A Filipino heart goes for the American dream
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez () - May 30, 2006 - 12:00am
She plays touch rugby and soccer, looks like a pop idol (move over Jasmine Trias!) and likes to spend her free time doing community work with poor children. Last week, 18-year-old Natashya "Ashley" Gutierrez was chosen "Most Outstanding Student" from among the 146 graduating students of the International School, Manila (ISM). She also placed third in academic ranking. This August, Ashley, a scholar at the ISM for the past seven years, heads for Yale University in Connecticut. Yale wooed her with a tempting $45,000-a-year scholarship (plus: two roundtrip tickets for her annual vacations to the Philippines). Of course she said yes.

Last year, the ISM valedictorian, Paul Leopando, also a Filipino, was offered a scholarship at Harvard, where he is doing well (he was offered other scholarships as well, but chose Harvard). Both Paul and Ashley (who bagged two other scholarships but chose Yale) belong to middle-class families. Paul’s grandmother had to sell property to help finance his education at ISM (his older brother was a scholar). Although she did come from the exclusive Poveda Learning Center, Ashley knew that ISM’s tuition belonged to a different league altogether. "My parents could not afford to send me to IS. The tuition for one year at IS would have sent all my four siblings to high school."

Ashley, the middle child of businessman Francis Gutierrez and the former Tina Lazcanotegui, took the ISM scholarship exams for Filipino students when she was 12, "just for fun. My mom told me to take it because her cousin got a scholarship earlier. She told me to just try my luck."

Out of 54 applicants, two made it. One of them was Ashley. The scholarship did not require Ashley to maintain a certain average in school. Trusting its choices, ISM lets its scholars be. Ashley responded by doing her best – sans the pressure of the academic burdens other scholarships come with.

"I think it was more of a personal drive," Ashley smiles. "I mean, they don’t really pressure you to keep or maintain a certain average. It’s really up to you."

Neither did her parents exert any pressure on Ashley. "They’re very trusting," agrees Ashley, who, at 18, has chosen to be without a boyfriend.

At Yale, Ashley plans to be a working student to augment her scholarship. "I’m still undecided but I definitely want to do something with people. Maybe Psychology. Of all things I wanna do, I want to travel but I want to be able to do it while helping others. So I feel like with Psychology, let’s say in devastated areas, like after an earthquake or a tsunami, I could help out with post-traumatic work."

"I’m never interested in business or in math," she continues. "Another interest is broadcast journalism. It’s also getting out there and actually reporting what’s really happening. And just seeing the world for what it really is."
* * *
What made Ashley stand out at ISM, according to her teachers, was how she excelled in several aspects of her schooling – academics, sports, leadership (she’s with the Student Council) and community service. "I think few students in my career of 10 years in education who are as well rounded as Ashley is actually is," says her guidance counselor Trevor Sturgeon. "There are a lot of students who excel in fine arts, who are extremely just naturally brilliant, intelligent, like they’re very, very academically minded. But soon they lack on social skills or the ability to interact with other people. Some (lack in) sports, involvement, academics. On the most outstanding student award, the easiest choice, I think, was Ashley. They were asking a student from senior class, ‘If it’s up to you, who will you pick?’ She said, ‘Definitely Ashley. Ashley is the easy choice’."

Ashley volunteers for Gawad Kalinga, Chosen Children, Bantay Kalikasan and Bantay Bata, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Mabuhay Deseret Foundation (MDF). MDF performs operations for poor children. Once, she and some classmates lived on a farm in Pangasinan, where they helped with the chores and shared the work with the locals.

As a member of the ISM Student Council, Ashley is active in fund-raising drives for community services. She was, for instance, very active in the fundraising drive for the liver transplant for the child of one of ISM’s teachers.

Though community service is a requirement at ISM, Ashley says she does social work because "I think I’m excited to do it. I like kids, so that’s how it started. I drove up to Banaue one time to work with local students. I’ve also worked with children in both Puerto Galera and Batangas."

Why does she give so much of herself to underprivileged children? Is it because it is a requirement of the Student Council? "Because I like kids! If you’re not interested in kids, you won’t enjoy yourself. What IS gave me was the opportunity to work with people. Then from there, you go out of your way to do more."

Ashley also won an essay-writing contest sponsored by the Young STAR section of the Philippine STAR in 2004. Her essay, "Beneath the Philippine Seas," focused on her concern for the environment. Her prize included a trip to South Africa with the Life section’s Tanya Lara and representatives of Cathay Pacific.

Ashley says that trip opened a whole new world for her. "After my trip to South Africa, I got interested in geography. When I came home, I had a different set of subjects for junior year, I moved out of business to take up geography."
* * *
After she graduates from Yale, Ashley says she’s "definitely" coming back to the Philippines. To share, to serve, and ultimately, to be a good mother.

"The woman I really admire is Joan Lunden, one of the first women in broadcast journalism in the US who became really famous as the first newscaster to show her baby on air. I think the ultimate person I want to be is a mother. I want it because of my mom. I come from a large family. There are five of us. I want to have children. I want to work for sure, but I also want to have a family."


"I have a feeling that you can help this country more when you’re out of the government," says Ashley.

A heart that beats even as her mind works. That’s Ashley Gutierrez.

In her recommendation to Yale, one of Ashley’s teachers Tammy Monsod, wrote: "I have little doubt that Ashley is going to make a difference in your campus. In fact, I strongly believe that Ashley is going to make a difference in our world."

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

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