01 June, 2017 | When I sang the words “Down from the hill, down to the world go I” during graduation, I thought I would be going down from the hill to a nice 8 am to 5 pm job in an office, spending time with my friends agonizing over life (but really just drinking on Fridays), or living the Instagram life of every millennial taking trips to beaches on weekends and returning to the office on Mondays with matching sunburns to prove it. Perhaps I would also go volunteering on some nice NGO project to help the environment. I thought I would be able to do all of these and live the supposed life of an accomplished young person.
A year later, and it’s been “Down from the hill” indeed! Right after graduation, I was able to find a job of my liking. When my boss told me I was to be assigned to Carmelray Industrial Zone, Calamba, Laguna, I thought little of it. I did not know, however, that my “down from the hill” would mean working with factory workers on a shifting schedule, living alone without my family for the first time, and learning that I know nothing when it comes to young adult life and working in a professional setting. I had to figure things out by myself for the first time in my life, without the help of parents or teachers to guide me.
8 am to 5 pm job? I was assigned to a shifting day/night schedule working in a plant. Drinking with friends on Fridays? Forget about it; I would have to take a bus to Manila and a bus back to work the next day just to make things happen. Nice trips to the beach every weekend? Well, with a shifting plant schedule, how about work on the weekends and no vacation leaves for six months instead?
Besides all these, I also saw other things that surprised and shocked me. I sat beside Filipinos commuting to Santa Cruz or Lucena on the bus, hearing them talk about their woes with their supervisors at work, or how they were worried about Operation Tokhang because their fathers or brothers might be rounded up along with other men in their districts. When I would have wanted to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen or Coldplay, I learned to listen to Bombo Radyo 102.7 or YES FM going to or from work. I saw how the rice fields of Laguna were being developed into subdivisions and manufacturing zones while listening to people worry about when their salaries and overtime pay would arrive because they would have to pay bills, buy school supplies for their children, and buy food for the next week. People would joke me “Malaki siguro sweldo mo ano?” with grins on their faces, and I would know that behind those grins would be sadness because their salaries were barely enough to survive on.
During my days off, I return home to my house in Manila and spend time with my family. I also return to Ateneo once every three months or so, finding that the campus offers me a safe space to pray and think about things that happen to me. The spirit of Christ, through the Ateneo, continues to move me even a year after graduation.
I have always been grateful to the Order of the Blue Eagles for sponsoring my years in Ateneo. I continue to be grateful to all the benefactors who supported me, and who continue to support scholars in Ateneo. One year after graduation, I think that the true gift of a scholarship in the Ateneo is not just the education, nor the Ateneo diploma, but the constant reminder by the university that one must always have empathy for others in order to fully understand what the good is that one must do. Looking back at my year after college, I could not have made sense of any of my experiences without knowing what it means to be empathetic. Looking forward, I would probably not know what to do with my life, and I would end up chasing after bigger paychecks and more prestigious positions at bigger companies instead of figuring out how to best create value for everyone so that all of us can have the lives God has planned for us. There is a big difference between “I am going to work hard so that I can get a bigger paycheck” versus “I am going to work hard to create genuine value for others, I will let the money come as a consequence of service and love, I will let resources and power be my tool to create even more value for others.” Will not the projects we work on be more meaningful to others because they have come from places of genuine empathy, and also personally satisfying to us, with the second mindset?
This empathy is especially important for all of us in our times, when our president drops rape statements on a regular basis, when martial law is declared in Mindanao and people are fleeing their homes in fear, and when it feels like the global political environment could explode at any point in the near future. I have the Order of the Blue Eagles to thank for the scholarship and the Ateneo education that has allowed me to learn how to empathize with others, be fully open to new experiences, and be resilient in the face of challenges.
To conclude, I am also happy to say that I am exploring the possibility of working abroad after my work here in the Philippines is completed. I am also hoping to enter an engineering graduate school abroad, and return to the Philippines afterward to contribute further to building our country. In all things, I bring everything I have learned in college and in my work with me.
Nicolas R. Carunungan
BS Management of Applied Chemistry 2016
Order of the Blue Eagles Scholar