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It only occurred to me now how a twenty minute interview was the deciding factor to my future. It only occurred to me now how this was the difference between going to, say, the University of the Philippines to Yale University. It only occurred to me now how much I underestimate myself; from the tests I take in school — going into the day not even expecting to get into the shortlist, yet finding myself in a seat that determined the rest of my life.

Photograph taken by me

It all started on Monday, the last day of school. I didn’t expect much; I was in the middle of sleeping in class, the exhaustion overbearing me while everyone else was celebrating. You can say that I am not the most inclusive of people — but it’s probably an effect of how draining school was. Balancing everything — which I wouldn’t even call it as that since I barely had time to function, felt like my soul was taken away. As I write this in the first few days of summer, my body still feels eternally transformed, as if I’ll never have the energy that picked me up countless times in the previous months. But I digress, what can you do when you’re met with a lot of responsibilities, and tend to rush everything?

On that Monday, I received a letter. I wasn’t sure of how important it was, but it did seem formal enough. It talked about a scholarship, and how I was selected to attend a seminar for it and subsequently take a test for it. I didn’t think much of it, half-thanking the school for such an opportunity and also cursing it for taking away my rest days. (I had to get up ridiculously early when I’ve been so looking forward to sleeping for what would be close to the entirety of the day. Woo.) Also, I wondered about the selection process; which wasn’t that clear to me at that point.

At first, I was questioning whether I should actually attend or not, I didn’t want to bother, of course. But also, why miss the opportunity? After much self-debating, I decided to attend the seminar, and it was much more than what I was expecting.

Maybe the school was just boasting; that’s what mine tends to do. Why wouldn’t you remain prideful of your achievements and all you’ve been through anyway– it’s the same thing as I do whenever I apply for something and I get to scan over ‘achievements and rewards‘, of course I have to make myself seem extraordinary, that it would be impossible for them not to gloss over the words I frantically searched for, and to be in awe. I could tell however– in the case of the two prestigious-looking men reporting in front of me, and the extravagant graphs and data they were showing in contrast to the pictures and polished words that I was so accustomed to, that there was more truth to hyperbole in their words. Never have I felt so utterly inferior that I did on that day. It was like a dream; I was selected to participate in a test that would select one for sure, or maybe even two students from the Philippines, Luzon in particular, to be given a full scholarship to an insanely good school in Singapore. There was the opportunity to go abroad to study, to be exposed to a different curriculum just as I was used to, as the Philippines itself went through drastic changes in my grade school and high school years, except it was set on the future. They talked about their variation from the regular classroom setting, comparing it to that of a college one. “To prepare students for the real world,” they said as they continued their overview.

It somehow felt like a dream…? That’s all that I can say. What else would it feel like, when the future — your college education, something that you’ve been leaving at the back of your mind, thinking about every now and then only to terrify you and place you into a state of semi-crisis, seems like it would be solved if you could just make it? Opportunities like this are grand; someone like me, who barely has any connections, isn’t the most well-off, with constant fear of the future, ranging from ‘would I even live past eighteen?‘ to thinking of where to study; to branch out and take the path that would set me on success, presented right in front of me, with the only bridge being a test and an interview.  I had to do it, it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

That night, I again began debating with myself. I wasn’t sure if I should even try to bother with the test, after all, the competition in that room — all of us in synchronized awe from the moment they began speaking about what the opportunity holds to my row meekly raising our hands and asking what the scholarship was worth — seemed exceedingly tough. (Also, it was about 100,000 USD, if I recall correctly.) Being rooted in my nature to look down upon myself, I knew that my brain was telling myself that why should I even try when I couldn’t even be the best in my own vicinity; so what more when they had extended their reach beyond my school, to all their selected schools in Luzon? I could just skip the test, go along with my day, work on other things, and have the added benefit of not needing to wake up at 4AM to get ready. My parents understood that I almost didn’t want to bother try, but they still encouraged me to try; just as everyone else did. So I did try. I woke up early, even reviewed a bit for the math portion (my ultimate weakness), donned an unhealthy breakfast through the amazing revolutionary drive-through on the way to school, met up with everyone else, and went on my way to the exam that would decide the rest of my life.

