John Robert ‘Jairo’ Bolledo graduated magna cum laude and the top of his BA Journalism batch in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), but no one ever expected that a photo of him delivering his valedictory speech would go viral.
It happened when a doctoral student from the same university by the name of Prestoline Suyat posted the photo on Facebook with a moving caption of how Jairo defied the odds and triumphed over poverty not just to finish his degree but to emerge as the batch valedictorian.
But, what made people who listened to his speech tear up was his revelation that a month before his graduation day, his mom passed on.
Ang nasa larawan ay si Jairo Bolledo, nagtapos ng may pinakamataas na grado sa mga grumaduate kanina na aking nilahukan….
Jairo and his two older sisters grew up in Obando, a small town in the province of Bulacan. He was only eleven months old when his dad died of liver cirrhosis. Consequently, his mom had to take the full responsibility of providing for the family. She sewed clothes, worked as a master cutter and on Sundays, served as a housekeeper for a relative. That’s how she was able to put all her kids through school.
We the Pvblic managed to interview Jairo through email and his answers provide a glimpse into the mind of a man who has been through the worst of life but whose future is so bright!
How would you describe your childhood?
I had a normal childhood. I wasn’t the nerdy type, so I lived a normal life. I was bullied, but it just pushed me to persevere and do everything excellently.
What kind of bullying did you have to deal with growing up?
It was mostly verbal; only a few instances of physical bullying.
What are the most vivid childhood memories that shaped who you are now?
I think it’s when my classmate in third grade told me that my mom should be ashamed because she didn’t even manage to finish primary school. That’s when I realized the inequality in our society; that if you belong to a poor family, you could be treated as someone inferior. But, my mom instilled in me that education is the most powerful tool you can use to face fracas and survive in life. As cliché as it is, education is really something that cannot be taken away from us.
How would you describe your family life after your father died?
I could give insights based on stories I was told. My mom was her family’s breadwinner since she was 10. She managed to send her siblings to school. At the age of 27, she married my dad who was a carpenter. Their marriage only lasted for 10 years because my dad succumbed to liver cirrhosis. That’s when my mom took the full responsibility of working really hard to provide for us. She managed to send us all to school despite her meager income as a dressmaker. I remember eating sardines for lunch. We bought new clothes only during the Christmas season. Her earnings were just enough for our daily needs and for our schooling. But, there were times when we couldn’t pay additional school fees.
In my sophomore year in college, she was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism. The doctors told her to lessen her workload, but because of her determination to give me a degree, she worked much harder despite her condition until she succumbed to her illness just a month away from my graduation day.
Did you and your siblings try to help your mom make money?
My eldest sister had a part-time job, but she had family at a young age, so she extended very minimal support. My other sister didn’t pursue college and married at a young age, too. So, the burden really was on my mother’s shoulders. To cover the expenses, I did part-time jobs, too, and worked as a freelance writer.
Were you always the top of your class?
No, I was a normal student. Inconsistent. There were times when I’d get honors; other times, none. But when I entered college, that’s when I realized that I need to give my all and do everything with passion and determination. I was a consistent President’s Lister and won several competitions. I even represented my university in an international journalism competition.
During my junior year, I sat as the chairman of the premier organization of our program and founded a community journalism project. In my senior year, I was awarded as the Most Outstanding Journalism Student and the Most Active Graduating Student. My undergraduate thesis was recognized as the 2nd Best Journalistic Study and the 3rd Best Quantitative Research. All these awards are attributed to my mom’s dedication, and of course, by God’s grace.
Were you on college scholarship?
I qualified for the CHED Financial Assistance Program, but it wasn’t enough to cover all the expenses. There was a philanthropic man who would, at times when my mom was short, give me financial assistance.
Why did you take up journalism?
Growing up, I want to do a lot of things. I wanted to be a doctor, a teacher, a scientist, even a dancer. When I was in 5th grade, I was invited to join a campus journalism program. That was the start. I have been writing since I was 10.
Aside from that, I’m fond of watching documentary programs that show the state of our nation. I realized that I wanted to become a journalist because of one compelling reason: social justice. I see journalism more than a profession and more than a way to express ourselves. By serving as the fourth estate, journalism can uphold social justice and help our citizenry by giving voice to the voiceless and magnifying conflicts and issues.
"Taong 1997 nang ipanganak ang isang batang lalaki mula sa isang karpinterong ama, at mananahing ina. Parehong di…
How does it feel to graduate magna cum laude and as the batch valedictorian?
I didn’t expect it. I didn’t finish high school with honors. So, when I entered college, I told myself that I just need to infiltrate the Dean’s List. However, by God’s grace, I was consistently on the President’s List and eventually finished as magna cum laude. It’s really an overwhelming feeling, plus the fact that I topped the graduating class. The feeling is surreal.
I am my clan’s first graduate of a bachelor’s degree, so my graduation really means to me and my entire family.
How did you cope with your mom’s passing a month before your graduation?
I almost got depressed. When she died, I still needed to go to school for graduation requirements. Fortunately, I have an ever-supportive family and friends who helped me overcome the situation.
How did you come up with PUP – Pangakong Uunahin ang Pilipinas? What does that mean to you? Or, how do you want people to understand it?
In my speech, I reiterated a few times my gratefulness towards PUP. It has been my home, my breathing room, my citadel. It has taught me lessons that are as precious as gold. More than that, it made me realize the true purpose of being an Iskolar ng Bayan; that is, to use our education to make the society better for every Filipino, most especially those who can’t afford to send themselves to school, just like my parents.
Our graduation is also every Filipino’s graduation. I came up with Pangakong Uunahin ang Pilipinas because the main reason why we graduated is because of our country itself. Without the taxpayers’ money, without the existence of people who value education, we can’t be the individuals that we are today. So, as Iskolar ng Bayan, we must make a vow that everything that we’ll do is for the betterment of others and of our country. I wanted it to serve as a reminder to every Filipino to stay grounded, love our country and be productive and pro-nation individuals.
What are your immediate plans? Will you work in media? Have you started receiving job offers?
Yes, I got offers even before graduation. And yes, I will be working in a television network. 🙂
What’s your message to kids who are struggling to put themselves through college?
No reason should stop us from achieving our dreams. There could always be other means to accomplish things. All we have to do is to look for it, have a strong will and determination, and above all, pray for God’s guidance. Money can never be a hindrance if you are determined enough to finish school. Look for scholarships, ask for other people’s assistance, and of course, strive for excellence.
Are great men born or made? Share your thoughts.
All men are created equal, so that means all of us are great. The only difference is, some know their capabilities and optimize them in the best ways possible, so they achieve and are regarded as great.
We have to understand that we all have distinct characteristics and skills that make us, us. To achieve “greatness”, we must know our skills, trust them, use them in the best ways that we can, and have faith in the Almighty.