FIVE minutes before 7 a.m., Catherine Mondejar arrived at the UST main gate from a long, daily commute from Las Piñas.

At the Santisimo Rosario Parish, Fermina Vergara knelt on a pew, muttering a quick prayer for the day ahead.

While listening to morning podcasts, Denise See practiced yoga and meditation to deal with her performance anxiety.

Lahaira Reyes sought comfort in her dorm, studying right before classes started.

Such were the habits that helped mold these young women into becoming batch valedictorians and recipients of the UST’s highest academic excellence award, the Rector’s Academic Award.

This group of distinguished honor graduates is led by the 20-year-old Mondejar. With a general weighted average (GWA) of 1.111, this travel management major is the valedictorian of the College of Tourism and Hospitality Management.
Mondejar said it was not easy.

“[Minsan] ‘di mo [na] alam kung matatapos mo pa ‘yong gagawin mo, lalo na ‘pag marami kang kailangang tapusin,” she said.

She believes that despite the struggle of hours-long commute, it was her study routine that got her to the top.

“Hindi ko i-pu-push ‘yong sarili ko na aralin ‘yong madaming chapters, kasi feel ko sumasakit ‘yong ulo ko ‘pag ganoon,” she shared. “I often chose to sleep if she came near overexertion, and would get up at three or four o’clock in the morning to study.”

Mondejar’s modesty prevented her from succumbing to pressure. “[Huwag] mo i-pe-pressure ‘yong sarili mo. ‘Pag hindi na kaya, you should stop,” she said.

Vergara, 20, graduated with a GWA of 1.129 at the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

“Nakaka-proud [na] ikaw yung batch valedictorian, pero as the years pass by, hindi naman matatandaan [ng tao] ‘yon. What I want them to remember is yung naging contribution ko sa school and society,” she said.

A devout Catholic, Vergara said she was just as disciplined with her church-going routine as she was with her studies. She made it a point to go to church every day before attending class.

Not all of them started on the right foot.

Reyes, 21, failed her first quiz at the UST-Alfredo M. Velayo College of Accountancy. She then started facing more pressure from the expectations of her peers and professors than her own family.

All she wanted then was to maintain her scholarship. It was to her surprise that her professors said she will be graduating as the college’s valedictorian with a GWA of 1.131.

For Reyes, discipline and acknowledging her best learning style as an auditory learner served as the keys to her achievement. She learned best studying and reciting concepts to herself in her dorm.

“Minsan kasi may students na mas nakakapag aral ‘pag nag-c-cram. So alamin siguro kung ano talaga ‘yong learning habit na suitable sa’yo,” she said.

Like Reyes, Conservatory of Music student See, 21, had a different learning style that helped her graduate with a GWA of 1.172.

On her third year in college, See found out that she has performance anxiety after pushing herself to take her junior recital earlier than scheduled. Since then, her nerves would overtake her before every performance, leading her to “forget the piece and play badly.”

“You have to know how to fail with grace. It pays to be content and to know that you have yet to reach your goal, and that’s ok because you can still work on it,” she said.

See said she owes her success to UST’s piano performance department coordinator, Anthony Say, who had mentored her since she was five.

“He always pushed me and minsan pinapagalitan niya ako. I share my success with him. Alam ko naman hindi ako nandito if it wasn’t for him,” she said.


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