'Not the only daughter of jeepney driver': Ateneo valedictorian shares motivation amid success
Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña, president of Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, will graduate with a degree in B.A. Management Economics, Cum laude.
Ateneo de Manila University website
'Not the only daughter of jeepney driver': Ateneo valedictorian shares motivation amid success
Rosette Adel (Philstar.com) - May 31, 2019 - 7:25am

MANILA, Philippines — A daughter of a jeepney driver is set to march as the Ateneo De Manila University's Class of 2019 valedictorian on Friday.

Before she graduates, Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña, a scholar of Ateneo, penned an inspiring essay on her struggles and motivation before she topped her class. The essay was titled “Prayer for Generosity” and was published on Ateneo’s website.

She submitted it as part of her application for the valedictorian selection.

Bendaña, president of Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, will graduate with a degree in B.A. Management Economics, Cum laude.

Social inequality experience

In her essay, Bendaña shared the social inequality she experienced as she was raised in poverty with not enough food on their table.

She said her parents were not regular employees and she and her sister had childhoods filled with promissory notes for delayed tuition fee payments.

“I am an example of the underprivileged gaining the highest quality of education in one of the best universities in the country, and achieving their dreams. It is possible, but it will take more than good intentions,” Bendaña said.

Despite this, Bendaña doubled her efforts and worked as jeepney barker for her father and taking odd jobs in high school.

A lesson of hard work

Bendaña said she drew inspiration from her jeepney driver father who taught her to “work harder than everyone else.”

“Not only because hard work is high dignity but also, while it is no guarantee of success, anything less than that for us would mean complete failure. I always worked harder than everyone else to get the same opportunities they had,” Bendaña wrote.

“It’s the least I can do to compensate for my lack of privilege,” she added.

In 2017, Bendaña also made it to the headlines when she joined a rally to protest the government’s call to modernize jeepneys in the country.

RELATED: Drivers, students hold anti-jeepney phaseout protest in UP 

The modernization program mandates that jeepneys that are 15 years and older will be replaced by electric-powered or Euro 4 compliant vehicles.

Bendaña shared that she started joining rallies when she was seven years old. She said she joined her father’s jeepney strike which aimed to raise the minimum fare.

“For some, the rising price of fuel meant less profit. For my family, it meant skipping another meal; it meant more debt and more promissory notes,” she said.

The top student credited Ateneo education for forming its students’ “moral and societal consciousness” but Bendaña said her “desire for social change” was formed through her own experience of injustice.

“Mine is the story of a grandchild whose grandmother died because three hospitals refused to operate on her without down payment, and whose grandfather tilled land that wasn’t ours for 60 years, because land reform failed us. Mine is the story of a daughter whose father is jobless because the government phased out our jeepney in the name of hollow modernization, and even before the very policy for it was passed,” she said.

Bendaña said Ateneo taught her the limits of what individual virtue can do.

Hopeful for a 'generous' Ateneo

While she acknowledges her hard work, Bendaña is grateful for the opportunity given to her by “generous” Ateneo.

“Yet, I am aware that my full scholarship exists not because I simply earned it. All my work would have been for nothing if there was no slot on offer in the first place. I am here because someone, by the grace of their heart, gave generously to fund my education,” Bendaña wrote.

“I am here because a generous Ateneo exists, where someone like me who does not share the wealthier background of the common Atenean can be entrusted with the Presidency of the school’s Student Council,” she said.

“I am grateful for what Ateneo has given me: an excellent education, a network of like-minded friends and allies, and spaces for me to grow with more courage as I led the community to demand greater things for this nation. Still, I am aware that in many ways, my capacity for nation-building as an Atenean carries problematic contradictions,” she continued.

Bendaña is also thankful for Ateneo’s influence that amplified her voice. She said she would not have mattered if she was not from one of the country’s top universities.

“When I protested for the Philippines to hear the plight of our jeepney drivers against the modernization policy, the entire nation listened,” the student said.

"My statements, no matter how eloquent, would not have mattered if I weren’t Atenean. After all, I am not the ‘only daughter of a jeepney driver’ in the entire Philippines. It was my Ateneo education that made me special,” she added.

Bendaña is hopeful that Ateneo will continue to be generous to students like her. However, she is also hoping that society can overcome social inequality and lack of opportunity.

“Generosity is the exception, not the norm in this country. Ateneo may have shown my fellow students the realities of injustice in society, but for me, it served as a refuge from my own experience of social inequality,” Bendaña said.

“It is those contrasting powers, to show and to isolate, to influence and to ignore, that makes a generous Ateneo a necessary, but insufficient condition. As long as Ateneo is generous, many young men and women like me hope that they, too, can earn a diploma that carries the same Latin words that Rizal earned. But as long as Ateneo needs to be generous, it means society has not overcome bigger, deeper problems: social inequality, lack of opportunity, and the concentration of economic and political power in the families of many of my schoolmates,” she added.

Bendaña is also the recipient of the 2019 Loyola Schools Awards for Leadership and Service Most Outstanding Individual. She is a 2018 Most Outstanding Jose Rizal Model Student of the Philippines Awardee.

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