OBTAINING THE SEAL OF TRUE EXCELLENCE:
a test of heart that involves breaking the paradigm
It is June 2, 2008—a bright, sunny morning, with birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze…
and then there are the 8 lines of lost looking kids standing to the right of the flagpole area—fresh meat that’s ready to be put on the chopping block, according to all those observing their every move.
They pass the first test, enduring 30 minutes of glaring sunlight, technical difficulties and mundane welcome speeches. Heck, they even hurdle the second, successfully navigating unfamiliar territory to reach their first class on time without any guidance.
But the third… it was the reality check, and this test was not as simple as the first two. In fact, it would be more taxing to grasp than the 2 NCE screenings they all had to take combined. Because this test was different. It was a test of heart.
What was the first question?
“Sino rito ang nag-graduate as valedictorian sa elementary?” A handful stand.
“Salutatorian?” More follow suit.
“Honorable mention?” By this time, the whole class was standing.
So where was the challenge in that?
Knowing that you were in the same room as others who were at par with, or perhaps even better than you could throw you off your game entirely. Realizing that what you had gotten yourself into was indeed, the real deal, could make you crumble under pressure.
But that was not enough, for it was the teacher’s next words that held the real challenge.
“I’m sure you are now aware of how much importance Philippine Science gives to excellence. You’re already on your way to proving your worth, and this institution will rear you towards true excellence. True excellence—this is what you will discover in your four years here, should you be strong enough to fight until the end,” she said.
The room was silent as her words permeated the air, each student seemingly absorbing their magnitude. Some thought that this challenge was a no-brainer—get high grades and you’re all set, for life just repeats itself, and if it was done in Grade School, it could be done here. Some were already starting to give in to the pressure, doubting their decision and wondering if there was still a way out.
“This institution weeds out those who are unwilling to pursue excellence. Only those who are ready to give it their all will remain,” were the teacher’s final words.
And then the bell rang.
It is March 2, 2012; an entire 45 months have passed since fate had brought them to their very first flag ceremony.
Where are they now?
They are trudging through the hallways of the 3rd Floor, weighed down by their 1500-page Physics books. They are sitting in the gazebos with a bottle of Rugby, trying to fix their ancient school shoes that had thinning soles and were obviously beyond repair. They are in the comfort room, examining the dark rings under their eyes. They are holding papers with many red Xs and unthinkable scores (think 3/40) encircled at the top margin. They are in the cafeteria, downing some odd-tasting concoction labeled “energy drink”, trying to shake off the fatigue from all the sleepless nights.
At first glance, they are in bad shape.
For where had their first year selves gone? Where is the 12-year old who cried over his first failing Math test on inequalities, vowed to himself that he would perfect the next exam and made do on that promise? Where is the little boy, not even 5 feet tall, who had so much discipline to finish all schoolwork at home, read lessons in advance, and managed to sleep at 9:30 sharp nightly? Where was the young girl whose eyes twinkled in wonder whenever a new topic would be introduced, eager to discover and learn?
Have they been replaced by people who have lost their thirst for knowledge and who are seemingly content with barely passing? Have they exchanged their younger selves’ discipline for convenience (read: mediocrity)?
Where have all the talks and lectures gone? Did they go in one ear and out the other? With each year that passes, they are reminded even more of the task at hand, and yet at the end of 4 years, it is like they’ve lost track of the challenge completely. Does this mean that they are proof of an irony—the irony that as the institution continues to push them towards a goal, the more they stray from it?
We now go back to what the first year teacher mentioned. True excellence—what could she have meant? Did she mean academic excellence, wherein one’s proof of worth could be a pristine report card, with nothing lower than a 1.0? Did she mean that there was nothing below E in all the aspects of conduct and morals? Did she mean never losing, whether in a football game or a quiz bee? All of these definitions for “excellence” are not on point, as many of us have been disillusioned by our Asian upbringing and longtime paradigm. All of these stand for perfection. This is not excellence.
These students have surpassed 4 years’ worth of challenges, and they have hurdled many difficulties that typical high school students would not be able to conquer. They have pulled several all-nighters. They have dealt with substandard grades and then they had to endure actually being called substandard. (“Akala ko ba Pisay ka? Ba’t di ka matalino?”) They were told that the curriculum was made easy for them, and had it been any more difficult, more of them would be failing. They were scolded for being less than perfect.
All of this should’ve been enough to push them off the edge. But they are still hanging on, some by a thread, but still hanging on nonetheless. Society’s flawed definition of excellence took its toll on them, and yet they did not crumble. They are still standing; some damaged, but not beyond repair.
This is TRUE EXCELLENCE—going past adversity and looking at it as an opportunity to grow. Taking crushing blows that would’ve meant the end but still finishing the fight. Being confronted by painstaking challenges and not choosing to give up.
“Striving for perfection is demoralizing. Striving for excellence motivates you.”
(1) How I know I’m still a tourist after 6 weeks of staying in Hong Kong:
- I still get mini heart attacks whenever I see that the person on the “supposed” driver’s seat isn’t watching the road… but then I realise that they’re sitting on the passenger’s seat, and that the driver’s controls for the cars here are on the right.
- I still convert everything to Philippine peso, and then I sigh at how this waffle slathered with condensed milk and peanut butter costs 80 pesos. (It’s just 55php in my suki Belgian Waffle place at Rob Ermita/Eastwood!!!)
- I still take pictures of the skyline and of touristy-places for Instagram purposes. :))
(2) However, there are telltale signs of my assimilation of culture, all thanks to my wonderful local friends who are slowly succeeding in “HK-fying” me. I now refer to the trash can as “the rubbish bin”. One thing I will never get over though, is how department stores are practically limited to 2,000HKD++ clothes. Gosh, Henry Sy should totally put up an SM here. He he he.