Daughter of jeepney driver graduates as valedictorian in Ateneo

MANILA, Philippines – A daughter of a jeepney driver, who is set to graduate as a valedictorian in a prestigious school shared a moving essay about social injustice, generosity and hope.
Daughter of jeepney driver graduates as valedictorian in Ateneo de Manila

Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña has a long list of accomplishments. Aside from being the president of the student council of Ateneo de Manila University, she is also 2018 Most Outstanding Jose Rizal Model Student of the Philippines Awardee, recipient of the 2019 Loyola Schools Awards for Leadership and Service Most Outstanding Individual.

To top it all off, she will graduate as Cum laude and Program Awardee for Management Economics and the Ateneo de Manila University Class 2019 Valedictorian.

Daughter of jeepney driver graduates as valedictorian in Ateneo de Manila
Photo Credit: Facebook/Hyacenth Bendaña

But her biggest accomplishment is more than these accolades. For Bendaña, her success is an example of rising from poverty to achieve her dreams of graduating in one of the best universities in the country.

She wrote on her qualifying essay for Valedictorian Selection, "There was never enough food on our table, my parents were not always regular employees, and as students, my sister and I had childhoods filled with promissory notes for delayed tuition fee payments."

Being a daughter of a jeepney driver, Bendaña learned to stand in frontlines of jeepney strikes. She talked about her struggles and social injustices she had faced. Her lola died after three hospitals turned them down because they didn't have money for the downpayment.

Bendaña's father is "jobless because the government phased out our jeepney in the name of hollow modernization, and even before the very policy for it was passed.”

As an ADMU scholar, Berdaña went on to talk about the sad reality of "poor children" having no equal opportunities. While she is lucky, she felt disappointed that her success was somehow dependent on other people's generosity.

Berdaña explained, "The success of one person should not depend on the virtue of another."

“Generosity is the exception, not the norm in this country," she added.

Bendaña continued that while she is grateful for someone's generosity that enabled him to study, she hoped that more can be done.

She explained, “Only in a generous Ateneo is it possible that the daughter of a jeepney driver from one of the most remote sitios in Bicol can aspire to their same education and heroism, too. If my story can help make Ateneo even more generous and, at the same time, help others go beyond generosity and act for systemic change, I know I am doing things right.”

Berdaña hopes that our country would provide more opportunities for underprivileged children to build their dreams.

She said, "Inequality in the Philippines means that there is a hill, and the rest is down from the hill. We must dream of something better than this."

In the end, the proud graduate offered her success to her family. Berdaña thanked her father "whose hard work taught me to never give up" and mother "whose ambition taught me to demand greater things than what my social limitations may allow."

— Sally, The Summit Express

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