By Marivir R. Montebon
Rye, New York
Summer came and went. But memories in college, once more, were re-lived by some 20 former scholars of the COCOFED (Philippine Coconut Producers Federation Inc.) who gathered one Saturday afternoon for a reunion of sorts, after many years since their college days in the Philippines.
The COCOFED subsidizes the National College Scholarship Grant Program which has supported about 8000 scholars nationwide (and graduated more than 5000) since it began in 1978. About 200 former scholars are now living the US.
At the east coast, it was the first time for a few batches of scholars to meet personally in the ‘old fashioned country’ house of gracious host Dory Imbo-Beary in the beach town of Rye. Dory was a scholar from the Visayas State University in Leyte. Months prior, they were just busy chatting with each other on Facebook. Instantaneously there was laughter when they met, which is typically Filipino, as if all were familiar with each other.
Everyone brought something to the banquet table to partake, which made the reunion truly a feast. There was baked salmon prepared by Faye Rubio Virtucio and husband Gil, pancit palabok by Connie Florentino Molvizar, pork barbecue by Robert Chan, empanada brought by Rowena Alorro Ranoco, the omnipresent bam-i brought by Isabelle Ferraren, and guest Elvira Joy Lorico brought Philippine pastries so terribly missed by everyone: food for the gods and cheese mamon.
There were rice muffins, chips, fruits, mango cake, and chicken macaroni salad. Marichu Gaid and Renato Angeles brought in the drinks to complete everything. The last but not the least to arrive was Rodulfo Cabuya. There was paparazzi too, Rudy Molvizar and yours truly, to fully document the fun.
Faye’s apple martini loosened up everyone some more. The quiet neighborhood of Bulkley Manor was filled with laughter and the drool-inducing smell of pork barbecue coming from the water well-converted-grill at Dory’s garden.
Scholars at the University of San Carlos
Rowena, a graduate of BS Chemistry, shares fond memories of her days at the University of San Carlos in Cebu.
“There was a support system for Cocofed scholars from the guidance office. I will always remember the late Fr. Henry Schumacher of the USC testing center who gave advice to freshmen students who passed the COCOFED scholarship and other scholarships.
He would present facts and perceived opinions to us: State scholars pay for their expenses first and get refunded by the end of the semester while COCOFED scholars enjoy their allowances on a monthly schedule and the uniforms and textbooks every school year. State scholars have higher marks to maintain while COCOFED scholars only needed to pass. So he would make us choose: Which would you go for? Glamor as a scholar or practicality?”
Rowena said that on the downside, the other scholars and some teachers would look down on the COCOFED scholars because of the academic requirement of a simple pass. But when the number of COCOFED scholars increased and the courses became diverse, the academic community witnessed the rise of real leaders and solid scholarly grades from the COCOFED scholars group.
She has a personal triumph to share on the first semester of her freshman year.
“Every semester always culminated with a departmental exam for students taking Chemistry 1. That particular end of first semester (SY 1978-79), I was called by my Chem1 teacher Mrs. Joy Locaylocay to be congratulated at the faculty room. She said she was truly happy for me and the department because finally, a Chem major not only topped but got perfect in the departmental exam as the previous semesters have been lorded over by Math majors. I knew it was mainly hard work and partly luck that the good graces fell upon me but the bigger victory was that they have started to change their perception of what COCOFED scholars can deliver.”
Growing up Years, Great Friendships
For Gilda Racelis, without the COCOFED scholarship grant, going to the capital’s university and living in the city, would have been a financial struggle, especially that there were seven of them in the family.
Other than the financial assistance offered by the grant, the connection with varying age groups which comprised the COCOFED Scholars at the University of the East (UE) has helped her morph into a more socially, intellectually, and emotionally interactive human being.
She was lucky to have found two ‘sisters’ among the scholars, who literally spanked her to bloom into a lady.
“Pubescent was the awkward, bewildering and confusing stage in our life. The stage when we also trekked the terrains of the college life. I remembered climbing down and up the fire escape stairs of the ladies dormitory to get back inside the building after the fun disco nights. Those were the jolts of hormones in the growing up years,” Gilda recalls.
“Being a late bloomer and a tomboy until I turned fourteen, my confused emotional and physical state was fortunate to have found an older sister in the midst. I remember Yeyen Bolunia, 4th batch, scolding me in a gentle way–reminding me to act more like a young lady and not as a boy. I have this bad habit, which I still am struggling to get rid of until now, of punching anybody close to me as a way of expressing my fondness and excitement of seeing him/her again.
Yeyen, was one of those lucky friends, who got beatings from me. To this day, I am still longing to see my Ate Yeyen again. If it weren’t for her, perhaps, you would have not seen the lady in me.
After Yeyen boarded the ship to her next journey after college, Mila Alvarez Bendiola, has been my constant chaperone on my dates. You heard it. When guys asked me for a date, my protective Sister Ate Miles would be there to accompany me.
Dates for me back then was nerve-wracking. And I had Ate Miles to alleviate that fear. I wonder what the young suitors were thinking when I showed up with Ate Miles. Did I get second dates from them knowing I would not be alone. You bet I did,” she laughs.
Vianne Labay Sillador, also from UE, remembers her four years of priceless fun.
“It was an unlimited self-exploration. There was no map. The best memories were the ones I made, meeting friends who became your BFFs for more than three decades. There was pride in being known in the campus as the scholar and hobnobbing with people of authority in the university. That was priceless.”
After School Life
Rowena recalls that after college, she was not able to graduate on time due to a missing credit unit on thesis writing and for failure to sign up for the board exam.
“I became active with NGOs and the anti-martial law struggle. I got married early at age 22 with a fellow Carolinian who was pursuing Law and is now a lawyer. But with the onset of technology where USC was one of the pioneers of the email phenomenon. That was in 1983, I guess. I was tracked down by classmates, schoolmates and in 1992 I finally communicated with my beloved mentor Mrs. Joy Locaylocay who was adamant that I finish my thesis so I can officially graduate. Without much ado, I did as advised even when I was heavy with the third child. And my diploma was finally released in 1993. This paved the way for me to pursue a career in education and after serving as teacher and school head for a combined experience of 13 years in Agusan del Sur, I accepted the recruitment offer to teach in Maryland in 2007. The rest is history,” she said.
For Vianne, the COCOFED scholarship was her ticket to a good life, and it has helped her appreciate life itself.