One lazy Saturday afternoon, Chewy and I were lying on the couch, just looking up at the ceiling. The house was quiet except for the usual weekend sounds. It was the kind of quiet you get when you're with a good friend who's been there through all your ups and downs.
Out of the blue, Chewy asked, "Isn't it crazy, the kind of choices we've made after college?"
As the sunlight crept across the ceiling, I thought about how much things had changed. "Totally," I said. "Back then, the idea of taking risks or starting my own thing seemed like a joke—or just plain terrifying."
We laughed, a little surprised at ourselves. Life has this funny way of tearing up your plans and handing you a new script when you least expect it.
"I was obsessed with getting straight A's," I told him. The stress of it all felt like a distant memory now. "Like getting an A was some magic key to everything."
Chewy nodded. "We were all caught up in that chase for grades, thinking it was everything."
As the day turned into evening and the room grew darker, I felt thankful for all those tough times. Missing out on cum laude, not making valedictorian in high school because of that one math test—it all taught me that success isn't just about what you achieve on paper.
"What made you change your thinking?" Chewy asked, looking right at me.
I knew the answer well—it was time to tell my story. How I figured out that success isn't about awards or titles. It's about the real stuff you go through and what you learn along the way, especially when things don't go as planned.
High Hopes and Hard Truths
Every night, before I closed my eyes, I saw 'Summa Cum Laude' written on a piece of paper stuck behind my bed. It was a goal I had set for myself, hoping to stand out at Ateneo de Manila University, much like my hero Steve Jobs. I thought getting the top grades would be my ticket to making it big.
But university life had other plans. It threw me curveballs in the form of tough math problems—the kind I used to solve in my sleep. Suddenly, math was a mountain I couldn't climb, and my grades were the proof. Striving for the perfect report card became like chasing a shadow—it was always just out of reach.
The turning point came after one particularly bad math test. The red marks on it felt like a loud "no" to my dreams. That night, in the quiet of my room, the goal I'd been aiming for felt more like a burden. So, I decided to let it go. I didn't want to chase a perfect score anymore. I wanted to really live my college life, to learn more than what was on the tests.
This change wasn't about giving up. It was about waking up to what's really important. Instead of worrying about grades, I got involved in everything else college had to offer. It was a blast, and I grew so much as a person.
Then, in my last year, my friend Jonats gave me a new challenge. He suggested I try for cum laude again. At first, it seemed out of the blue, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt right. It was a chance to finish what I started, not just for the honor, but to show myself and others that it's never too late to do something amazing.
My college days taught me a lot, like studying to understand things, not just to get good marks. But everything changed when Jonats, a good friend who could see things in a different light, hit me with a wild idea that took me back to my freshman dreams.
We were sitting on the university’s cold floor when he opened Microsoft Excel on his laptop and showed me a plan. "You're closer to getting honors than you think," he said, full of confidence. "All you need is a perfect run—straight A's, nothing less."
He laid it out clearly: I had to nail every class. No room for mistakes, because even one B+ would ruin the whole thing—I'd miss cum laude by the tiniest amount, just 0.01 points. It reminded me of high school when I almost topped the class but didn't, all because of one test. That old letdown haunted me, a sharp reminder of dreams that are almost reached but slip away.
Jonats was convinced I could do it, though. He wasn't just after getting me a shiny title; he wanted me to show what I was capable of—not just to myself but to everyone watching.
His belief was like a spark. The goal was huge, almost crazy, but it made me want to chase it. So, I took the bet. I decided to go for that flawless semester, not just for the honor, but to push my limits and see what I was really capable of.
That decision led to one of the busiest semesters I ever had. I dove into my studies, determined to ace every class. And I got into some pretty unexpected situations, too. Like the time I said yes to hosting a big festival, the Moriones in Marinduque, just so I could get out of a final exam that was freaking me out. It was a wild ride, but it was one of those things that made the chase fun and memorable.
It turned out to be more than just chasing grades. It was a real test of my determination and a chance to grow in ways I hadn't imagined. And it taught me a valuable lesson—that the real win is in the effort you give and the growth you experience, not just the finish line you cross.
Battling for Every Point
That last semester at university felt like a marathon with every class pushing me towards one goal: graduating with honors. But Philosophy was the hurdle I couldn't quite clear. It was all about thinking clearly and expressing your thoughts just right, which wasn't my strongest suit. My essays would come back dotted with the professor's notes, each one steering me away from the A I was aiming for. No matter how hard I tried, those B pluses stuck around like unwelcome guests, blocking my path.
Other classes went well, my grades climbing up where I wanted them to be, but Philosophy just wouldn't budge. I realized that even nailing the final wouldn't get me that A. When I found out I was right, that even my best shot wasn't enough, it hit me hard. I needed that A like a key to unlock my cum laude dream, but it kept slipping away.
So, I went to my professor, hoping for a bit of wiggle room. I talked through every bit of my work, from class discussions to essays, to the final exam. But he wouldn't budge, standing by his grades as firmly as he stood by his philosophical arguments. "You can always file a formal complaint," he said, not mean, but final.
Filing for a grade change was a long shot, and deep down, I knew it. It felt like a last desperate move, not really expecting much, but still holding on to a sliver of hope. So, I didn't get a clear 'no', but I wasn’t holding my breath either. That B plus seemed like it was there to stay, drawing a line I couldn't cross.
In those moments after, I was a mix of feelings. There was disappointment for sure, but also a sense of letting go. The chase for that perfect GPA was out of my hands now, and what was left was what I knew about myself and what I valued most.
