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Every year, RFM, together with National BookStore and PLDT, recognize 10 of the country’s brightest students. This year is extra-special because we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Jose Rizal, the inspiration behind TOSP, the 50th founding anniversary of TOSP as well as the TOSP Alumni Community’s 10th-year anniversary themed BAYANi.
TOSP is a project that my father started in his younger days, which I restarted in the late ’80s when the Yellow Revolution brought back democracy. Today, my sister Marie runs the foundation’s day-to-day affairs.
During the event at Malacañang, I sat beside Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who delivered an inspiring speech, as President Aquino could not make it. The ceremony was very touching as all the 10 finalists and their parents had tears in their eyes, realizing the challenges they were able to overcome.
Here are their stories.
Christopher Millora, 21, a Nursing graduate from West Visayas University, is one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines we recognized this year. He dreams that one day the Philippines can be a nation full of empowered citizens so that real change can happen. To get closer to this dream, he started The Little Ilonggo Environmental Heroes, a storytelling and puppet show caravan that visited over 30 communities in Iloilo City, aimed at educating and empowering the youth to care for the environment. Christopher is now working hard to be a teacher to help mold young minds and instill in them that each of us, through our different strengths, can be a bayani.
As a young boy, Jonathan Andro Tan had to sell puto and kutsinta to have enough money to go to school, but that didn’t stop him from chasing his dreams and graduating with high honors from Silliman University. In fact, he believes that poverty made him the resilient person he is today — someone who values the importance of bringing education and leadership training to the less fortunate youth and who hopes that one day Filipinos will all experience a better life. At 20 years old, Jonathan has done a lot for his community in Dumaguete through the youth camps he started to inspire kids to dream and empower them to reach their aspirations.
Another TOSPian who truly reminds us of our national hero Jose Rizal is Kendrick Nigel Tan, who graduated magna cum laude from CEU. Like Rizal, he’s an optometrist who vows to serve the country by extending quality eye health services to the less fortunate. Kendrick believes that reaching out to others through medicine is part of his greater purpose and is his little way of improving the lives of his fellow Filipinos. For him, we can all be bayanis in our own humble ways. His advice is to take all opportunities, do your best and work together for the betterment of our nation.
Sean Vincent Aquilino, who took up BS Biology in UP, had plenty of options after graduation. But he chose the road less traveled, which is to serve by improving scientific research in the Philippines. He believes that by having deeper solutions to our country’s problems, we will soon see a poverty-free Philippines. At 22, he’s already been recognized as an Outstanding Scientist in the Philippines by the BPI-DOST and his scientific research on genetics has been published in an international journal. Sean hopes his work will inspire others to do their share in nation-building. He also encourages the youth to do what they love, what they’re good at, and do it for the country.
Sittie Norhanie Lao is also 22 but she’s already considered an icon of gender equality in Mindanao. Because of her belief that gender, status or age should never hinder anyone from being a bayani and serving the country, she challenged the status quo and worked hard to change minds by being the best example. She became the first female student body president in Mindanao State University-Marawi in its 50-year history. She also represented the Philippines in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in the US, where she learned the programs she has now implemented in her own community. For Sittie, one should never get tired of trying to reach one’s dreams and, most importantly, never settle for second best.
Arleen delos Reyes, a former scholar and our TOSPian representing Region V from the University of Nueva Caceres, has not only been an exemplary student but has also been an inspiring mentor to public school teachers in Bicol, through her computer training program. For Arleen, who’s already a high school teacher at the age of 20, it’s her share in helping teachers develop students who will be future leaders of our country. To her, the challenge for Filipinos is simple: to become leaders in our own way. She believes nation-building is really a way of life. We all just have to do what we do with much dedication and love.
Quality health care for all is the advocacy of Julius Paul Juen from the University of St. La Salle. As a medical student, he vows to work hard to reach this goal in the near future. In fact, he already plans to bring better health services to rural areas in the country, especially to his own barrio in Bacolod. As a TOSPian, Julius hopes to inspire others to serve and lead their communities in their own ways. His challenge to everyone is to do their best, do more and be more for the country. For him, a better and stronger nation is completely possible if we work hard, practice discipline and always extend a helping hand to our fellow Filipinos.
Being a TOSPian is more than just recognition; it’s a call to do extraordinary things for our country, especially for Maria Angelica Reyes, a leadership awardee and cum laude grad from De La Salle University-Lipa. For Maria, everyone’s responsible for nation-building and each of us can be community leaders. She believes that by leading and being a good example, we can inspire people to take charge and be leaders themselves. In her own way, she’s helping her community by spearheading “You and eARTh,” a project promoting environmental care through media and the arts.
The entrepreneurship advocate among our TOSPians is Athena Plaza, who served as the president of the Society of Young Business Executives and Entrepreneurs in the University of San Carlos and also finished with the highest honors in her class. As a Business Administration graduate, she loved entrepreneurship and saw it as a means for social progress. She devotes her time to advocating business reform and social entrepreneurship in order to empower our fellow Filipinos so that they, too, can do their part in strengthening the nation. Through entrepreneurship, Athena also hopes that one day, Filipinos can get rid of colonial mentality and be completely proud of our own country.
Another TOSPian recognized not only for his outstanding academic performance and socio-civic programs but also for his optimism in life is Geminn Louis Apostol. From a poor schoolboy in the rural community of San Luis, Pampanga, he worked extra-hard to become a Health Sciences graduate of Ateneo de Manila University and one of our 10 inspiring awardees. His humble roots have always motivated him to reach out to underprivileged communities in the country. He started “Partnership for Health,” aimed at promoting and extending quality health care to the less fortunate. For Geminn, no one is too young, too old or too poor to make a difference. He believes the Philippines can truly become a strong nation if we all practice simple acts of kabayanihan each day.
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