DAVAO CITY – At 36-year-old, Jerome Velez not only earned a bachelor’s degree. He also inspired a lot of people with his story.
Velez’s story went viral over the weekend after his batchmate shared his story on a Facebook post.
According to Ading Salvane, she met Jerome while she was in her third year in college.
“He asked me if (I) knew how to answer our seatwork and apologized for asking about it. When I looked at him, he was very tired and shaking (maybe because of hunger). He was a very shy person. He doesn’t look at you straight in the eye when he talks and will always bow down his head while walking,” she wrote.
Salvane said when the pandemic hit last year, Velez “was worried if he will be able to sustain since wala syay facebook and wala syay android phone to go online (he does not have a Facebook account and he does not have a smartphone to go online),” she said.
“I simply told him ‘mag enroll lagi ta ya. Gamay nalang kaayo. Mu graduate lagi ta’ (I simply told him ‘we are going to enroll, we’re almost there. We will soon graduate’),” she said.
Her Facebook post has over 6,800 shares and 18,000 likes as of this writing.
Father of 4
Velez, a father of four, recently graduated from Tagoloan Community College with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration major in financial management.
“Nakagraduate ko high-school 2013, bisan asa na ko nagtrabaho (I finished high school in 2013 and I have tried different jobs),” Velez told The Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.
Velez shared that he came from a broken family and had to fend for himself their parents separated. Velez has three other siblings and he said he is the only one who was able to get a college degree.
“Bisan unsa na lang akong trabaho. Laborer, mangdaro, for survival makabuhi lang ug makasuporta sa pamilya (I took different jobs. I worked as a laborer, in the farm for survival and to support my family),” he said.
Velez would describe himself as “batang pinasagdan” (an abandoned child).
“Pag-graduate nako high-school nangandoy na unta ko skwela magkuha ko og vocational course. Wala man ko suportahi sa akong papa kay naminyo na man lain. Batang pinasagdan lagi ko (After graduating from high school, I planned to take up a vocational course. But my father did not support me, he got married to another. I was an abandoned child),” he said.
Velez recounted that he decided to go to college in 2017. He took nighttime classes at TCC, an hour away from their home. He would work in the morning and finish by 3p.m. to get ready for his classes.
“Magsugod ko sa trabaho 7am, naa may farm sa uban nga tawo ipadaro ug basok nila sa akoa (I start working at 7a.m., I work as a farm laborer),” he said. Velez said he would earn at least P250 a day from work, a salary which was never enough for his family.
“Grabe nga badyet gyud, gihasolan akong misis. Ako lang sya gipasabot nga sige lang makagraduate lang ko makakita ko tarong na trabaho (Our budget was too tight, my wife had difficulties. I just told her that after I finish school I would be able to find a good job),” he said.
Proud of papa
Jihanna, Jerome’s eldest child and only daughter, said they are very proud of their father.
“Nalipay gyud mi. Wala mi nag-expect na mag-viral siya (We are so happy, we didn’t expect that he will become famous),” Jihanna, 14, said.
Jihanna described her father as someone very kind and sweet.
“Magdula-dula sila sa akong manghod magboxing-boxing kung wala sa uma (He would play boxing with my younger brothers if he is not on the farm),” she said.
Jihanna, who dreams of becoming a nurse when she grows up, said their father always reminded them to take their studies seriously. She said she is thankful that her dad is kind and hard-working.
“Nagpasalamat ko sa iyaha na naningkamot sya, nagpasalamat pud mi na buotan sya amo (I thank him for doing his best, we are also thankful that he is kind to us),” Jihanna shared.
Even after graduating from college, Velez continues working as a farmworker. He said he hopes to find a stable job soon to support his family. He said he wants to be able to support his children’s education.
“Kani akong pag-eskwela dili ra ni para sa akoa, para ni sa akong pamilya (I went to school not just for myself, but for my family as well),” he said.
“Akong plano kay makakita unta ko nga stable na trabaho para makasuporta sa pamilya. Mao ra gyud akong pangandoy sa pagkakaroon (I hope to find a stable job to be able to support my family. That is my only dream right now),” he said.