Looking in Hindsight: The FEU Class of 2022 Valedictorians

FEU Advocate
July 18, 2022 08:31

By John Vincent C. Cruz, Jemina Eunice G. De Leon, and Yuichi Desquitado

Years of endless sacrifice and ardent labor brought the Far Eastern University (FEU) Manila Class of 2022 valedictorians to their long-awaited desire of finishing the quest toward scholastic excellence. As the graduating Tamaraws bid their farewell, the batch valedictorians Rey Matthew James Volante, Glann Leo Santiago, Raleigh Justine Catibog, Nicole Bianca Kwan, and Krizia Mae Villamil reminisced on their compelling stories of failure, hope, and victory.

With so many things to be said about students of our generation, one remains to be true and vital—to become one of the greats that younger people would look up to someday.  

Yearly, we celebrate and recognize the hard work of outstanding students. From one batch to another, these individuals shared their own tales of perseverance—passing the torch to those who are struggling to find hope in their academic journey. But what made the past two years different was the peculiar circumstances that students were brought into due to the global health crisis. 

Setback after setback, it was as if the blood, sweat, and tears were not enough to carry out their hopes and dreams, which once seemed so easy to attain. Notably, this batch was the pioneer of the K-12 curriculum, which remains a controversial issue on whether it has significantly helped in preparing the students for the real world.

Reflecting on their own experiences, the FEU Class of 2022 Valedictorians are living proof that while college life may not be as stable as we thought it would be, there is still a chance to find the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

The power of grief, loss, and choices

“I am the person I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” These were the words that summa cum laude Rey Matthew James D. Volante shared during his valedictory speech. He spoke about the essence of making choices, and how these can drastically change one’s life trajectory.

As a recipient of two scholarship grants, the Biology major entered the University with pride and honor. He initially wanted to focus on his studies but somewhat changed his mind when he discovered his other purpose—to serve the Green and Gold Community. From then on, he was not merely a student as he also became a light to those in need.

While dealing with the highs and lows of college life, Volante's parents became his primary motivation. Unfortunately, during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, both of his parents tragically succumbed to the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Despite all the hardships and struggles, Volante has chosen to rise above the ashes while playing his cards right. He did not waste any opportunity given to him because it was all he had.

“My father used to say that because we were poor, I cannot do anything poorly. I had to be at my best all the time because opportunities do not easily come to poor people like me,” the summa cum laude said.

For the most part, Volante owes the fulfillment of his aspirations to the University, which has helped him every step of the way. Although challenging moments are inevitable in every endeavor, he reiterated that one should be able to find their true purpose to keep going and eventually break away from the darkness of the past.

(READ: Volante's valedictory address full transcript)

Pursuit of continuous growth

Like any other student, Glann Leo Santiago only wanted to exude excellence in everything he did. Captivated by the track record of the University, he dedicated four years of his life as a Medical Technology student and found joy in serving the FEU community.

Santiago’s exposure to student organizations honed his critical thinking skills, enabling him to explore various ways to accommodate student concerns. Aside from this, he noted that the University is a safe space for open dialogues, making it easier for him to suggest possible alternatives on specific issues.

Mostly driven by his pursuit of continuous growth, the magna cum laude graduate triumphed over many sleepless nights. However, Santiago had his fair share of rock bottom experiences that tested his patience.

During the lowest points of his academic journey, he expressed his frustration over the need to offer more than the bare minimum. Then suddenly, a silver lining occurred—he realized that his future responsibilities are bigger than his desire to maintain his scholarship or ambition to gain a Latin honor. After all, it was all for the Filipino families and children who deserve nothing but excellent service.

Santiago acknowledged that his journey to achieving a Latin honor is a steep road, which made his chances of ever getting one seemed elusive. Nonetheless, he shared some advice with those who aspire to be one.

"Do not aim to be a valedictorian, rather, aim to be an excellent student and an impactful member of your community inside and outside our alma mater," Santiago reminded fellow graduates.

(READ: Santiago’s valedictory address full transcript)

Unwavering resilience vs. challenges

Hailing from the sanctuary of the Tamaraws, the Oriental Mindoro native Raleigh Justine Catibog is this year’s Institute of Accounts, Business, and Finance (IABF) valedictorian. Catibog graduated with an undergraduate degree in Business Administration (Leadership and Human Capital Track) and earned a Latin honor of summa cum laude.

Recalling the earlier parts of her collegiate journey, Catibog almost had a gap year as she had a difficult time deciding on what program to pursue as the K-12 program left her more confused than what is expected—but the entrance scholar got through the indecision and had chosen the degree that resonated the most with her desire to serve and lead the people.

