When Jay Solitana posted his graduation photo on Facebook last Jan 11, he only wanted to celebrate a personal feat.
After ten long years, he finally has a degree in BA Speech Communication from his dream school, the University of the Philippines. Solitana had just learned he passed his thesis defense and his parents had just finished crying tears of joy.
He tells Coconuts Manila he defended his thesis just before going on the holiday break, and proudly adds, “I will be marching in June.”
Little did he know his story was going to inspire a gazillion folks and turn viral.
He was born to a poor family in Cavite. Before becoming a jeepney driver, his father was a harvester of mussels. And before becoming a kasambahay, his mother was a stay-at-home mom.
Solitana says they were always pressed for finances, but his parents put a premium on school: Not once did his mother allow her three little boys to miss school, just because they had no baon. “I don’t know how they did it but kahit papaano nairaos yung pang-araw-araw na pamasahe at baon.
“When I was in high school, si Papa pa lang ang nagtatrabaho,” he shares. “Kapag sira yung jeep, wala talagang kita. Yung times na ganito yung nagbigay sa akin ng motivation para mag-aral nang mabuti.”
In 2006, and for practicality’s sake, he took up nursing under a scholarship at the FEU. But he had to drop out “because my parents can no longer support my education.”
Two years later and armed with his college units, Solitana took on a call center job as a customer sales support for Hewlett Packard. It paid well enough for him to give his parents a more comfortable life.
In 2010, he became a Technical Support Representative troubleshooting customers’ issues with their HP computers. “When the account was pulled out in Teletech Bacoor and the delivery center in Cavite was about to shut down, I realized talagang hindi stable ang pagiging call center agent. I told myself I don’t need a job. I need a career.”
In the back of his mind, Solitana knew he was going to go back to school and earn a degree. There was no other school for him other than UP Diliman. When he transfered to Teletech Pioneer in Mandaluyong, he says it was a strategic one: UP Diliman, which was just a few MRT stations away from his office.
That’s when the real challenges of his dreams began. While his employers were considerate to working students like Solitana — they have first dibs in choosing their schedule — pitting an 8-hour graveyard shift with a full academic load was no joke.
“In my first two years, umuuwi pa ako sa Cavite. So from Cavite, papasok ako sa work ng 9pm until 6am, then diretso na sa UP. Sometimes the only sleep I’d get was during the commute, when I was stuck in traffic. Thank God na hindi pa naman ako nananakawan,” he laughs.
To stay awake and avoid being sent out of class, he would pinch himself or wash his face in the restroom.
He admits he would often miss out on deadlines. “At ang dami kong shortcomings. Pero while there were strict professers, marami ring super understanding and considerate,” he says, giving a shoutout to his thesis adviser, Prof. Melanie Moraga- Leano.
Solitana says he had to give up any form of love life to finish his studies. “I can’t commit to something serious na wala nga akong time even sa pagtulog. Pero of course there are times na may kinakikiligan kang tao at hindi mawawala yon. It’s just that I know my priorities and I don’t want to hurt others just because wala akong time for them,” he sagely says.
While the age-old issue of finances — “dumadating yung point na nauubos yung salary ˆ per cut off,” he says listing down his financial obligations including bills at home, paying for his brother’s tuition, and his dorm rent — Solitano admits it’s not like before where he had to walk several kilometers just to save a PHP20. With his bonuses, he was able to buy laptops for himself and his brother, as well as a mobile phone.
Just this New Year, they learned he passed his thesis defense. “Umiyak nga yung parents ko,” he shares, saying they were very happy that he passed. “Alam kong lagi ko silang kasama sa bawat pagsubok at tagumpay ko. Mas excited pa nga sila kaysa sa akin sa graduation ko eh,” he says.
He is still working in Teletech, but Solitano says he is looking towards getting a job in Public Relations. “Gusto sana naming magkakapatid na tumigil na si Papa sa trabaho, lalo na’t he’s not growing any younger. We want our parents to enjoy the fruits of their labor and hopefully, mabigay naming magkakapatid yun kina Mama at Papa.”