October 11, 2010

Slow starters*

I HAVE never been a perfect student.

The nuns and teachers in St. Theresa’s will probably attest to the fact that I was diligent enough and applied myself well all through the elementary grades.

But when I got to high school, I floundered a bit. My math subjects confounded me. Seriously, when would I ever need subjects like algebra? Or trigonometry? (You know how it was when we were teenagers—we’d question everything and rebel against certain ideas.)

In grade school, while I wasn’t a math lover, I could see how the subject was useful. We all still need to add, subtract, divide and multiply, especially when it comes to money. Fractions come in handy when we’re talking about intercompany disputes and, well, uhm...family feuds over inheritance.

But whatever did I need to study sine and cosine for? Bless my teacher Ms. Ortiz wherever she may be, and she was really not the terror she was made out to be by the older girls, but I still can’t figure out why I needed to study trigonometry.

Geometry at least has some practical applications...like playing billiards. In a semi-drunken state at some friend’s birthday one time, I asked my friends who were good at playing pool if they aced their geometry subject in school. They all said yes. Well, it’s all about shooting the ball in the right hole using the perfect angle, isn’t it?

So when I got to fourth year high school, I needed help. I was failing my Trigo and sought another math teacher at St. Theresa’s to tutor me after school, three times a week. Needless to say, I got my act together and managed to pass the subject by the third and fourth quarters. Whew.

In college, I believed I did well in most of the courses. But there were other things that occupied my attention. I was very active in my extracurricular activities, maybe more than the usual student, which would get my Pop all fired up. He would chew my ear out regularly because sometimes he would wait in the car for ages ‘til I decided to appear, but usually it wasn’t because I came from class.

But, hey, the university president, then Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, knew me well enough to offer me a teaching job even before I graduated; I got my class absences wiped out by a few professors just because they liked what I wrote in the paper; and, most important, I got exempted from P.E.! Hahaha.

Seriously, I admit that I probably attended my classes to justify my memberships in the school organizations. I would usually coast along, pushing the allowable absences of each class to the limit, then get to the midterm exams. Depending on the results, I would either study like mad to make sure I passed my final exams for that particularly class, or just do more of the same if I got a good grade.

There were classes that were easy; I passed them even if I was half-asleep most of the time. Most other classes were average—all I needed was just to read up and participate in the discussion, or do the practical work required by the professor.

Then there were a few courses which took more effort to study—these were usually, again, the math-based subjects. Like in high school, I wasn’t ashamed to ask for help when I needed it, and sought it out from my classmates or some guy majoring in that particular field. I would eventually do a good job in the final exams and pass the course. There were very few classes which I dropped, and I usually only did so when the teacher wasn’t inspiring enough to hold my attention.

When I finally graduated, my thesis-mate Chinky and I even managed to each snag a gold medal for producing the Best Project in our Communication Arts batch that year. O, di ba? Overall, I don’t think I really had any major difficulties in the university. I actually enjoyed my time in De La Salle.

All this talk about P-Noy and his failing marks in the first 100 days of his leadership obviously made me look back and assess my own student life. Which is why, despite my thinking that he deserves at least a 76—a grade just above pasang-awa—I think he will still come around.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there are Presidents who are pretty much Dean’s List material the moment they get to Malacañang. They are self-starters, like FVR maybe, who perform brilliantly at the beginning of their term and are consistent throughout, until they step down from office. They come up with the right policies, implement them, and the whole country benefits.

Then there are sluggish ones, like P-Noy, who is like the student that I once was. He has certain strengths in some areas, but in other subjects, he really needs to crack open those books, and ask more knowledgeable people to explain the topics to him. The key is for him to recognize and accept that he needs help, because I’m pretty sure, there are so many smart people willing to extend a hand to him, if only he would asked.

So far, we’re just in the first quarter of his presidency. There is still some time for him to improve those grades. And as any student knows, what’s really most important is making a difference by the third- and fourth-quarter grading periods.

This may not give the rest of us know-it-alls any measure of comfort because it sounds like we’re on a slow boat to China. But I still have just this much hope that P-Noy will take our country where we want it to be in due time. He just needs to get a grip on his own weaknesses, focus more intently and study matters he doesn’t understand, and ask help from the right people. (Published Oct. 8, 2010)

*My column Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.

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