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A Bountiful Harvest for SM’s Scholars

(Article published in the Jun 2, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)   

2010 was a very  good year:  2 summa cum laudes, 15 magna cum laudes, 26 cum laudes, and 4 with academic distinction, out of a total 105 graduates.  This is the highest percentage of honor students amongst the scholars of the SM Foundation’s College Scholarship Program.

 Henry Sy was so happy he gave gift checks of Php 10 thousand for each summa, Php 7 for each magna, Php Php 5 for each cum laude, and Php 3 for those with distinction.  And every one else got a wristwatch with their names engraved on it.

 Launched in 2003, the SM Foundation’s College Scholarship Program is the embodiment of the foundation’s education advocacy, one of many intended to extend immediate and long-range assistance to deprived communities in areas served by the SM Group of Companies. 

 The SM Foundation’s College Scholarship Program is open to all graduating students of public high schools in almost all over the country.  Those with a weighted average of 88% in the second or third grading period of their senior years and who come from families whose household income is no more than Php 150,000 a year may apply.  As a result applications have come and are welcome from the National Capital Region, Baguio, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon, Rizal, Camarines Sur, Pangasinan, Pampanga, Bacolod, Cebu, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.


 But merely having the qualifications does not necessarily mean admission to the program.  Applicants have to hurdle a strict screening process which involves the usual written examinations and the personal interviews.  What is important is that the applicant exhibits the potential for leadership as well as the actual, and not merely the imagined, capability of doing well in one’s studies but also eventually in contributing to the enhancement of one’s community.

 The benefits of being selected as an SM Foundation’s scholar are enormous and thus not limited to the hand-out of free tuition.  In the first place, the scholar does not get canalized into a particular career path.  He or she is free to choose to enroll in courses leading to degrees in Computer Science, Information Technology, Information Management, Electronics and Communications Engineering, Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Elementary and Secondary Education and Accountancy.

 Then, in line with SM Foundation’s vision of using a “holistic approach to respond to the social needs of the marginalized segments of society”, the scholars are given monthly allowances; they attend bonding and sharing annual activities such as the general assembly, recollection, sportsfest, Christmas party, summer and Christmas break jobs at SM stores.  When studies are all done, they can expect job offers from the SM organization that is significantly present in most, if not all, the commercial centers in the country.

 No wonder testimonials from previous scholars are copious.  Michelle Mae Olvido, an SM Foundation Scholar who was graduated last year with a degree in Elementary Education from the Cebu Normal University, magna cum laude, was the daughter of a contractual worker at a construction company and of a public school teacher.  She in no uncertain terms proclaims that “my scholarship paved the way not only to earning a degree but also to the opening of wonderful opportunities for me.”

 Parents too were not parsimonious in expressing their gratitude.  Mrs. Pacita Asi, mother of a scholar who had graduated last year with a Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Baguio, cum laude, had this to say:

 “Education is the only inheritance we can bestow on our children but is proved to be very difficult because my husband suffered a stroke even before my son, Pablo, was able to finish high school…a valedictorian in elementary and high school, we didn’t want him to stop schooling.  We are truly grateful that through SM Foundation, my son was able to finish college.”

 The thanks, of course, were not confined to words.  The students who had gone to SM College Scholarship program responded by actually excelling, at least initially, in their chosen fields.  Thus, two 2009 SM scholars took top slots in the recent government licensure exams for teachers; Jaylord Losabia, who graduated cum laude from the University of San Agustine in Iloilo was highest scorer and Mae Michelle Olvido was third highest. 

 They were not the only ones.  All of the SM scholars who took the CPA board exams passed. Others passed the Electronics and Communications Engineering Board.

 Says Ms. Linda Atayde, executive director of SM Foundation’s College Scholarship Program: “We are very proud of our SM scholars.  Their sterling performance in their respective board exams is a testament to the values of excellence, hard work and perseverance instilled in them by their parents and SM Foundation’s college scholarship program.  We congratulate them and continue to extend our best wishes as they pursue bigger dreams.”

 This is not to say that an SM Foundation scholar’s life is not without its challenges.  John Carlo Avila, son of a jeepney driver and a housewife, did not have a computer which his professor said was essential to taking the course.  Undaunted, John forced himself to be resourceful, spending his free time not with his barkada but in doing his assignments that required the use of a computer at the school laboratory.  He thus planned his schedule in such a way that he would work have to work at home only on assignments that did not need the use of the computer.

 It is attitudes such as this that keep the Foundation going.  “Suffice it to say”, says Debbie Sy, executive director, “our commitment grows ever stronger…we are steadfast in growing our advocacies to empower, to build, to care, to teach and to lift the spirits of the downtrodden.”  True this was in 2009; so true it is this 2010