Glenn’s path to graduation

- John L. Silva () - June 5, 2005 - 12:00am
It was the ungodly hour of 4:30 in the morning, and Glenn, our household help, needed a tie. An expensive Jim Thompson silk tie of all things.

Jonathan dutifully did as asked while I jumped into the shower to get ready. This would be a day very different from any other. It was Glenn’s graduation day.

We met Glenn nine years ago. He had just arrived in Manila from a rural town called Sawang in Zamboanga del Norte. He graduated from high school that year but his parents, already putting one older brother through college couldn’t afford to enroll him too. With pluck and determination, he boarded a ship by himself to try his luck in Manila. With hardly any luggage, he carried with him big dreams. To take an airplane ride. To visit a foreign country. To finish college.

At around that time, Jonathan and I were looking for household help. After many years living abroad, we decided to come back and live in Manila. We knew how to run a house and we saw help as help, not as family retainers. We decided to hire young people who, after a period of work with us, we’d commit to put through college.

Glenn was absolutely nervous and I could barely hear him speak when I interviewed him. I asked what he wanted to be in life. He hesitated, probably wondering if it was a trick question. With a wistful smile and eyes gazing upwards, he softly answered that he wanted to go to college and be a teacher. I hired him on the spot.

The training part was a breeze. In no time, all the chores, from paying the bills to messenger errands, all mundane but very important, were taken care of by Glenn.

With an eye to making sure his life was broadened, Jonathan and I dragged Glenn to the ballet, the theater, to restaurants, to excursions out of town and having dinner together in our dining room. Every experience was novel for him; life had been limited to a small seaside village and now there were ballet dancers leaping in the air, flavors of a French dish, and views as we ascended Kennon Road to Baguio City.

The first colleges Glenn went to were disasters. They purported to excel in computer science but they were on the cusp of being fraudulent. Teachers weren’t around, had strange attitudes, and were plain stupid. Almost two years of his life was wasted by these computer colleges that were simple rip-offs. Glenn learned more computer just by what we taught him and his practicing on our home computers.

But Glenn was undaunted; he checked out other schools and found Emilio Aguinaldo College, took the test, passed, and enrolled. He decided computers weren’t for him and shifted to Hotel and Restaurant Management.

It was tough for Glenn having to keep up with both school and household chores. The latter would suffer every now and then. I remembered a friend who also took on a young artist-painter to help in her house. She’d sometimes complain about work not being done by saying, "How can you ask Picasso to drop his easel and take out the garbage?" My gentle way of seeing that duties were done was to make Glenn imagine our house as a hotel he was managing and practice what he learned in school. It worked like a charm. When I had parties at home, the house became The Peninsula hotel, every room in perfect order with flower arrangements appearing magically.

It turned out Glenn could cook very well so off he was sent for cooking courses. He was the sort of cook that needed to see me prepare my favorite dishes just once, and after that, all my family recipes were his, cooked perfectly every time.

Glenn was often my window to understanding provincial customs and what was expected of him. He never could save money because much of it went to help his family and his younger brothers going to school. It would grate on me because we had agreed that a part of his salary should go to some school expenses to make him feel he too was contributing to his education. It was admirable that he always thought of his family back home; his father is a carpenter and his mother cooks snack food to sell but the income isn’t steady and never enough. If he was imbued with filial devotion since birth, Jonathan and I were the counterpoint, impressing upon him that he first had a responsibility to himself. His family would benefit more, later, when he finished college.

Long driving trips or weekend mornings were our quality time with Glenn. It was a time to check on his school, his grades and his classmates. He was animated when he’d describe the various activities in school. He was well-liked because he was helpful to his classmates. He may not have had the material advantages that many of his classmates had but he made up for it by being a leader, by having a can-do disposition. He didn’t shy away from volunteering in school activities which meant coming home late to worried foster parents.

Like any doting parent, I wanted Glenn to be a Xerox copy of me instead of what he really wanted to be. In one of my regular grilling moods, castigating him for not being a writer and an art aficionado like me, he replied that his goal was simpler than mine. He dreamt of being a hotel manager, making sure the staff were giving their all, that the restaurants were preparing their very best dishes, that everything was in order including the flower arrangements. To get him closer to his dream, we took him to Singapore and made him visit all the five-star hotels so he’d know what the fanciest hotels looked like and what they demanded from their staff.

At times, Glenn’s tuition payment and other needs would come at a time when my own checking account was on the low side. But it was at those times when I would think about my father and the opportunity given to him. In the thirties my father, a high school graduate, bade goodbye to his poor parents in Pangasinan, boarded a ship for Washington state and joined the over 130,000 Filipino men working in the canneries in Seattle and Alaska or picking fruit in California orchards. Dad endured picking apples and grapes but he wanted more in life.

One day he was in a church in San Francisco praying that he could go to college. The chaplain noticed my father and when he found out what he needed, gave him a sack of coins from the day’s contribution with a note and an address of a professor friend. Dad visited the professor who in turn offered to get him a scholarship at San Francisco State College provided he worked for the professor as a house boy.

Dad graduated with honors and when World War II erupted, he joined the U.S. Army. As a college graduate, he started with the rank of lieutenant. Later, when I was born, Dad would remember the chaplain Fr. Anthony by giving me "Anthony" as a middle name.

Just before Glenn graduated this April, he went back to Zamboanga to attend his brother’s col-lege graduation, another recipient of the "John Silva-Jonathan Best College Fund". There was a party back in Sawang for him and his brother for earning the distinction of being the first in their family to have college diplomas. The two brothers also comprised a third of all college graduates (six in all) coming from their municipality of Sibutad.

When Glenn came back to Manila, he mentioned something I found quite touching. He had known a 22-year-old neighbor’s son in Sawang, who was a high school graduate and wanted to go to college. Glenn made a promise to himself that when he got his first job, he was going to help, however little it may be, to get his neighbor’s son to college. I told Glenn his concern was unusual, helping someone who was not a relative. He replied simply that he had been put through college by two men who were not in any way related to him. He learned that helping other people was as important as helping his own family.

I was looking over the pictures Glenn took of Ray’s graduation party they had at their Sawang house. I was struck by how beautiful their house looked, cemented, with a little garden and a nice living room. I remembered earlier photos he showed me of his house unlike the one I was looking at. When I complimented him on their house he modestly answered that throughout all these years, a portion of his salary went to help build a house for his parents. I guess it’s just hard to wean people away from family obligations. The result though is one that would make any parent proud.

At the graduation ceremonies, Jonathan and I patiently listened to the hundreds of names called out and gazed at the parade of proud men and women in their togas receiving their diplomas. Glenn’s name was called and a young man from Zamboanga, who nine years ago trembled and stuttered his desire to go to college, now strode across the stage, received his diploma and beamed a confident smile to the audience. Was I tearful? Yes, I wept buckets. It was going to be goodbye soon. Hereon, life will be different and boundless for Mr. Glenn Arangcana.
* * *
Glenn is currently doing job applications and interviews. If you are interested or want to know more about providing a scholarship for gifted but underprivileged college students, call Pathways at tel 426-6001 locals 4045 to 4049 or check their website at www.pathwaysphilippines.org

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