Sabrina Ongkiko: Transcendent Love

Let’s talk about love for a moment.

I’m not referring to what popularly passes off as love in many of today’s shallow mainstream movies and TV shows.

I’m not referring to the love that is marketed on Valentine’s Day with unsightly decors shaped in red hearts and cupids and is improperly symbolized by long waiting lines at drive-in motels.

Let’s talk about love that is real and pure.

Love that emanates from the gut; really a poor choice of words but only because no other metaphor comes close to defining what love truly is — a conviction that originates from deep within, engulfs one’s entire being and is capable of inspiring others to heights unimaginable with its warmth and brightness.

Let’s talk about Sabrina Ongkiko.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT. Seeing your child grow up to follow her true calling and live her life with pure joy is more than enough. Screen grab from YouTube (TEDxTalks)RETURN ON INVESTMENT. Seeing your child grow up to follow her true calling and live her life with pure joy is more than enough. Screen grab from YouTube (TEDxTalks)

She graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University, the dream of someday becoming a doctor tucked safely in her back pocket. However, she has decided to forego that dream for now and has taken on the most improbable role:

She has chosen to become a public school teacher.

Her chosen vocation is unconventional, goes against the grain. And yet for all the right reasons, her story stands out precisely because of the unique path she has chosen.

She never intended to broadcast her entire life story. But by condensing the experiences of her teaching years into a 20-minute TEDx talk, she unwittingly bears her entire inner self. After hearing her speak, it’s like you know just what kind of person she is. That is how sincerely she comes across.

The insights that flow from her mind and the emotions that flow from her heart belie her young age. She speaks with a passion and confidence that many of us would kill to have. And her sense of purpose is so strikingly clear that it forces us to put our own lives into perspective and assess whether they contain even half the significance that is present in hers.

It doesn’t matter at what life stage we are at. Child, parent, grandparent — everyone who witnesses young Sabsy’s talk is smitten by her principles, transformed into students who hang on to every word spoken by the wise teacher speaking convincingly in front of the class.

Her narrative goes against the stereotypes of today’s young generation; in the end, it is never about herself.

She gives her speech in Tagalog primarily with her students in mind so that they may understand her message of hope. She gushes about other public school teachers who have been at it for much longer than her but remain just as dedicated today.

And of course, she talks at length about for whom she got into this line of work in the first place — her students, whom she even thanks for teaching her about life, and not the other way around. Clearly, Sabsy is the epitome of selflessness. From this selflessness resonates an infectious, unadulterated joy.

The talk is entitled “Our Return on Investment,” a reference to a conversation Sabsy had with her father (who is present in the audience) regarding the poor ROI of becoming a public school teacher vis-à-vis an expensive Ateneo education. Near the end of her talk, she gently chides her father on the true worth of what she does for a living. And in a spontaneous, endearing father-daughter moment, she playfully points to her father with a smirk and a wink as the audience showers her with applause.

In a talk filled with memorable moments, this is by far the most touching. It effectively closes the gap between speaker and audience. It transforms Sabsy from a heroine raised upon a dais who has performed the impossible into a human being — friend, classmate, daughter — who is just like you and me.

That moment allows each of us to, if just for a fleeting instance, dream her dream and wonder, “Hmm, if she can do it, then maybe I can, too.”

I wonder what Sabsy’s father was feeling as he watched his daughter in the spotlight. If I were in his shoes, I would probably remember what it was like to hold her in my arms as a baby, remember our times together when she was a child.

And in a flood of love, I would feel incredibly pleased and proud of the fact that she is one of the few who has found her passion in life and is genuinely happy with her life.

That, in my mind, would be the biggest return on investment a father could ever wish for. -

Michael Gohu Yu is a doting father who can transform into Homer Simpson the next minute. He likes writing about parenting.


Note: This is just a REPOST.

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