On March 25, 2017, Regine Cañete Villamejor is set to graduate with honors, magna cum laude, from the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) in Cebu City.
Regine's achievement means so much to her family, and all the students who, like her, have big dreams but little means.
A proud daughter of Mang Raul, a fisherman and fish vendor in Taloot, Argao in Cebu, the 20-year-old Cebuana did not see "kahirapan" as a hurdle.
Her 42-year-old father gets up at dawn every day to start fishing.
Regine told PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in an interview via Facebook Messenger, earlier today, March 23, "Umaalis nga po pala ng bahay ng two or three a.m. ng madaling araw para mangisda 'tapos po, uuwi siya mga two or three din ng hapon.
"Pero minsan, kapag wala talagang huli, maaga siyang umuwi."
How much does Mang Raul earn per day?
Regine answered, "Si Tatay po more or less 700 pesos yung kita niya in a day.
"Pero depende po iyan kasi pag may bagyo, siyempre madalang ang kuha niya.
"'Tapos naman po minsan pag maraming huli, kikita po kami ng more or less 1k pero hindi po iyan permanente.
"Depende lang po talaga sa panahon.
"Kukunan pa po iyan ng pambayad sa gasolina at ice."
She added, "Kaya po hindi kalakihan kita namin kasi huli lang ng Papa ko ang binibinta namin at WALA PO KAMI SA MERCADO.
"Nasa tabi lang po kami ng kalsada nagtitinda."
Whenever Rej (her nickname) is home, she helps her mom, Mary Jane, sell fish.
At an early age, she was already exposed to life's hardships.
"Iba po sa probinsiya. Yung bahay po namin for the past 14 years, nipa hut lang talaga."
According to Rej, their family has always looked at the bright side.
"Lagi kong ipinagpapasalamat, gumaling yung Mama ko sa sakit niya."
She did not elaborate on the illness of her 40-year-old mother, but she assured, "okay na po siya."
Rej resumed, "Sabi ko sa kanya noon, laban tayo kasi gusto ko ga-graduate ako na nandun kayong dalawa ni Papa."
Rej has two younger brothers: Jonard, 15, and Ramer, 17. Although her parents do their best to provide for them, P700 is barely enough for their needs.
Getting good grades became her solution to help her parents.
"Napakalaking tulong din po ng fifty percent tuition fee discount ko sa USJ-R, pero I have to maintain a general average po every sem na hindi lalagpas ng 1.4.
"Discounted po ako sa tuition fee dahil sa grades ko."
Since her hometown is two to three hours away from the city, Rej stayed in a boarding house, where she created an "inspiration wall" that bore her family's pictures.
"Kapag napapagod na ako, tinitingnan ko na lang po ito para kahit malayo po ako sa family ko, parang nadito na rin po sila."
She also placed a Sto. Nino in one corner of her room. "Best armor ko po iyan," she said.
LOVE LIFE. When asked about her study habits, Rej said she's focused and diligent.
"Yes po, sobra kaya nga po ang laki-laki ng eyebags ko."
How about love life?
She admitted, "Isang beses pa lang po ako nagka-boyfriend. First year college po ako noon.
"First and last bf ko po yun, one month and two weeks lang po kami."
Did she tell her parents?
"Nung nagka-boyfriend po ako, di ko po sinabi kina Mama at Papa kasi natakot ako na baka patigilin ako sa pag-aaral kasi siyempre first year college pa po ako nun.
"Pero nung nalaman ko po na ga-graduate na ako, ayun, umamin na po ako kay Mama na nagka-boyfriend ako noon."
Does she have an ideal guy?
"Pini-pray ko talaga kay Lord yung deserving ipakilala sa parents ko."
But she's not in a hurry.
"May tamang panahon naman po para sa lahat ng bagay.
"Love life is important to me, but it's not urgent po."
PARENTS' REACTION. What did her parents say when she told them she's graduating with honors?
Referring to her dad, Rej said, "Sobrang saya po niya.
"Makikita mo talaga sa mga mata niya lalo na nung nag-attend siya ng ring hop ko kagabi po [March 22].
"Si Mama naman po, sa tuwing nagse-share siya sa mga boardmates ko, classmates ko, o sa mga kakilala, napapaiyak po talaga siya sa saya."
This was taken during their ring hop, a dance ceremony that takes place during Graduation Week.
PLANS. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and Commerce, she's hoping to find a job right away.
"I will save money to help my family and for my siblings’ education and, at the same time, I will save some money for myself because few years after, I would probably go back to school and pursue my master's degree."
Is she going to be based in Cebu?
"Sa Cebu ko po balak mag-work pero kung may blessing man po na dumating, kahit saan po okay lang basta bigay ni Lord."
To her fellow students, she shared her mantra, "Never give up chasing your dreams."
Just before the chat ended, she left this inspiring message.
"Where there is love and determination, you can never go wrong.
"Just be optimistic, no matter how complicated the situation may be.
"Being optimistic would help you get out of the bumpy road mostly during the times that you nearly want to give up.
"No matter where life takes you, keep your feet grounded and always have the sense of character in you because it would surely bring you to the best destinations.
"Most of all, don't forget to pray and thank God for all the blessings."
She ended with, "Huwag pong kakalimutan kung saan tayo nanggaling at huwag po nating kalimutan ang lahat ng sakripisyo ng mga magulang natin para lang mapag-aral tayo."
Interview: Karen A.P. Caliwara