My law school journey (2/10)

I started my college with reservations on the degree that I was on.

When I received the notice that I passed my UPCAT, it was with mixed emotions. Not that I was crying nor ecstatic with joy. Rather, it was more of a “huh…?”

I may have passed the admission test to enter the University of the Philippines. Heck, I even got into my first preferred site – the Diliman campus. There was this word that got me stumped: quota.

I would later on learn that the computer sciences and engineering courses in UP Diliman were quota courses. Meaning, there was a limit to the number of students that are being accepted. Because of that, they filter students into a very, very slim funnel. One of the key metrics happen to be Mathematical abilities as I would learn later on.

It’s not that I wasn’t good in Math. I do think that I did well with my Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus in my high school. It was more of the population size of those trying to get in. To be part of these programs, you’d have to best a lot of students who are likely to be really good in Math – and the population size happens to be the Philippines. Those who came from Philippine Science High Schools and Private Schools are on a competitive position over those in public schools, even in a DOST-section. I am by no means making an excuse or pointing fingers; it is more of statistics and cold hard facts. In fact, one of my HS classmates got in the computer science program at the UP Cebu campus. So, there’s that possibility that it might be me or my having chosen the premiere campus as my goal.

So when I was filling up the admission form, I was clueless what to pick. The other courses did not interest me. I don’t know why but I checked Philosophy. (Now, I’m not saying that this was an influenced from what my mother said; I think, it was more of an – okay, seems interesting, let’s take it then shift later on).

Let’s just say that the course grew on me. But, as they say, good times don’ last. I woke up to a cold-sweat inducing reality that I was on my senior year as a Philosophy student. What exactly are my job prospects? I mean, I like studying the course but I don’t see myself as a Philosophy professor. I have a lot of respect for my mentors and I see the value in learning Philosophy. It just wasn’t my cup of tea though in terms of doing it for a living.

So, in my last semester, I decided to take up law.

I did not “try” the UP LAE as some of the people I knew did. Instead, I decided to take the law apptitude exam for UP Law. Since I decided on it, I designed a plan and then executed on it. It meant me going to Sunday afternoon review classes to familiarize myself with the exam questions and then practice on sample questions. I knew someone who I consider was smart as evidenced by her graduating magna cum laude but did not pass the written exam of UP LAE because she just “tried.” Meaning, she went and take the exam without really preparing for it.

While I may have lost a few Sunday afternoons, it was all worth it when I passed the the written part of the UP LAE. Since I was familiar with parts of the exam and the nature of the questions, I was confident taking each one. If I had any doubt, it was on the essay. To this day, I can still recall the question. It was very simple but profound, at least for an undergraduate moreso a Philosophy student whose been trained to truly understand concepts and principles. The question was: What is the rule of law?

I may have passed the written part of the UP LAE. However, that was just the half of it. The other half was more daunting and nerve wracking. Unlike the written exam which may be objectively evaluated since it consisted of multiple choice questions (MCQ) with the exception of the essay, the second part was not objective, not objective at all. In fact, from my research – yes, that meant asking around and joining online forums, many intelligent and talented individuals who passed the written exam end up failing the second part of the exam. That is because, this part of the exam was a panel interview.

When my mother learned about this, she wanted me to apply in other law schools to hedge my bet, in particular at the Ateneo (or the best law school in Rockwell – wink, wink). I could remember this conversation via SMS on my Nokia 3210 while I was riding a jeepney which was traversing the University Avenue on its way out of the campus. Again, for the life of me, as was my disposition when I was in senior high school to only apply at UP, I replied that I’m only applying at UP Law.

I wouldn’t call it overconfident by any measure. It was more like I was setting myself up to only have one way to move forward. Hence, that meant burning the ship as it were so I have no other option but to soldier on and win.

So, it was quite nerve wracking when it finally happened.

It was summer time. The academic year ended. My college was finally complete. I only awaited college graduation and university graduation, which were on separate days. In in the interim, I had to hurdle the panel interview if I wanted to enter UP Law.

Around this time, I was living off-campus at a boardinghouse. I could not stay anymore at the student dormitories since the academic year has ended and I am no longer a registered student. When the day for the interview came, I dressed up in a long white sleeves, black slacks, and my shiny and polished black shoes (having picked up this skill from my ROTC days). Then, I put on a blue-patterned necktie. Yes, put on since I did not know how to tie a necktie at this point. My then-girl friend was kind enough to tie it for me so I would just put it on and adjust it.

