Feature: Philippine mother of five inspires people after graduating in senior high at 44

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MANILA, July 11 (Xinhua) — Elena Agualada, a 44-year-old mother of five grown-up children, has proven once again that one is never too old for school.

On April, Agualada officially graduated with honors in senior high school from St. Ignatius Technical Institute of Business and Arts in Santa Rosa in Laguna province, south of Manila. But it was only this month that she got her diploma due to the coronavirus lockdown.

“This is it. I finished goal number one. The next goal, which is to finish college, is maybe hard to achieve but I will prove to them that I can reach my next goal with the support of my family because they are my strength,” she said.

For Agualada, the journey to a high school diploma as an older student was not easy. Aside from studies, Agualada had to do odd jobs to help her husband, a construction worker, fend for the family.

But she said that her determination and the support of her family helped her maintain her focus on her studies.

“I held on despite the bullying and discrimination because of my advanced age. People will look at you from head to foot. When your back is turned, they will laugh at you. They will say, ‘look at her, she’s so old to be a student, she should just stay at home’,” she told Xinhua in an interview.

“I proved my detractors wrong, that I can do it, that age doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s all about family.”

Agualada, who grew up in Surigao del Sur Province in the southern Philippines, started to work at a young age. Her parents separated when she was just two years old. She and her two siblings ended up staying with relatives.

“I was working while studying all my life. I’m used to working hard. I have been working since I was 13 or 14,” she said. After graduating in grade school in 1982, Agualada said she decided to try her luck in the capital Manila. “I worked on odd jobs to survive, until I met my husband and decided to start a family,” she added.

In 2017, she decided to return to school to finish secondary school at 42. “I was accelerated after passing a qualifying exam,” she said. Three years later in April this year she got her senior high school diploma.

Agualada said she plans to get a degree in education. “My dream is to become a teacher because I also want to help educate those people like me,” she said.

Agualada’s story became viral on social media after her daughter posted her experience.

“Congratulations! Mama is on the road to college. Go, Mama. You have our support. We love you, Mama. You can do it,” Agualada’s daughter, Ryzinnia, wrote on her Facebook post, adding that the whole family is proud of her mother’s achievement. She also vowed to continue supporting her mother until her dream to become a teacher comes true.

“I salute my mother. She was able to finish her studies while working and looking after me and my siblings,” the younger Agualado said.

The daughter also posted family pictures, including a picture of her mother clad in toga holding a diploma. “You are an inspiration. I will be next to graduate,” the daughter added.

According to the younger Agualado, her mother is an inspiration to her children. “That is why we are also striving hard to finish school despite the odds,” she added.

One of Elena’s teachers, Mark Kevin De Guzman, also took to Facebook to congratulate his “excellent 44-year-old student.”

“I am very glad that you graduated and received an academic award from the school, and I know that you deserve it. I am pleased that I was one of your teachers in senior high school,” De Guzman said. “May you continue to be an inspiration to others.”

De Guzman recalled that he was surprised when he first met Agualada, who was twice his age, in his class.

“I didn’t know what to call you then but I still called you ‘Mommy Elena.’ You showed me how intelligent, respectful and caring you are for your classmates,” he said.

He added, “I was amazed because you were my top student in class and you were able to carry on two responsibilities that of being a mother and a student. Congratulations, Mommy Elena. I am very proud of you, my student.”

Agualada said she will save up for her college education especially now that she’s out of work because of the coronavirus lockdown. She is thankful that her husband, a construction worker, is working amid the lockdown restrictions.

“I know it is hard to go to college but remember that saying, ‘when there’s a will, there’s a way,” Agualada said. Enditem

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