I got to know her first as my English 1 teacher on my first year in college. Professor Jovita H. Orara was a very strict teacher. She was like a visiting professor from UP then. My classmates feared her because she would use her UP style of teaching in her classes. But later on, we found her very friendly especially outside the classroom. She was like everybody’s grandma.
After the first semester, she was appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. During that time, there was no CAS existing in our school, and that meant that she needed to start her office from scratch.
That time, my parents have told me that our finances cannot support my nursing studies anymore because of the expensive tuition fees in our school. I was told that I should transfer to Bulacan State University, and shift to another course, hence I will not be able to continue my college studies. During that time, tuition fees in BSU was very cheap (as compared today) and so affordable especially for less privileged students. I felt terrible then, because I really wanted to finish what I have started, and become a nurse.
Having regarded Professor Orara as a friend, I told her about my dilemma during class cards distribution. She was quick to suggest that I work in her office so that I will not have to pay my tuition fees, so that I could continue my nursing studies.
My parents did not object, and I promised to them that I will try my best to balance work and studies in order to graduate in time. They supported my decision and believed that I could pursue the goals I had set for myself.
During my stint as a student assistant for Dean Orara’s office, I came to know a lot of things that I still value up to this day. My tight schedules taught me how to value time. I would wake up very early in the morning to study, and prepare for my nursing internship in hospitals. After my hospital duty, I would rush to Dean’s office to do some errands, and some paper works. Later, I would be seen attending my classes until 7pm. I would also accompany Dean Orara home, a trip from Bocaue to Quezon City (where she lived), and back, on Mondays and Wednesdays. I would be home by 9 to 10 pm.
Ma’am O (I got used to calling her this way) also taught me how to become organized. I absorbed her system in running her office. I made sure memos were signed by receiving persons, corrected even the smallest typographical errors, and made sure files were labeled and in order. I was made to manage a small library, which further improved my organizing skills.
I was made to deal with people more often. I was a timid person initially, but got over it after I dealt with different kinds of people as part of my work. I helped in the enrollment process where I got to deal with students. I assisted teachers with their work. I circulated memos. I was made to visit teachers in their respective towns. I was introduced to the UP community. I got to watch quality movies, stage plays, and ballet performances.
My values enriched as she taught me a lot of life lessons. She would tell me stories about her struggles in life and how I should get inspiration from hurdles and impediments. She trained me to become a strong person, enduring the sometimes harsh realities of life.
After graduating, I was then absorbed by the same office as an Office Assistant. Later on, I found a nursing job, and I found it difficult to leave the place. But even after leaving my office work, Ma’am O and I never lost contact and she remained my mentor for life. Whenever I needed to make tight decisions, it was her that I would consult. She considered me as the son that she never had.
She would also call me if she needed some help. And I would always come running at her doorstep. We started a unique friendship. When I went to work abroad, we remained in touch through phones, letters and cards.
When I was about to get married, I found it difficult to tell her. I knew I would break her heart, as real mothers would. And break her heart, I did. She felt so sad when I announced my wedding. But I knew that was just an initial reaction. I knew that she was just worried if I was making the right decisions in life, just like any parent would think in that instant.
She does not usually attend weddings, unless it is her daughter’s, I know that. But she attended my wedding. Mine was an exception to the rule, ah!
Today is her 81st birthday (Nov 15). We celebrated her birthday in her office yesterday, together with her faculty members. I think this is my first time in five years to be in the country for her birthday, so I really made an effort to be present. I bought her a cake from Red Ribbon. She just sent me a text message this afternoon telling me that there has been a lot of food during the day, but yesterday’s cake was still the best, not because of the taste, but because it has full of love. Whew! So inspiring…
I owe a lot to Ma’am O and words cannot just measure how much her contribution is to my life. She made me become who I am today and she will be part of who I will be tomorrow. I will forever be grateful for having been blessed with a second mother.