When I entered the interview room, I felt the dread even more when I noticed the sitting arrangement. There was a single chair in the middle of the room facing a podium wherein two huge wooden tables where arranged. At the back of which were seated four law professors peering down on a candidate, who in turn, was looking up to them. You could say, the set-up was optimized for maximum intimidation.

The panel consisted of two senior faculty members (as shown by their white hair) and two junior faculty members. So, these were the people who were about to decide my fate.

One of the two senior faculty members gazed at me when I entered the room and motioned for me to sit down on the chair I mentioned earlier. I went there as courteously as I could, and took a seat.

The interview started with simple questions such as my name, my province, what degree I took up, and so on. They were basically warming up. When the hard-hitting questions started, time warped. What I felt was 2 hours of being grilled like being in a thesis defense – except that in this case, I was the subject, it was actually just about 40 minutes as I would notice when I looked at my watch after going out of the room defeated.

When I stepped out of the interview, I was 100% certain that I failed. I was so down that I walked across Malcolm Hall and sat on a bench facing the Sunken Garden. Well, shit happens I said while trying to cheer myself up. Maybe I should have listened to my mother and applied in another law school. It was the prudent thing to do after all. These and many other thoughts raced through my head.

Fortunately, it was a warm and sunny day. A cool breeze occasionally blew bringing some relief, if not comfort. After sulking for a few minutes, I stood up. Turned my back. Looked at Malcolm Hall. Then, proclaimed, at least to myself: I’ll be back. Yeah, as cheesy as it sounds. I made a promise to take the UP LAE again and do well in the interview next time. After all, many others have done it. Some have even applied in other law schools for the time being and then re-took the UP LAE and then re-do their first year of law school. For me, I was considering getting a job while waiting for the next run.

Graduation came. While happy at completing my undergraduat degree, a small part of me was feeling down and defeated after a lackluster interview performance.

If you’re wondering what happened as I seem to have fast forwarded th, it was simple – I stepped on a landmine during the interview.

You see, for the majority of my interview, the second senior faculty and who I would later on learn as the late Prof. Domingo Disini, took the reigns of the Socratic interview (that’s the best way I can describe it). He was asking me about my Philosophy background, then dugged deeper into the value of getting an education. In all humility, I was doing well and seemed to satisfy him as he gave off faint smiles now and then to my answers. At the back of my mind, and like a spider sense, I could feel he was leading me to a topic that I might not be able to satisfactorily answer – the landmine.

While discussing the importance of education, I stressed that taking tertiary education was necessary to be an educated man. Stop for a while my dear reader, what do you think of that statement? Do you agree or not? Is it correct or is it not? What part of that statement is a landmine?

When I made that statement, I myself realized my faux pas and wanted to correct myself. However, he immediately pounced on it as if asserting touch-move in a game of chess. No takebacks. When he realized that I also made the same realization, he was able to take the high ground and threw thunderbolts at me from Mt. Olympus.

He started, and I knew he would do so, with that question which is etched in my memory: “What is an educated man, Mr. Del Puerto?”

Remember, I have earlier been making a case that college education was important for continuous learning and development. My mistake was to equate, if not link, the discussion to the concept of an educated man.

What is the problem in that? The concept of an educated man is not fixed and will vary on a case-to-case basis. That is to say, it is a function of the language game agreed upon by the parties. What to you is an educated man may not be for me, and vice-versa; however, we can also choose to agree on it.

So my interviewer followed up with the most logical question: “Do you have to go to college to be an educated man?” That my friend is how you lose by stubbing your own toe. The case that I was building up to that point ended up being a house of cards. I accidentally tipped of one card and it all came crashing down.

Barely a few weeks before the start of June, I was evaluating my options on where to work. The Call Center Industry with its high-paying entry jobs was looking quite attractive. With my English communication skills, I would likely do well.

My Nokia 3210 glowed. I thought to myself, it was probably my then-girl friend or my mother who probably sent an inspirational text message to cheer me up. It was a fad back then, you know. When I opened the inbox, an unfamiliar number registered. I opened it and got the shock of my life.

No way but UP. Malcolm Hall, here we go.