Jeepney Driver’s Daughter Inspires as Ateneo de Manila’s Batch 2019 Valedictorian

With tuition fees of roughly Php100,000 per semester or at least Php200,000 a year, based on information posted on their official website, Ateneo de Manila University is certainly not a school for poor people.

For this reason, everyone was definitely amazed when a poor jeepney driver’s daughter was able to graduate from the school – and was even hailed as the Batch 2019 valedictorian! Wow. Isn’t that incredible?

Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña graduates as Class Valedictorian for Batch 2019 at the Ateneo de Manila University, having completed her course of Bachelor of Arts major in Management Economics, minor in Development as Program Awardee and Cum Laude.

Photo credit: Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña / Facebook

What made Hyacenth truly stand out from other Ateneo valedictorians is that she’s not the typical student that one would expect to study at this private school, one of the most expensive in the Philippines.

Truth be told, most of the students in the school come from moneyed families – and a poor jeepney driver’s daughter whose family sometimes can’t eat a good meal three times a day isn’t exactly rich. But though she had no money, she had brains – and she was among the lucky ones who received full scholarship from the university.

In her essay submitted as part of her application for valedictorian selection, Hyacenth shared the challenges she and her family faced, and how Ateneo helped her achieve her dreams.

She wrote:

“My father is a jeepney driver, whose example taught me to work harder than everyone else—not only because hard work is high dignity but also, while it is no guarantee of success, anything less than that for us would mean complete failure. I always worked harder than everyone else to get the same opportunities they had. It’s the least I can do to compensate for my lack of privilege. This is a reality of life I have long embraced: shouting as jeepney barker for my father to taking odd jobs in high school. I worked hard to be here.

…I was raised in poverty—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. I was seven years old when I joined my first rally. I stood with my father at the frontline of a jeepney strike that aimed to raise the minimum fare. For some, the rising price of fuel meant less profit. For my family, it meant skipping another meal; it meant more debt and more promissory notes.”

Photo credit: Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña / Facebook

But the young lady acknowledged, too, that she wouldn’t be in Ateneo if there were no generous people who helped finance her college education in the prestigious school.

“Yet, I am aware that my full scholarship exists not because I simply earned it. All my work would have been for nothing if there was no slot on offer in the first place. I am here because someone, by the grace of their heart, gave generously to fund my education. I am here because a generous Ateneo exists, where someone like me who does not share the wealthier background of the common Atenean can be entrusted with the Presidency of the school’s Student Council.

In a generous Ateneo, one can hope. That is as much a statement of my unwavering faith as it is an indication of a greater problem. Everything I have accomplished in Ateneo has depended on the precondition of a generous Ateneo. And while it is a place that I have been able to reach, it remains beyond the hopes of many of our fellow citizens. My success is an exception, not the norm: rarely do we see a child from the poorest of the poor climb her way up to one of the top universities in the country, and become its highest student representative.”

Indeed, Hyacenth was not just an ordinary student of the university. Even though she was poor, she didn’t fade in the background among the other students.

Instead, she excelled in various ways and became a highly esteemed student who would later become the President of Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, the University Student Council.

Aside from being chosen as the Batch 2019 Valedictorian, she also receives other awards as she graduates Cum Laude and the Program Awardee for Management Economics. She is also the recipient of the 2018 Most Outstanding Jose Rizal Model Student of the Philippines Awardee, Most Outstanding Individual for Leadership and Service, St. Ignatius Award for Most Outstanding Scholar, and recognized as Bridging Leader by Asian Institute of Management.

With so many achievements to her name, it is truly amazing that a jeepney driver’s daughter could achieve such a feat at Ateneo de Manila University. She must surely be a brilliant young lady! Congratulations!

Sources: Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña / Facebook, Ateneo