I was placed under intense time pressure, never feeling that much stress in a test ever before. The portions included Math, English (which I was excited for, as they had stated that it would be an essay), and additional aptitude tests, which consisted of mechanical reasoning, spacial relations and the other form of the previously mentioned item in which we had to identify the upcoming shape given a pattern.

The Mathematics test was about thirteen items, of which I only answered five with complete confidence in them, and guessed another item (I guessed incorrectly.), as the test worked on a right minus wrong basis. It wasn’t the hardest test, but each one spanned a different topic which certainly was at my grade level, and since I completely fail at recalling past math lessons nor bare any sort of interest in it, I could barely answer half of them. It took me about fifteen minutes to answer all the items I was familiar with. As for the rest, I just stared at them – hoping that the lessons would suddenly spark itself into my mind again. It didn’t, but at least I got to rest. The anxiety from everyone constantly solving and writing down and turning papers whilst I was just staring was making me worry, though. I felt like I blew the test right at this point. Next, the English one was much more fun for me — I took a total of two papers back to back in writing my essay, though the part prior to that involved answering analysis questions. I wasn’t sure if I had answered them correctly; as my English tests always sort of delve into creative writing rather than… actually answering them straight-to-the-point. Despite that, my confidence in this was pretty high since English is my forte. As for the aptitude tests, they were extremely time-limited, and I didn’t have that much fun answering them with the exception of mechanical reasoning, which was honestly pretty fun. With the rest of the tests, I knew I couldn’t afford to take more than twenty or fifteen seconds on each item (while there were about 60 items each), but I still made that mistake anyway. There was a lot of rushing, especially at the end of the tests, and I resorted to a lot of guessing (it wasn’t right minus wrong, at least). I was really worried about scoring really low.

After consecutive tests, we were finally given a break while our papers were being checked. The interviews had to be done on the day itself as the representatives from the school were on a tight schedule. In result, I ate with the rest in extreme nervousness. In fact, I attempted to accept the fact that there was no way I was going to get in. Talking with the others about my answers, especially on the Math portion made me really sure of how low I probably scored. Although sharing and discussing answers had always provided me a sort of relief, it obviously doesn’t help in a case where I was almost completely sure that I flunked everything.

Someone finally walked into the room where all the students from different schools were gathered, and began announcing the top six people who scored on the tests; the shortlist. Whoever would make it would be interviewed and analyzed for acceptance into the school. As much as I liked to believe that I had lost all faith, there was still an inch of hope within me, whether it was for me, maybe not doing as bad as I expected or hope for the other students from my school — there was still that hope.

At first, they announced how many from each school got into the shortlist. There were two students from mine. Two. We all looked at each other, pointing and naming our bets on who would be accepted. We only had a few seconds of the short, carefree break before reality set in, before they cleared their throat and began announcing the names.

Lo and behold, one of the students was me. I couldn’t believe it, especially after comparing answers within the tests, and knowing how inferior I was compared to the rest of my schoolmates, let alone the entire room. I actually cried — the other person from my school didn’t, but we stood up in disbelief, hugging each other, exclaiming words of excitement, surprise, congratulating each other. This alone, is something that I would be content with. Making it this far — but now that I’ve gone this far, why just stop, why turn back when I can do so much more, and achieve so much more? Maybe it was just luck, or maybe I am much more intelligent that I give credit to myself for, but nevertheless it was an unknown mixture of exterior elements that graced me with being one of the six, the six students who had their entire future waiting in the form of a seat, two people in front, and nerve-wracking questions that would sink into your heart and be buried into your mind forever. I was the second scheduled to be interviewed, as it was based upon distance of the schools. During the thirty something minutes that I had before the deciding epoch would occur, I conversed with the other student from my school who had been selected, along with everyone else. We thought of what questions they would ask, asked each other things and did our best to come up with logical, true-to-the heart answers while altering and twisting them so that they would sound good and respectful. Those thirty something minutes were perhaps one of the shortest periods in my life, since my time came up much faster than I expected.

