How Much Does a Toga Cost, Actually?

… Sorry, this isn’t about toga prices. Not literally. But I hope it’ll give you a hint on the price tag of education…

Date of Writing: 2015 April 02

Lots of people wonder why I only graduated today. It was because I could not afford a toga rent in 2013…

Okay, that’s the short version. Here’s the long one:

After high school, I had to wait for 4 years before I could step into college. During the first two years of “waiting”, I was in Manila, working on any job available… housemaid, yaya, sales girl, seafood plant worker, and a beer house waitress (yes, you read it right ).

It was during those years that my eyes opened at how harsh life can be for a mere high school graduate. I would ride jeepneys along with lively uniformed college students, and my eyes would pop out with yearning, my heart green with envy of the opportunity they have.

And then I found a nice man, 18 years my senior, who agreed to send me to college in exchange for an engagement. And so I got engaged and left Manila with a promise: that I’ll never go back there unless I hold a diploma in my hand.

But then my nice man failed to mention that schooling will have to wait (again) until we build a farm for ourselves out of his 10-hectare land. So I became a farmer’s “unmarried wife” for another two years, in the remotest part of Bukidnon province. For the first time in my life, I learned to use the farmer’s tools… plant, care for, harvest, and sell crops and vegetables. I even learned the ways of the wives of local native tribes. We would wait until a harvest is done, and then forage through what’s left in the corn fields, or rice straws after threshing… all under the unforgiving heat of the sun.

The calendar announced 2008 and my “inner monster” refused to wait any longer.

Not even our constant failure of rice and corn harvests or the disapproval of my fiance’s cousins could stop me from enrolling to college. Stepping into the gates of Bukidnon State University for the first time to take up my entrance exam felt like a fairy tale to me. I drank everything in, hungry and thirsty of the scent of school and everything it offers.

But first year was hardly a fairy tale. I would go home to the farm every other week, my little pocket hoping for some allowances, but sometimes there was not enough.

There were days that I’d have to harvest what’s left of the vegetable garden, or catch one or two chickens, carry them with me to the “barrio” (about 4 kilometers walk from our farm) and sell them from house to house, just so I’d have enough fare for a bus going back to the city. Sometimes, a whole week would pass by with only salt and plain rice for meals, but I was just too happy to go back to school that I just shrugged off every hardship thrown at me. Expenses on school projects seemed like a nightmare, but I managed to comply with the help of my then best friend, Kim Delfin, who’s always ready to lend me money.

For my first required summer OJT, I was fortunate enough to have it at “our” municipal hall. Though it meant I won’t need to spend on rent in the city, there was still the challenge of having to walk up to 8 kilometers everyday just to get to the municipal’s Human Resource Office where I was admitted as Computer Operator intern. Sometimes, there would be “little” adventures on the side when it rains hard and I’d have to cross angry rivers (with the aid of that little flashlight at the butt of a lighter) just to get home.

And since floods and “heat stroke” and occasional rice field cobras failed to kill me, I completed my first year in college… but was forced to stop for a year after that because finances were just not enough. I spent that year with my mom, whose employer opened a plant branch in Surigao City, and so I worked again as a seafood piece-rate worker.

After a year, “inner monster” woke up again and refused to stay any longer with the lobsters and frozen octopus…

When I came back in 2010, I faced the challenge of adjusting to a new batch of “alien” classmates, getting envious with my former batch mates who were already a year ahead of me… and still struggling with tuition fees. My pockets almost gave up again by just the end of first semester. Making things worse, I became a victim to robbery that left a minor knife scar on my neck.

But I refused to get crushed by circumstances and converted them to stepping stones. As soon as the culprit was caught, the native “Datu” who settled the crime demanded a sort of “damage fee” from the culprit’s family. And that damage fee became my tuition fee for the second semester! What better way to end a “tragedy”, don’t you think?

By the end of 2nd semester, It all seemed to me that two years is all I could afford to complete… until one of my classmates stopped schooling, and I became her successor to a scholarship (all thanks to Ma’am Marilou Ondap Espina who recommended me, and to then VPAA Dr. Cornelia T. Partosa who admitted me to the scholarship program).

I managed to pursue my two remaining years through the big help of Negros Navigation Scholarship.

Then came my Internship in OXIOR Inc. (formerly Doworth Corp.) in Cebu City. Because I could not afford to take my two required summer OJTs during my 2nd and 3rd year, I had to take all three of them in OXIOR, including the 490-hour internship. I finished after 8 months (by the end of August, 2013), the reason why I could not graduate together with my classmates in March that year.

A hard work rewarded, the company hired me immediately after my internship. I grabbed the offer, since I didn’t have any money to come back to Bukidnon anyway, which became the reason why I could not graduate in 2014, either.

Then came my regularization at work. With my supervisors, Sir Kenworth Sicsic and Ma’am Nympha Espanueva in all-out support, and with my ever instant “credit card” mom and all-time hero, Rachel Descalso, I managed to earn my keep and finally able to squeeze this day into my schedule… and budget.

Then there’s still the battle with INCs that greeted me as I stepped back into Bukidnon – unreconciled responsibilities caused by my 2-year absence. But all thanks to my understanding mentors, and with the ultimate support of my amazing chairperson Ma’am Rozanne Tuesday Gonzales-Flores, my name has finally joined the list of candidates for graduation… literally, in the nick of time!

And… that’s it.

I am 7 years late in wearing this toga. It’s been a long wait, but it’s all worth it, because now I can officially claim that I am Rose Eden S. Descalso, a graduate of BS Information Technology.

… and now that everything’s said and done, you may now forget my real name and go back to calling me Flame Denise! Thanks for reading πŸ™‚