Learning is a lifelong pursuitBy Dingdong Dantes
(First of two parts)
A recent encounter with the mom of a former classmate in Ateneo made me realize how far I had come from those days when her son and I sat in the back row—the noisiest ones in class. Not once did it cross my mind that I would one day become an actor, much less an advocate of learning.
All kids have fantasies. Mine was not so different from those of most other boys: I wanted to be a pilot. Of this, my parents often said, “If you want to fly, you must study well.”
I didn’t fully understand what they meant. School for me was a tedious task, a rite of passage, a requirement (an obligation!) rather than a necessity.
Year after year, my dreams became more complicated as my interests diversified. I wanted to be a soldier, then a filmmaker, then a lawyer, just for starters. Curiously, as the list grew longer, my enthusiasm for education diminished.
I was the poster boy for no work, all play. While I hurdled the demands of school, I was no more than an average student who was simply going through the motions, without the heart for learning.
To my parents’ credit, I was not about to get away with that. They were constantly, patiently pressuring me to step it up and do better. Why? I didn’t bother to know.
In fifth grade, I became class representative to a declamation contest. I felt it was the perfect opportunity to prove to everyone, including myself, that despite having been booted from the honor roll, I could still be an achiever.
Guess what? I lost. I ended up telling myself that doing more than was expected of me in the classroom wasn’t necessary for my personal improvement. I was settling for mediocrity, and I didn’t mind.
It wasn’t until early high school that I broke out of this rut.
This was when I joined an all-male dance group called Abztract and stepped into the entertainment industry. Thus, I saw what life had in store for me beyond the four walls of the classroom. I started to earn my own money and eventually paid my own tuition. It wasn’t easy, especially once it dawned on me that I was officially a “working student.”
Soon enough, maturity knocked on my door via a revelation from my parents. Back in my laid-back years, they said, I was actually the “scholar” of many other people aside from them. Those benefactors consistently helped my parents so I could get quality education. I had no idea! This led me to a complete change of heart.
Further, during an activity of Tulong Dunong, a program in Ateneo that exposes its students to the condition of children in poorer communities, I was very moved by those kids’ desire to learn. This ignited in me a slow-burning but deep passion for education and excellence.
I was convinced that I could do something more. That early in my life, I felt it was time to give back.
I went ahead and pursued a career in the field of entertainment—to be exact, in acting and filmmaking. And so came a new hurdle, balancing career and high school.
Aside from my family’s support, it was time management that helped me cope with the demands of my two worlds.
After high school, I went to college in San Beda but returned to Ateneo after two years and enrolled in Interdisciplinary Studies major in Communication Arts and Management. I enjoyed my Film and TV Production subjects most, which proved helpful when I tried out for a directorial job with GMA 7. I got the job and worked on the youth-oriented show, “Kakabakaba.” I was just 23, and still in college.
I am thankful to my professors, including director Yam Laranas, Fr. Nick Cruz, Boots Anson-Roa and Marilou Diaz-Abaya, for helping me appreciate the value of education all the more. I would often come to director Marilou’s class straight from a long shoot and without any sleep. But no matter how tired my body was, an overflowing passion for filmmaking kept me awake.
However, the demands of being an actor soon overwhelmed me and I had to take a leave from school. Then, in November last year, after years of focusing on my advocacy for education and the youth, I decided to finish what I started. I simply could not live with the irony of not practicing what I am preaching.
(On Tuesday: Precious lessons I learned along the way, and which I am sharing with the youth, whom I have chosen to serve.)
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