MARK Nester Mendoza had often felt luck was never on his side. But despite growing up in a broken family and a spine injury that led to a mild paralysis, the graduating UST Legal Management student had always remained optimistic.

All that is behind him now. Mendoza has received a Fulbright scholarship in the United States, the only undergraduate among this year’s crop.

The feat seemed unthinkable not too long ago in 2009 when an accident injured his spine and caused a mild paralysis. He had to take a leave of absence for one semester.

But the unfortunate incident never killed his fighting spirit.

Mendoza is no stranger to being a leader. He is now the president of the Alliance of Legal Management Associations of the Philippines (ALMAP), the nationwide group of legal management societies in the Philippines.

“Leadership is a calling. It’s a bit cliché, yes, but I can’t think of other things besides it being a calling,” he said. “It’s a bit cheesy, but you know, there are other people who can do it, but with persistence, you know you could do better.”

The fall

Weeks before the accident, Mendoza, ironically, had wanted a cane for Christmas since the cane would symbolize respect.

“The idea was very appealing to me because it (the cane) seems that it commands respect,” he said. “It is as if that it projects an established gentleman in society.”

Little did he know that his cane would come in handy given the irony of the tragedy that followed.

During one seemingly ordinary afternoon, Mendoza decided to inspect the rooftop of his house for holes. Getting down from the roof, he made a bad landing. He heard something crack in his back and felt immediately excruciating pain.

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“I asked my mom for a rosary, like I always do during problems and asked the Lord in silence ‘would everything really be alright?’ Mendoza said as he recounted the time when the doctor told them he could be paralyzed for the rest of his whole life.

After two months of lying flat on his back, the doctor told Mendoza’s family that he would be discharged soon because the damage was not that severe to render him fully paralyzed.

“I may have regretted wishing for a cane, but this cane will remind me that the things we wish for are sometimes not good for us,” said Mendoza. “But in the end it is how we turn things around [that matters].”

A diligent scholar

Mendoza values education, a priceless lesson from his mother.

Currently, he is the sole Thomasian undergraduate to receive the scholarship from the Fulbright commission of the United States of America. The roster of previous recipients include American poet Sylvia Plath and Filipino writers Conchitina Cruz and Jose Dalisay.

Fulbright is a US-based commission granting scholarship programs that collaborates with the Philippines. It was established in the country by the Philippine-American Educational Foundation (PAEF), which was founded in 1948 after a joint executive agreement was signed on the same year.

Since its inception, there have been more than 1,700 Filipinos and 700 Americans who have been granted the Fulbright scholarship in the field of graduate studies, research and teaching in both countries.

“We really are US scholars even though we are Filipinos, so we are [technically] Filipino-American scholars,” Mendoza said. “The people from there are the reason why we are able to enter the US.”

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Nester applied for Fulbright back in his first year in college, and one of the reasons he wanted the scholarship was that he wanted to experience riding an airplane. It was only this year, in his senior year, that he received a notification that he was accepted in the program.

“I had second thoughts of entering when I applied in October 2011, saying to myself that there would be nothing wrong if I applied,” said Mendoza, who did not expect that he will ever get in to Fulbright.

A clear road ahead

Despite living in a broken family since the second grade, he had successfully laid out the foundations for his future and made sure that the things he would be doing today would help him out in his future.

Also a debater, he has trained his speaking skills through winning debate contests and his ability to win the audience over with his arguments. With this training, he was able to become the president of the organization of legal management societies in the country at a young age.

Mendoza has always wanted to create something noble in his life, and that after the accident, he realized the importance of his family in his life.

“It made me feel that somehow I was a part of many people’s lives and that it wouldn’t be the same without the ‘Nester’ they knew,” Mendoza said.

Even though Mendoza has alway longed for a father figure after his father had left him for another family—which had left an indelible mark on him—it did not deter the young man to go after his dreams.

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“I believe in the Latin saying: ‘Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.’ [It means] I either find a way or I make one, and that’s just what I do whenever I’m faced with problems.”

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