Lorelei Baldonado-Aquino (second from left) with her family (from left) son MD, husband Roel, and her fellow graduates, son Emar and daughter Lala.
As kids, we imagine our life in stages — finish school, start a career, get married, have kids, then retire happy. But life is unpredictable, and plans don’t always work out as how we imagine them. Still, even if the order is all wrong sometimes, things start falling into place.
It’s what Lorelei Baldonado-Aquino, 44, went through when she finally attained her business management degree 28 years after she went to college last June 24, 2018. The journey of this stay-at-home-mom of three recently went viral after she posted her inspiring story on her blog, Mom on a Mission.
Calling herself the ‘44-year-old kolehiyala,’ Lorelei writes that she didn't get her diploma because she failed Math 100 (Calculus) during her last semester at the University of the Philippines Diliman Extension Program in Pampanga (UP Clark) back in 1994. She got a grade of 4.0 (1 is the highest in U.P.'s grading system), which meant she had to take a removal exam for it to graduate. Unfortunately, she failed that exam.
Math has always been Lorelei's weakness. She took Math 11 (College Algebra) three times, Math 14 (Trigonometry) six times, and Math 101 (Statistics) three times during her college years.
By the time she found out that she had failed Calculus, she had already started a job as an administrative officer. Then, “things that were much more important than trying to pass my Calculus started to happen all at once,” she writes in her blog.
Those things included getting pregnant with her first baby and getting married to her now-husband, Roel. “At the time, I already had a protruding belly, so even if I graduated, marching up the stage was out of the question,” she tells SmartParenting.com.ph in an interview via Facebook Messenger.
After having her baby, Lorelei had to quit her job because her husband’s work required them to move to the province. Then baby #2 came along, and baby #3 after just another year.
“A few short years later, and it was time to send them all to school,” she writes in her blog. “Before I knew it, more than two decades had already passed.”
Lorelei happily chose to be a supportive wife and devoted mother to her kids, Emar, 22; MD, 21; and Lala, 19. But she couldn't shake off that desire to earn her diploma.
“It was like an itch that wouldn’t go away. I just had to address that itch; otherwise, I couldn’t really have that sense of self-fulfillment,” she tells Smart Parenting.
Lorelei finally saw a chance when two of her children, Emar and Lala, were set to graduate from U.P. Diliman. She thought that it would be nice if the three of them could graduate at the same time. And so, Lorelei took a leap of faith and enrolled in U.P. Clark in 2017.
For four months, Lorelei woke up at 3:00 a.m. twice a week to prepare her family’s breakfast and make the commute from Bulacan to U.P. Clark for her two-hour class.
Lorelei also had to live with the fact that she was way older than her classmates. “They called me Tita!” Her teacher, who was almost the same age as her, also addressed her as ‘Ma’am.’
It wasn’t the hardest part. The most challenging was reacquainting herself with her old enemy, Calculus. “As a long-time wife and mother, my brain has been wired to dealing with and solving domestic issues and conflicts, and not the complicated relationships between equations and functions!”
Lorelei endured everything, including the humiliation of being tutored by her son, Emar. “As a parent, I had been used to teaching my children. It should not be the other way around,” she writes.
Unfortunately, Math still proved too difficult. Lorelei failed many of her exams and suffered from panic attacks and ‘pre-exam catastrophes’ like the flu, monthly periods, and diarrhea. She once again got a grade of 4.0 at the end of the semester with no option to take a removal exam, even if she had perfect attendance and had high scores on some exams.
“I was devastated, furious, and embarrassed,” she writes. But in hindsight, she realized that if her teacher gave her an undeserved passing grade out of pity or sympathy, it would shatter her high regard for her alma mater.
Fueled by her desire to finish what she had started, Lorelei enrolled again during the next semester, this time choosing to go to U.P. Diliman. But on her first day, she already wanted to quit.
“Unlike in Clark, I had to go to Diliman four times a week for a one-hour class. And when I saw the course outline, I knew right away that the pace would be brutal, the coverage would be long, and no exemption from the final exam would be allowed,” she writes.
Lorelei admits she has always found Math difficult, and it was the lone subject preventing her from getting her college degree.
It was her children who kept her going. “My children could take as many as seven subjects in a semester, and I expected them to bring home excellent grades. [And] There I was, allowing myself to abandon my long-time dream of earning a diploma, to give up the fight even before it started, to be daunted by the obstacles that a single subject entailed,” she writes.
At the end of the semester, Lorelei passed with flying colors with a grade of 2.50.
Finally, it was time for Lorelei to march in her sablay and get the diploma that eluded her for 28 years. And she was going to graduate at the same time as her two kids, both of whom graduated as cum laudes. But that wasn’t all.
It was also time to tell her parents that she did not graduate in 1994. Yes, all this time, Lorelei made her parents think she finished college.
“When my parents asked me about graduation back in 1994, I told them that I didn’t want to march with a protruding belly. I already had my yearbook pictures, so they were convinced that I finished my course,” she tells Smart Parenting. “It was also around that time that lahar flows due to the eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo destroyed Pampanga, so I just told them that my diploma was among those damaged.”
The night before her recognition rites Lorelei convinced her parents they were attending her daughter Lala’s graduation. She didn't tell them yet she was one of the graduates.
On June 24, graduation day, Lorelei told her parents the truth minutes before the processional began, and she was about to march. “They thought I was pulling their leg, and I showed them my name on the list of candidates for graduation.”
Lorelei's parents were clueless that their daughter did not really graduate in 1994. They only found out on Lorelei's graduation rites.
Like a scene straight out of a telenovela, Lorelei said she saw the play of emotions on their faces. “First was disbelief, then anger because I lied to them for more than 20 years. Then, gradually, it turned to acceptance.”
In the end, her parents were very proud of what their daughter had accomplished, “especially when my blog article went viral and our story was featured in newspapers, television, radio, and various online platforms.”
It may have taken Lorelei more than two decades to complete her degree, but it just shows her resilience. It is another proof that even if you fail, hard work and effort will eventually yield success. It’s something that she wants her kids always to remember.
“Never lose heart. When you feel that the universe is conspiring against you, when trusted friends turn their backs on you, when adversities simultaneously assail you, when your best efforts are greeted with indifference, when you fall flat on your face again and again and again — just keep going on. Don’t give up. A miracle may just be around the corner, patiently waiting for you,” she writes in her blog.
Now that she has finally completed her degree, we couldn’t help but ask, “What’s next for Lorelei?”
“I’ll just keep on doing what I have been doing for the past 24 years — being a supportive wife to my husband and a devoted mother. I will also continue to write and blog in the hopes of inspiring and touching people’s lives through my articles.”
An earlier version of this article misstated Lorelei's final grade for Math 100 as 2.75. Her final grade is 2.50.
This article was updated on June 28, 2018 at 4:35 p.m.