These words were part of a passionate speech given by Iah Bantang Seraspi at a testimonial dinner for the new teachers of Romblon State University (RSU) in December.
Seraspi, a fisherman's daughter, has not let poverty hinder the attainment of her dreams—in fact, the 21-year-old notched the second highest score at the 2015 Board Licensure Examination for Professional Teachers (BLEPT), obtaining an average rating of 90.00 and making history as the very first Education major from RSU to land as a BLEPT topnotcher.
"Since I started schooling, feeling ko mayaman na kami kapag nakapag-ulam ako ng noodles sa agahan kasi usually ang ulam ko ay tsitsiriya, kape, asin, asukal o kahit ano basta lang may lasa ang aming kanin. Imagine the nutrition I get from those foods yet I am an achiever in school," Iah said. "'Di naman nila makikita ang laman ng tiyan ko, but they will definitely see the capacity of my brains."
The eldest of the three children of fisherman Miguel Roa Seraspi and his wife Susan, Iah was always an academic achiever, finishing as class salutatorian at Looc Central Elementary School and class valedictorian at Looc National High School. She passed the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), but chose to stay in Romblon and go to RSU instead.
“Many knew how poor we are but not everybody will understand how it feels to be one. There are many worries. There are many doubts. There are many uncertainties. There are many ‘what ifs?’ So I chose the safest decision—to find my fortune here at RSU," she said. She earned her degree at RSU with the help of a local family, the Esquejos. Iah's great-grandmother had been a long-time tenant of theirs, and they had been unable to help her before she died. The family, therefore, pledged to help Iah with her college education.
Iah drew strength from her circumstances—poverty, malnutrition, endless dark nights, and a flood that almost took everything they owned. “Siguro hindi rin kayo maniniwala kung sasabihin ko na I was already 21 years old when we had electricity in our house," she told the attendees at the dinner. "Literally speaking, I was really burning the midnight lamp for how many years of studying my lessons, kaya napakapalad ninyo kung ipinanganak kayo na may liwanag na ang buhay. Napakahirap po talaga. So, make the most out of it to improve your education."
Nationwide, 81,463 examinees took the BLEPT last September. According to results released by the Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) and the Board for Professional Teachers (BPT), 34,010 or 41.75% of the examinees passed.
“Passing the BLEPT is a blessing, topping it is a reward,” said Iah, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education (BSED) with a major in Biological Science from the RSU's main campus in Odiongan.
After graduating, Iah did not immediately accept any job offers, but prepared a rigorous study plan to cover all the subjects to be included in the licensure exam. She was already in Odiongan a month prior to the formal review classes doing a surface review, but when the diagnostic exams were already administered, she became anxious and challenged.
“I felt that I had so much to learn yet. Our formal review class was from five to nine. But only after that the real review for me had just begun. The first thing I did upon arriving home was to read a book and that would also be the last thing on my hand before I slept. There was never a day that I did not read books, even during my birthday and other special occasions. Even if I was using my phone, I was reading the review materials I downloaded from different sites. Whenever I was signed in on Facebook, I participated in on-line reviews.”
Her self-imposed review protocols became more intensive as the examination fast approached. She studied until the wee hours and read 10 books from cover to cover as well as the handouts and materials given by the review center. “I secretly wrote in my notebook these words: 'Goal: To top the BLEPT; Deadline: September 27, 2015.' This is to remind me every day that I have a goal to meet and to avoid procrastinating," she said.
Iah is quick to attribute her success, which caused a stir in the academe and on social media, to God. “During the examination, I really felt that God’s favor was upon me. I was so relaxed. It seemed that the examination was made for me. Truly, if we pray, God works,” she said.
She also recounted the moment when she learned of the BLEPT results. “I was performing a song number on stage in a large gathering of the faithful in the town of Odiongan. We were singing, ‘The Best Time of my Life.’ After the performance, I received a call informing me of the good news. It was more than my mind can conceive. Indeed, that was the best time of my life.”
During her speech, Iah thanked all her teachers—from elementary school to college—as well as her friends, coaches, classmates, fellow parishioners and the review center. She also praised her alma mater, RSU.
“Never think that just because we study at Romblon State University, we have no advantage over prestigious schools,” she said. She also offered tips to students who are also aspiring to become exam topnotchers like her.
“Commit yourself and be ready to sacrifice. Have a strong motivation, be it intrinsic or extrinsic. Try to bargain with God. Yes, He blesses us fairly without expecting somethin gin return, but He knows the intentions of our minds and the desires of our hearts.”
“And most of all, never doubt the power of prayers. God answers big time!”