IT WAS in August 2008 when I first met Fidel Perez Jr., an ice cream vendor who was manning his cart waiting for more customers before calling it a day just about sunset. Students flocked to his spot at the Quadricentennial Park to have their sugar fix as if to reward themselves after a long day. But when the customers thinned out, I approached Mang Fidel and interviewed him.

He was very shy at first, his answers monosyllabic, a man of few words which I thought was not exactly a good sign. I had to win him over so I engaged him in a more interesting conversation.

We talked about the nitty gritty of his business and his 15 years as ice cream man in the university. But the real story surfaced after I asked about his family.

V: Napagtapos n’yo po ba ang mga anak ninyo? (Were you able to put your children through college?)

Mang Fidel: Tapos ng industrial engineering ang panganay ko sa Mapua. ‘Yung pangalawa, ECE dito sa UST. Nag-working scholar siya for two years. (My eldest is an industrial engineering graduate at Mapua. The second one is taking up electronics and communications engineering in UST. He was a working scholar for two years.)

V: Kayo po ba, nakapagtapos din po ba ng pag-aaral? (How about you? Did you also finish your studies?)

Mang Fidel: Oo, med tech. (Yes, medical technology.)

My jaw almost dropped.

Mang Fidel, a humble sorbetero, was a licensed professional who had worked for the government and had travelled overseas. He had already gone to places as far as Germany, which many of us could only fantasize.

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Writing the story was hard. I must find the right words to describe him aptly and flesh out the ironies in his life so that readers could better appreciate him more.

After the story was published, I went back to Mang Fidel and asked how he was. He smiled and told me that students now talk to him more than simply ask how much or what flavor of ice cream he had in his cart. With that I just knew that Mang Fidel was happy not only because he has more customers now, but the people who had read his story became inspired and learned that there’s joy in simplicity.

Such stories remind us that we always have a choice, and whether or not we have made a good decision, what matters is how we live with and not regret any of it.

It is also our goal in the Features section to give people a second look before judging them, because behind every face and name is a larger-than-life story that would humble each one of us.

As the outgoing Features editor, I hope our team has given you the best stories to learn from and made you more proud to be a Thomasian, along with Mang Fidel, Washington SyCip, and Judge Jocelyn Reyes, among many others.

As a writer, perhaps getting the good message across is more fulfilling than scoring a byline for the story. It is about striking a balance between the disheartening events around the world and the hope that keeps us human. Doing so, while applying the canons of truthful reporting, is very rewarding.

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All of this I Iearned during my two-year stint in the Varsitarian, where I spent the most thrilling part of my life as a student and a writer. ‘V’ showed me what UST is, warts and all, and it allowed me to share what I have seen to the Thomasian community.

But there had been tests of character which were not confined to deadlines alone. There came a time that I had been faced by millions of reasons to quit, the workload almost taking its toll on my health, academics, and even personal life. Writing seemed not enough. Passion was wearing thin.

But why stay? Because I wanted to.

Perhaps gratitude has it for me to return tenfold what ‘V’ had given me. After all, everything I do in ‘V,’ I do for UST.

My deepest gratitude goes to my mentors, Sir Lito, who taught me that there is always something to be critical about, Sir Ipe, who is always straight to the point, and Sir Ian, who taught me everything I need to know about writing the best he could.

The writer I am today, I owe it to my “ancestors” Raydon and Ate Raye. Thank you for steering me in the right direction and inspiring me to be a good editor just like you.

Emil and Prinz, you are a dynamic duo. Thank you for not giving up on us during hard times.

I’m also proud of what my fellow outgoing staff had accomplished. We will leave the confines of the university with good memories and high hopes for one another. We did it! We can finally breathe.

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I hope I have taught you well, Rona and Meg, and the things we did together may someday come in handy. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Hugs for Mia, Marnee and Justinne, for you have just gotten into ‘V’s best section!

There will always be pressure, incumbent and incoming staff, since you will have to cover a maelstrom of events in 2011. Keep the faith and learn from our mistakes. But always remember that respect begets respect. Harden your core and just be professional. I hope you’ll also find the joy amid stress, just like I did.

Whatever path we take in the future, we’ll someday be the best journalists this country could ask for, JRNJRN1. See you at the crossroads!

I don’t know what to do without you, my crazy posse, Mark, Prinz, Danielle, Ching May, and Athena. You are my basic “life” support.

It has been a pleasure meeting all of you, dear friends in the Pautakan. Your zeal made our efforts worth it. You’re all champions in your own right.

A toast to UST’s quadricentennary!

Mom, Dad, and Ate Maan, thank you for being “shock-absorbent” and incredibly understanding. I love you, and this Latin honor is for you.

I owe everything to God who made all things possible. With His guidance I shall now enter a new threshold in life. And in my silent reverie shall reverberate: Once a ‘V’ staffer, always a ‘V’ staffer!

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