Meaning in the mystery

Knowing what it means to take the big leap

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both.”

These lines from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken was my state when I entered senior high. I chose a strand under-assessed, and because of that, I lost the chance to realize my actual wants throughout my two-year stay in Ateneo. But though I missed the ideal road, there were priceless moments that made the journey worth it.

Literature, philosophy, and politics are the three things I thirst for. I was aware they were in HUMSS. However, I lacked the courage to rise above my strong computer influence and familiar expertise. Subsequently, I fell under STEM and considered my interests as only hobbies.

Being in Ateneo was unexpected. Back in the province, I was given the “no scholarship, no Davao” rule. I was unconfident to actually be given a grant. Although I took the exams, I left the results unread and started accepting a sad reality I will soon live, to which I was wrong.

On the last day of our vacation, as I fitted the last of my classic books into my bag to return to Tandag City, my aunt was screaming outside: “scholar ka, Jan!” These words were hard to absorb, the new reality it brought was deafening.

My father always had a stoic demeanor, but as I was sitting in joy, he offered his hand to congratulate me. Surprisingly, he was a tad teary-eyed. Shortly, I got sentimental too. It was later that I’d know my father took an exam in Ateneo three-times and failed. He sure was proud, and my confidence was regained. We stayed in Davao and went to Ateneo for the first time.

Entering the campus was like finally getting permitted by strict parents to play in a mall playground, but instead of an hour limit, it was a two school-year stay (until the pandemic). I’ve always wanted to feel special and holding a Top 500 scholar document felt like I can dominate the world. The thought of being a future student from one of the rooms inside the high grey buildings amplified my ecstasy.

Again, in the enrollment forms, I was asked for my strand. I wish I had the courage and wisdom to question myself. But that time, it was immaterial because I just got accepted, and
Ateneo is an opportunity to gain credit; it felt like it was what the world wanted.

Stories about the university were numerous. The excellence was evident, but I had my own prejudices towards the school, such as being boastful and proud, which I didn’t want to be identified with. It was a quest for confirming truths.

A few weeks later, a free-spirited 16-year-old student stood facing the ‘I love Ateneo’ landmark sign again. It was orientation day, and I followed the crowd to the venue. Some were already in their uniforms, some weren’t. As an intuitive person, something clicked: like me, the campus was just starting in independence, slowly building itself; it was a perfect match.

For the next few months, I met unique individuals who corrected everything I mistook for the school. Many Ateneans are humble and simple, some with striking competitiveness; I was surprised and glad. The negative stories were just overgeneralizations of the students. The school strongly promotes values geared with proper disciplining measures. The institution holds pride, but the kind that brings growth. However, some confuse it as a permit to be irresponsible and end up dragging the school’s image with them.

Grade 11 was my most socially and academically active year as a student. I can really feel being a part of a puzzle. The events were substantial, irresistible, and full of energy. In particular, Christ the King Fiesta and Ignite (Intramurals) were the wildest. What I loved most was the force that erased my shyness. If it meant screaming at the top of my lungs and scratching my throat, it was fun that way, because there were food and music, and everyone was doing it; Ateneo succeeded in making us feel like one.

Another way of belonging was entering clubs. Being a member of the school publication, I still got to keep my academics’ humanities side. One of my proudest moments as a campus journo was when the school’s tabloid — which I personally designed — was published. It was nice to know that the school allocated enough budget for the press.

Being a first-time class president, I had the luxury of serving the public through the Council of the Class Presidents. One of its programs, “Pasasalamat,” brought families to the campus. Parents were given seminars, and kids were entertained in games. I was grateful for the opportunity to aid in a program that actually helped families.

In times of solitude, the library was there. Being surrounded by books was like being home for a long time. I spent all my scholar community services in the library and I always swept the covers clean with passion. Sometimes, when I finish before an hour, the kind librarian allows me to sit and read until the hour is up. (Reading serves the community!)

What always rocked were the food trips and cafe escapes with my Atenean friends, which was the last thing I did before COVID-19. In a glimpse, the school year ended, and summer came early. Left at home, it was easy for my dilemma to resurface.

Early after the school year ended, the shifting of strands was open. Inside me was itching. I knew it was a noise that only being in HUMSS could contain. One afternoon, I started writing the intent to shift. But again, I failed to convince myself.
I managed to redirect the void and guaranteed myself that my passions could wait out. Sometimes, we’re a mismatch for specific paths yet, and that’s what I told myself that day. I discarded the letter and again retreated from my wishes.

Second-year started, and it was undeniable that face-to-face classes were entirely different. Despite that, the school still managed to put us together and made us feel at Ateneo. The energy and culture were the same. There were adjustments in the process, like the lightening of academic loads, and it was effective. However, some students were inconvincible. I was grateful to have a formal education, so I still tried to take things diligently, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel alive.

Truth be told, the classes I had as the year went by grew worthless. It’s just recently that I discovered why I was demotivated. I wanted to wake to a day where I’m doing things not because I need to but because I love to do so. Plus, I was already familiar with strand-specific Pre-Computer Studies courses. I was wasting my time. I was in the wrong strand.

Though I was complying and trying my best to learn, I was just putting up with the days, and I hated it. I didn’t want to pass assignments just for the sake of passing. Though I tried to make something out of it, I just wanted it to end.

As the second year was finishing, my vision gradually became clear. You don’t ever want to settle for less if you know you want better things. I value life enough to choose what I want and where I felt alive. This is why I will be taking up a Journalism degree in college.

I always thought about the path that I missed. Maybe HUMSS meant a happier me. But even though I took a different course, after ages and ages hence, I might still retell them with a sigh. Because where our choices ultimately lead us is unknowable.

Knowing how it all went, I dare say I will keep what I’ve had over an alternate timeline that can probably worsen because what I have might be the best possible version of my life.

Two roads diverged in front of me, and whether I took the road less or more traveled by, either would’ve made all the difference, because life is an unending task of creating meaning in the mystery, and with a genuine and patient heart, meaning is an easy find.

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