I took that mix of hope and acceptance with me to the grad ball. It was a night to remember, a celebration of our time at university, and I wasn't going to let one grade ruin it. I focused on the positive—how much work I'd put in, how much I'd learned, and how much I'd grown. That night, I celebrated all of that, not just the wins, but the whole journey.
Rolling with the Punches
The grad ball was all about celebrating the end of our time at school. Everyone was dressed up, laughing, and dancing under bright lights, excited about what was coming next. I was too, but I also had this knot in my stomach, waiting to see my final grades. Would they be enough to get me that cum laude?
The room was buzzing, full of life, and everyone was looking forward to starting something new. But I was also a bit on edge, wondering if all my hard work had paid off.
Our org's advisor, who'd seen us all grow up over the years, was there too. In a quiet moment, he offered to let me sneak a peek at my grades on his phone. It felt like that phone held my future.
Taking a deep breath, I scrolled through the grades on his screen. And there it was: a B+ in Philosophy right alongside all the A's I had worked so hard for. My GPA was just a tiny bit away from where it needed to be for cum laude—3.49 when I needed a 3.50. It was exactly what Jonats and I had worried might happen.
For a minute, everything went quiet for me, even with the party in full swing around me. My friends were all happy about their grades, but I was stuck on that one little point I didn't get. I felt so many things at once—proud of how far I'd come, but also let down that I didn't make it all the way.
I didn't let that disappointment take over, though. Missing that honor by just a little bit stung, but I wasn't going to let it ruin the whole night. As the shock wore off, I decided to just enjoy the moment. I got out there on the dance floor and danced like nobody was watching. It was my way of saying that one grade wasn't going to get me down.
Laughing and dancing with my friends, who had no idea about the storm inside me, I understood something important. In the big picture of life, those almosts and what-ifs don't matter as much. What really sticks out is being able to get past the tough times, to make your own way, and to enjoy where you are right now—no matter what.
What Success Really Means
After the grad ball, I spent a lot of time just thinking. Sure, I was bummed out about not getting cum laude, but that feeling didn't last long. Soon enough, I started to think about the bigger picture—what does being successful really mean, anyway?
Back when I started college, I thought success was all about getting the best grades and the most praise. But standing there with my diploma, ready to start my real adult life, I saw things differently. Success isn't just about what you can show on paper.
Jonats got me to shoot for top grades again, but what really changed me wasn't just trying to get A's—it was the whole experience. I worked harder than I ever thought I could, I bounced back from tough times, and I found out how much I actually like learning. And even though I was trying to be a role model for the younger students, I ended up learning a lot about myself, too.
What I learned is that success isn't about one big win. It's about always moving forward, setting goals, and sticking with them, even when things get rough. And it's about being okay with whatever results you get after you've done your best.
Understanding this didn't make the disappointment of missing cum laude disappear completely, but it helped me see it in a new light. That one grade didn't define me or what I could do. I showed myself that I could take on tough challenges and enjoy the hard work they required.
As I moved on from university, this new way of looking at things helped me face all kinds of challenges, from working at a huge company like P&G to diving into the unpredictable world of startups. I knew my worth wasn't about what other people thought of me, but about the effort I put in and the person I was becoming—someone who's always curious, ready to adapt, and never gives up on growing.
Taking Chances and Learning on the Go
When I finished college, I stepped into a world full of chances that would've scared the old me. But the tough times at school had made me stronger and more sure of myself. This new confidence pushed me to dive into the business world, especially the exciting startup scene where taking risks isn't just part of the game—it's the whole point.
Startups are wild and unpredictable. They're not like regular jobs; there's no set path to follow or guaranteed paycheck. But they're thrilling because everything you do makes a real difference. I learned that starting a business isn't just about the money—it's about making your ideas happen, solving real problems, and really making a mark.
One of my big adventures has been getting Islander Slippers out there in the US. This job isn't just about selling flip-flops; it's about sharing what they stand for—a slice of Filipino life—with the world. Sure, it's a big job, but everything I learned at university about facing challenges and believing in myself has helped me take it on.
At the same time, I've been helping other startups grow, using what I know about sales and marketing to help them find their feet. Every win and every bump in the road reminds me that I'm still learning and growing, and that being successful means keeping on trying, no matter what.
Looking back, all those hours I spent chasing good grades taught me more than I realized. They got me ready for bigger dreams—like turning the Philippines into a hub for great businesses, building its very own "Silicon Valley". I know now that success isn't about getting to a certain point and stopping; it's about living in a way that aligns with your values, making choices that match what you care about, and never stopping chasing what excites you.
Success on My Own Terms
Sitting here today and looking back, I see how life never really goes as planned. The road is full of twists and turns, and where we end up isn't always where we thought we'd be. But that's okay because it's all about growing and finding out who we really are.
I used to be that student who wanted a top honor to prove myself. Now, I'm an entrepreneur who's learned that real success isn't something others can give you—it's about feeling good about the work you do, loving the challenges, and living true to yourself.
I've come to see that having goals, like the cum laude I once chased, is a big part of what keeps us moving forward. But those goals don't tell the whole story of who we are. We're really the collection of all our experiences, the things we've learned, and the connections we've made with others.
For anyone just getting out of college, don't let the fear of not meeting other people's expectations hold you back. Make your own rules, aim for what feels like excellence to you, and enjoy the ride. Dream big, take bold steps, and always be kind—both to other people and to yourself.
So, with my dreams in my heart and a mindset free from narrow ideas of success, I'm ready for whatever comes next. I'm not just following a set path—I'm making my own, one step at a time, with purpose, passion, and a firm belief in taking the road less traveled.