During her stay at the University, Catibog also had some fair share of troubles, mainly juggling multiple schoolwork all at once. To help manage her time and responsibilities, Catibog keeps herself updated with checklists and calendars so that no obligations and errands will be left forgotten and unfinished. Living the dorm life, she is strict in following the said checklist every day—which helped her a lot in managing her time efficiently.

Despite the troubles she had gone through, the Business Administration graduate was feeling positive as she revisited some Tatak Tamaraw moments that helped her endure its hardships. 

She recalled her last time seeing the One Concierto Piyu in person just this past term as she was always a fan of the prestigious music events and concerts held at the University and the beautiful firework displays post-event.

Coincidentally, Catibog supported and cheered for her friends who were participating in the IABF Intramurals, which were a few days before the start of countless lockdowns have started.

Right then, the ever-cheerful and lively summa cum laude was stumped as the pandemic happened, yet it also taught her something essential. 

“One takeaway from this pandemic is that while resilience is there, it is important to celebrate all kinds of wins, big or small, and not to be hard on ourselves,” Catibog said in her address at the last commencement exercises in the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). 

When one feels troubled and dismayed, she wants to emphasize to her fellow graduates in her address that one should avoid succumbing to sabotaging oneself as each mistake contributes to one’s growth of strength.

(READ: Catibog’s valedictory address full transcript)

Choice to fight, lead, and dream

Initially, former Institute of Nursing Student Council (INSC) President Nicole Bianca Kwan wanted to take up Bachelor of Science in Psychology but had to abandon her ambitions in favor of her parents’ appeal. She did not sulk into anger or grief when she failed to pursue her dream degree program. But instead, she set her eyes on the great things she may encounter ahead during her scholastic expedition. 

“Rather than feeling disappointed at myself, I settled with the idea that maybe I was given this only choice because something big was in store for me in this field,” she recalled.

As one of the forerunners of the K-12 curriculum, Kwan was concerned about the “experimentation” phase of the program. But she then realized that with her participation, the learning system would be more refined for the students next in line.

For the Nursing major, returning to the University to attend a WRP session after an 8-hour duty shift from work is her certified Tatak Tamaraw memory as she has chosen to “be brave,” demonstrating the core values of the University. Through it all, she was incessant in accomplishing her duties.

Despite persistence, the pandemic became Kwan's greatest drawback. Having no choice but to spend her ‘most fun’ years of her life stuck at home, the magna cum laude graduate’s mental and physical health began to decline. Regardless of these obstructions, Kwan decided that whatever life had thrown at her, she would come back stronger—and of course, do anything to fulfill her dreams.

“Despite the number of times you trip, get disappointed, fail or even lose the passion to do so–always choose to dream,” Kwan expounded.

(READ: Kwan’s valedictory address full transcript)

From falling behind to getting ahead

Unlike her batchmates, Krizia Mae Villamil was a transferee who was not able to partake in the K-12 learning experience. She went from the thresholds of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) to the evergreen campus of the University of the Philippines (UP). But after her mental health significantly deteriorated, Villamil decided to take a step back. During those moments of rest and solitude, she found salvation in Thy Happy Halls.

Villamil looked back on this experience fondly, grateful for the warm welcome she received through the challenging times of her life. 

“FEU opened its doors to me and gave me another chance at studying. I knew I had to do my best to make up for the years I was unhappy with college and feeling like a failure,” she remembered.   

Having a clean slate to begin with, the Fine Arts major knew that in her first year in college that she wanted to graduate with honors. After numerous sacrifices and endless cups of coffee, she pursued the art of compromise—understanding what you can and cannot do during a certain time. This has helped the magna cum laude to balance all responsibilities at once.

During her years inside the green and gold campus, it was the shifting to online learning during the pandemic that made the road to success seem rockier. It was a hard adjustment for her as she was away from her friends and compared to face-to-face classes—wherein it was conducive.

Now at 26, Villamil stayed at FEU and finished her degree with flying colors. In her valedictory speech, she proved to everyone that her failures and the years she fell behind helped her align her field in creating art for the good of our environment. The setbacks she had been acquainted with became a stepping stone to becoming the person that she is now. 

Para sa kalikasan (for the environment)” became Villamil's vision as an artist, serving as a reminder that the failures we experience bring out the best versions of ourselves. She owes it to the University for instilling the three core values—fortitude, excellence, and uprightness.

(READ: Villamil’s valedictory address full transcript)

These anecdotes of profound sadness, newfound optimism, and sublime success may resonate not only in Thy Happy Halls, but also with the younger generation of fighters, dreamers, and visionaries. The people behind these stories have truly represented what FEU students really are—brave, excellent, and upright.

Equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences, the FEU Class of 2022 is ready to step up and participate in various fundamental societal roles. In this exciting new chapter, they will serve as the blueprint for the youth to follow—paving the way to eventually surpass the giants that came before them.