.

When I moved onto my primary education, I was once more up against the odds as the primary school I attended had a population of over a thousand. In spite of this, I was once again blessed enough to be the top academic performer for the first-year level. But I soon lost track of my focus and my priorities, as it slowly shifted from chasing high grades, to chasing the top score on our video game console. This unhealthy cycle continued on towards the rest of my primary life and even when my whole family and I decided to move back to the Philippines. My admission applications to the top high schools in Manila were all rejected, and I felt as if I would not be able to continue my studies. I also felt as if the odds were once again, against me. Thankfully, my appeal for one high school was accepted and I was able to further my education with the White and Blue. Motivated by the result of my appeal, I strived hard and well in everything that I did, making sure I was worthy of the education and uniform that I was given and entrusted with. The first two years with the White and Blue was productive. I managed to earn a couple of awards while being able to balance my academics and my extra-curricular activities. But in the latter years of my high school life, that balance slowly shifted more towards pleasure and indulgence. I chose to train and compete in ultimate frisbee tournaments and competitions for the White and Blue rather than studying and preparing for my upcoming tests and exams. I chose to dedicate more time with the prom and senior ball committees rather than learning and reviewing for the college entrance exams. And once again, I lost focus with what’s more important and prioritized what I wanted, rather than what I needed. Fortunately, I gave enough effort and hard work in the end and I was able to graduate high school and even got accepted to multiple universities such UST with the course of Architecture, and also DLSU with the course of Management. But when the Ateneo results came about, I wasn’t able to see my name on the list. I was waitlisted. I came up short again. I was distraught and was on the verge of tears. I was up against the odds, once more.

One day, while I was at my summer job as a dental assistant, I got a phone call. The phone call with which, almost made me cry, as I was informed that the Ateneo reversed my status from being on the waitlist to being accepted due to my appeal. But this time, rather than being motivated by the second chance that I was given, I took that opportunity for granted. I took the trust and care of my parents and my family members for granted. I took the chance to prove myself worthy and deserving of that spot in the university for granted.

About a year ago in my previous school, I was sitting in the dining room of our empty house with textbooks and papers scattered about on the table with a laptop playing an educational video about a test I was about to have the next day that I couldn’t even understand or have a clue about. The realization of this daunting fact slowly crept in and hit me. I suddenly felt desperate, regret, and hopeless all at the same time, which led to the first of many mental breakdowns that I had during my college experience. I grieved over the fact that I had missed so many opportunities to study for the subjects I knew I was having trouble with. Instead, I swapped out a Math textbook and pen for video games and ultimate frisbee. Unsurprisingly, I failed two subjects which ultimately led to my honorable discharge from my previous school. Complacency, laziness, loss of focus, and mediocrity got the best of me which brought out the worst in me.

If before I got very fortunate with my appeals in the past, this time, I was not lucky enough. All of my appeals, petitions, and requests were all rejected and I felt as if I have lost everything important to me during these hard times. I lost the care of my friends, the trust of my parents and family, and the belief in myself that I can do better. I felt useless with no school to continue my studies with. I spent countless nights wallowing in self-pity and regret and thinking about how this all would not have happened if I just did better if I just gave that little extra in studying and learning.

A few days later, an old friend of mine called me after hearing what had happened. He suggested a few colleges in which I can go to, including Kalayaan College. He mentioned that a few of his friends went to Kalayaan College after going through the same problem as I had and turned out to be successful or even better when they were in their previous schools. I decided to give Kalayaan a go and was fortunate enough to be accepted right away. And after I was interviewed by Sir Lazaro, I suddenly felt hopeful and optimistic again. And this was where my redemption story began.

Days before my second first day of college started, I thought to myself that I was not going to mess up this second chance that Kalayaan has given me. I was not going to let go of my focus ever again and my priorities would be crystal clear. I was never going to settle for mediocrity again.

Nervousness and excitement took over me as I went about my first days in Kalayaan. I didn’t even want to make friends or acquaintances at first, as I really wanted to be immersed, focused, and determined in studying and learning. But that was almost impossible for a guy like me who’s always looking to talk and joke around in class. You can even ask my new friends and classmates here in Kalayaan; they can vouch for all the commotion, antics, and noise I always seem to start or be a part of.  They also might say that they never thought of me being that way. I would always sit in front of the class, kept quiet and to myself as I consulted with the professors right after the class had ended. I also volunteered at every opportunity I had at improving my grades. Moreover, I was a coordinator or an assistant to the professor at multiple subjects while also submitting numerous bonus or extra credit papers to almost all of the subjects I took. But despite it being tiresome and stressful from the sleepless nights and nearing deadlines, I am proud to say that I was glad and contented with what I was doing. I felt that I was living up to my potential and that I was doing better than I ever did at any other school. I think that is the Kalayaan effect. What this college does is bring out the best and the utmost out of you. But you will not be alone in this journey. This small community of ours may be small, but it is close-knit and intimate enough that we can support one another to be the finest versions of ourselves. As I have said, I was not even planning to have friends in this college, but I ended up having even more than I ever did before. Kalayaan College gave me a second chance when no other college even wanted to see my transfer application. Kalayaan College believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Kalayaan College brought out the best in me, and I hope it does for all of you as well. I hope your story of redemption has started or have begun. I hope you fight through all the odds as I have, and I hope you would Never Settle for Mediocrity too.

Thank you to my family, to my friends, to my generous professors, to Sir Lazaro, and most importantly, God who opened my eyes to the many realizations and many lessons I have learned in my journey. And thank you as well, to everyone else who have helped me reach this surreal step in my life. I could not have made it here in front of you, if it wasn’t for all your guidance and support. Again, thank you all, good morning, and God Bless.