MANILA, Philippines -- At some point, I thought I had lost it. But every time my colleagues' enthusiasm captures my attention, I feel like the "bibo" [high-vitality, or self-confident] kid from my past would like to make a comeback.
If your blood pressure rises because some two-legged creature keeps you from having an early lunch with endless questions during classes and seminars, you can hit me. If you are tired of seeing the same face in front of the class or on the podium, then you can hit me again. And if you were one of those applicants or neophyte teachers who felt strained by a rainfall of questions and arguments aimed mainly to heighten your anxiety, then you can hit me again and again.
I don't know how everything started or how things changed.
On my first day in school, I silently stood outside the classroom for over an hour despite my teacher's insistent invitation for me to come inside. Meek as a lamb, I stayed near the door, too afraid to enter the room filled with kids who must have gobbled a year's supply of energy. I don't know how I finally managed to move my feet and find a chair inside the room.
In the succeeding days, I rarely found the courage to talk to my seatmates. Playing with my peers seemed like a strange thing for me to do. During recitation, since my teachers always asked me to speak louder, I thought that was a normal occurrence.
I can very well recall the result of my first set of exams in preschool. On a thick green paper, my teacher drew an award and asked the entire class to guess who among us got a perfect score. After shouting the names of almost all my classmates, nobody got the right answer. And when the prize was handed to me, many were surprised to know that I actually existed.
Eventually, evolution caught up with the very timid and soft-spoken school grader who always got the lowest rating for sociability. Gradually, I learned that speaking out was not bad at all since no one got persecuted for exercising one's vocal cords. I realized that I wouldn't be devoured alive if I participated in school activities, that I wouldn't melt down if I presented something in front of the class. Now, I can actually do a lot of things that I never thought I could do when I was still an antisocial mute.
It happened fast. One day, I just woke up to realize that I already belonged to the imaginary Bibo Kids' Club.
Whether I was able to deceive my classmates of my leadership ability or they were fond of making odd choices, I don't know. But in high school, I was consistently elected as class president. I joined various clubs and participated in various school programs and activities. I represented the school in numerous academic competitions: math, science, general information, and even journalism. For every poster and collage-making contest held several times in a year, I led our class in the conceptualization. For the endless plays required in our class, I wrote the script and directed. I also played chess in an inter-school sports fest, designed the batch T-shirt and coordinated the cheering competition during intramurals. When I was in third year, I held the second highest position in both the student council and the student publication. The following year, I edited the campus paper.
And yes, I did a Filipiniana dance number on stage during one of our school activities despite having two left feet. I tried hard not to look like a dancing retardate.
During those younger days, passivity and exhaustion departed from my vocabulary. The pleasure I got from speaking in front of a crowd continued to grow. In fact, while we were preparing for our graduation ceremonies in high school, I told some of the faculty members that I would gladly be their commencement speaker a number of years thence.
In college, I quickly found out that the members of the Bibo Kids' Society were so much more than I expected. Countless times, I opted to be silent. But there were more instances when I felt bothered and restless if I did not raise my hand and recite in class. And just like before, my ego hurt if I did not get the highest scores.
I must have bumped my head somewhere, but one day I just learned there was such a thing as maturity. Even if I wanted to prove something to myself, my towering expectations were already causing me more discontent than fulfillment. I was like a child who never gets satisfied with her toy and continues to yearn for attention.
Slowly, my perspective widened. I devoted more of my time to things in which I found more meaning.
I became active in academic organizations that went beyond the classroom and practiced social responsibility. For three years, I committed a significant amount of my time and effort to the campus publication that served the entire studentry. I joined the liturgical committee of the university parish as a lector during Masses. I still aimed to graduate with Latin honors not only to reward my parents but also because I wanted to make sure I would not find myself jobless.
The road was not easy. I remember nights when I lay in bed in agony because of a severe headache. My eyes would well up in tears. I was probably pushing myself too hard. In those distressing hours, I would hold a small bottle of White Flower in my hand while thinking of what I had done the past years. Then I would think far into the future and consider possibilities. What if I died at that very moment? Have I already served my purpose? I was sure that I was not yet ready to go.
Soon I realized that I was running too fast. I was missing the scenery. I knew very well that I had to spend more time on the activities and with the people I valued most. I had to slow down and put the "bibo" kid in silent mode. "Bibo" kids are not born. Becoming one is a matter of choice.
Now after working in an auditing firm for nearly three years, I have come across hundreds of "bibo kids" -- from clients to colleagues in the workplace. They remind me of a past that never fails to make me smile. The "bibo" kid in me must have died, but the dreams remain.
I dream of being able to leave an indelible mark, but this time it is not by achieving so much. The medals and trophies proudly displayed on the shelf will soon be covered with dust. They will tarnish. They will be forgotten. In the end, what will remain is that which has been instilled in the heart.
Leslie E. Vicente, 23, a certified public accountant, is a senior associate in an auditing firm in Makati City.
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