Learned

Just before graduating from the university, I volunteered to be part of a group tasked to talk to high school students about the joys (and pains) of taking up Physics as a course. Our aim was to “orient” their young minds towards considering Physics as a possible career choice.

I thought about how to prep my young audience. I knew it was going to be a daunting task, because let’s face it, Physics isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. Especially in high school.

Anyway, I began my talk with the following question: “Sino sa inyo ang gustong yumaman?” Who among you wants to get rich?

Everybody raised their hands!

To which I replied, “Kung gusto niyong yumaman, mag-Physics kayo.” If you want to get rich, then take up Physics.

I said it jokingly, of course! But I went on to explain that among the science courses available, taking up Physics would provide them the academic and intellectual training that would eventually become valuable to them as they explore other possibilities, not only in science. As a case in point, I mentioned that Physics graduates found themselves employed in a myriad of jobs, from banks to government to research institutes. And even if the pay sometimes doesn’t amount to much (especially in teaching), there is really nothing to describe the ecstasy of pursuing the answers to the grand intellectual questions of our times!

If I could only turn back time, I would give myself a good whack in the head. And maybe some more.

Admittedly, it was part naivete and part intellectual arrogance that made me choose Physics as my course in college. Somebody advised me to take up nursing instead (and thus assure my employment, as nurses were very much in demand in those days. They still are.). But no, I realized that my higher calling has to come from one of the most intimidating and intellectually-challenging courses available in the university. My parents didn’t stop me — in retrospect, they probably didn’t know any better. One of the misconceptions of our time is to think that academic excellence is equivalent to financial prowess. Thus, the higher the level of studies, the better your chances of landing a high-paying job.

Coming from a poor family, it seemed only proper that I should at least be interested in finding practical means to haul myself – ourselves – out of poverty. However, I was too caught up in my young idealism to seriously think about what kind of job I could possibly land in after I graduate. In my young mind, what else could be more noble than pursuing higher learning?

Whack!

The majority of my freshmen blockmates* promptly shifted to other courses after the first year. They probably were smart enough to figure out that all that effort wasn’t worth it, if they were to land a ‘real’ job someday. As for me, I was under the delusion that I would become a great scientist someday, and so was right on track. Never mind that I had to commute all the way from the slums of Tondo every single day just to show up in school. Study Physics, salvation is near!

However, I did realize early on that I somehow lacked the intellectual capacity and insight to easily come up with brilliant solutions to problems without breaking a sweat, unlike my genius classmates. I became painful aware of the fact that others are genetically endowed with brain cells that enables them to breeze through the course. Heck, they could skip attending classes or even stay up all night partying away, but still manage to get a perfect score on the exam the following day. That’s pure genius, baby. But for whatever I lacked in genius, I made up for it by studying HARDER. And I did study like there was no tomorrow. That’s a grueling five years of my life!

When I finally graduated (survived), I wondered, where do I go now? Contrary to expectations, it seemed like the path before me just became murkier than ever. I slaved away and worked hard for my degree, now where’s the promise of a high-paying job? Hello? Physics graduate here! I shouldn’t be looking for jobs. The jobs should be looking for ME.

Another whack!

There was no high-paying job. Job-hunters didn’t come knocking on my door. Oh yeah, there was one invitation: to be a sales rep! Argh! I didn’t want to be unemployed, so I took the next best offer: become a Physics GRADUATE STUDENT. It was no guarantee that my ‘marketability’ would be any better, but then I will become virtually untouchable: a MASTER of Physics!

The moral lesson in this story is that you don’t need to be academically smart to get rich. And just because you are smart and all, it doesn’t guarantee your financial freedom. (Don’t get me started on the PhD thing; we all know how much bloodier that episode could be.) Sure, there’s intellectual fulfillment, but as the tambays in the kanto know, that won’t fill an empty stomach. It won’t buy a house. It won’t send your children to college.

Life inevitably seeps in, and this is the only way you learn your lessons.

 

*Freshmen were grouped into ‘blocks,’ a semblance of high school ‘class sections’ to help ease the transition to college.

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