As the old adage goes, happiness is in all the simple magnificence of life. This holds true for Jennifer Marie Rodriguez who, despite graduating magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines Diliman, would rather focus on the intangible treasures one could not get from achievements alone.
Rodriguez was endowed with the second-highest Latin honor during UP Diliman's commencement exercise last July 30. The public administration major earned the award for achieving a general weighted average (GWA) of 1.21.
While the great amount of blood, sweat, and tears Rodriguez exhausted on this feat is not one that could be downplayed, the student achiever initially saw the award as a sign that her best still wasn't enough to land her on her batch's top spot. Rodriguez opened up about this in a viral Facebook post she shared last July 27.
She wrote, "The GWA for Summa Cum Laude is 1.20. My GWA is 1.21."
"As someone who has tied her self-worth with academic validation, I was deeply disappointed in myself," she continued. "I studied hard, recited whenever possible, overextended myself, and yet, one elective that was not even required in my curriculum suddenly pulled down my grade."
Rodriguez revealed in her Facebook post that she didn't tell people she was running for summa cum laude for fear that she "wouldn't attain it." She handled the news of her graduating with the second-highest Latin honor in the same way—all by herself.
"Now, that fear has come true, and as I write this essay, I'm having doubts if I should even publish this. I'm scared to know that maybe people would feel and think the same way—that instead of being proud, they would rather become disappointed because a .01 difference could have made me included in the history of UP's Summa Cum Laude," she wrote on her Facebook post.
Rodriguez told PhilSTAR L!fe that she didn't take the news lightly, spending weeks in isolation because she "didn't want to be a burden to anyone."
At that time, the student achiever "couldn't sleep or eat properly," she wrote in her Facebook post. "As I look back, I realize I never felt proud of myself. I never felt enough. I am even paralyzed by people's judgment that being this vulnerable on social media even scares the hell out of me," she added.
Apart from the pressure to always be the best in what she does, Rodriguez admitted that part of her sadness came from having to make choices that "narrowed [her] vision of what truly matters" in life just so she could reach her goal.
She continued, "I forgot to be happy that I would cancel plans with friends, spend most of my time in my room or in cafes to study, and just read and write essays as much as possible; that even when I'm out, I always have this thought at the back of my mind that I should be studying, I should be studying, I should be studying."
Rodriguez's turning point
It was also Rodriguez's friends and loved ones who have been supportive of her "despite her shortcomings," that inspired the student achiever to look at the good in her situation.
"It wasn't my achievements or my grades that made this life worth living—it was when I played with my pamangkins," she wrote in her post. These priceless moments include those times she would get warm hugs from her nephew Luis and niece Olivia, and those times his nephew Primo would use his "most heartwarming voice" to ask her to play with him. It was also when she and Olivia would record videos for their vlog and when Rodriguez would go to Cabanatuan "to spend time" and "do mundane things" with her other niece, Chachi.
As I learned in my Arts 1 class, happiness is therefore in the little things, the breaks in between, that we often overlook.
She told L!fe that her decision to post her sentiments on Facebook signifies that she has finally accepted her fate with a grateful heart. "It was my way of letting go of the summa cum laude dream and focusing on what’s in front of me, that is, the love that the people around me are trying to show me regardless of my grades or achievements," she said.
On top of that, the experience allowed Rodriguez to appreciate herself better—with or without being the best in her field.
"Most importantly, it’s my first step in finally learning how to love myself properly and recognizing the hard work I have been exerting all these years. I pushed through with it because I wanted people to know that I didn’t achieve my dream, but it’s okay because I am still proud of myself, this time, without conditions," she revealed to L!fe.
"These past few weeks, I have been crying because I wasn’t able to attain my goal, but today, I’m crying with happy tears because hundreds of people are saying they are proud of me regardless of my achievements," she added.
It's the same kind of self-love that the aspiring "lawyer to the people" wants to instill in the 1,000+ social media users who have so far reacted to her Facebook post.
Rodriguez concluded it by saying, "As I learned in my Arts 1 class, happiness is therefore in the little things, the breaks in between, that we often overlook. I was so focused on attaining the grade that I wanted that I forgot why I was studying so hard in the first place—to help build a society where kids would grow up in a just and humane country."
"So, I hope if you're still reading my monologue until right now, I hope you realize what truly matters to you the most and hold on to it. Finally, I hope you know that you are enough."