Nearly tantalizing, I still couldn’t let go of the glimmer of hope that was left out for me. There was still a chance, but I wasn’t exactly the best speaker. I gave this interview my all, but was left walking away with so many things that I wish I could have said. It was almost like someone had died and I had forgotten to tell them everything that I’d want to tell them; but instead of a person, it was my hope, my dreams, my future, my career. They started off with basic questions, such as describe yourself, one of the scariest words ever spoken to me. They’d only expect a brief summary, but how do you summarize a breathing, living life of over fifteen years? I gave them a mixture of myself and the person that I wanted to become, methodically and logically; as what they’d expect. Academic achievements, something personal, and they continued asking questions. About my skills, me as a leader, and again I gave them half of who I was and half of who I was going to be.

On the bus ride home, the excitement about the interviews died down, so did the thanks. Everyone looked in their own way, down at the ground or outside the window. I lied down on the seats, taking up a row, placed a sweater over my head; and was left alone with my thoughts. I was already happy with being one of the six, but I knew that I shouldn’t settle for that, especially when I could be so much more. There wasn’t much that I could do anymore, except wait. Two months, to be exact; that would be around May, my birthday too. Repeating those words to yourself doesn’t remove the guilt, it doesn’t take away the overwhelming remorse either. What would you think if, if you just had worded those things a bit differently, if you said more than you did — you’d be in another country, on another path? Would you forgive yourself, and move forward? Someone as pessimistic, as backwards as I am wouldn’t feel that way. It’s not as if I don’t know that the best thing is to just accept things, move on, and continue doing whatever I can to the utmost of my ability. Of course I know that, but of course I could have been so much more if I didn’t make those mistakes. It’s one of those things you don’t move on from, like a song to others who find hope in music or a person from someone who seeks love and comfort in another. As in the same words I told those two people, who decided my future, “I want to be more than anyone ever thought I could be. I want to make an impact, a difference — no matter how big, or how small. To the best of my abilities, to push myself further, for the betterment of all. Be it in my community, in this school, in your school, and most of all — to the world.”

The opportunity presented would of course, lead to brighter pathways, to a better tomorrow. There’s no denying that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you wouldn’t get as far as another who was given all the right pathways, all the access to the necessary things to reach out to the world. Would I forgive myself if I didn’t make it? No. Should I? Do I dwell on it, would that help me at all? Partially.

At the time of writing, I’m not sure if I made it or not. Leaning towards no, I’m trying not to dwell on the words that I said, especially the last remarks that I left with them. I insisted that I had nothing left to say, and upon a push, I continued. “I want to prove myself to you,” so on and so forth, as if straight from a film. “As stereotypical as that sounds, this opportunity means so much,” back and forth, the begging from my words pushed back into my eyes.

What occurred to me afterwards is what I’m sure of what they want me to think. This opportunity, as powerful as it is, is not the deciding factor of my future. There’s no doubt that it would alter its course in ways that I could never have imagined, but what’s going to stop me from the same end result, right? There are multiple pathways to an end, and that’s only if there is an end to my journey at all. Twenty minutes did not decide my entire life, but twenty minutes did give me incredible, life-changing ideals. I learned how to speak better, more confidently, and of all the interviews I took afterwards, I found them incredibly easy, and the nervousness that I used to feel with every moment dissipated, bravery and courage took over my soul; not the most momentous to others, but it’s momentous, astoundingly powerful enough for me. The words I said, a half-and-half of the person that I was and the person that I wanted to be, started pouring over the person that I am today, pushing me to be the best that I can be, making me realize that I’m not that far off from who I aspire to be, and once I reach that point there is no turning back, as there would only be a constant push forward to continue on the journey of being even better. Twenty minutes won’t be the mourning point of my entire future, there won’t be any looking back at that seat in the exceedingly cold lecture hall, wishing there were more words to be said. Twenty minutes will be the point of actualization; making me even better, striving, pushing, not as a vagabond, but with a mind in place and a heart in touch with the world.

Whatever occurs, whatever announcement they end up giving in the next month, the only path is forward. My future is not decided by that event. It’s decided by me, the sum of all my actions in the next years, the sum of this very moment, the totality of all my actions, words, thoughts, dreams, and what I am going to achieve and what I have achieved. Twenty minutes is nothing compared to the determination, and the utter perseverance from the days I live through, and everything beyond.

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