‘Do not let go of your dreams’: Janitor finishes college as a scholar

On June 30, Emmanuel Ricalde, a janitor at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, set foot on the stage of the Philippine International Convention Center, not to sweep the floor, but to receive his hard-earned Bachelor of Science in Business Administration diploma. 

Then a janitor at Benilde, Ricalde worked hard to make his children proud and achieve his dream of graduating from college. 
The 38-year-old husband and father of two is one of the many individuals who has proven it is possible to finish school despite unlikely circumstances. But much like others with almost the same situation as him, it wasn’t an easy ride for Ricalde. But his dedication to make his family proud and achieve his dreams pushed him through the hard times. 

Making his children proud

Some years ago, the then-six-year-old daughter of Ricalde asked him what he did for a living. “Janitor,” he proudly answered. But right after he uttered that word, he immediately witnessed how his daughter’s eyes turned red as she tried to mask her shame and hold back her tears. It broke his heart.

The truth is, his daughter and then-four-year-old son always believed he worked in an office, just like the fathers of their other playmates. He knew it was difficult to make them understand he had a noble job. 

“Naawa ako sa sarili ko. Ganito pala kapag hindi ka maipagmamalaki ng anak mo (I pitied myself. I realized that is how it feels like when your child cannot be proud of you),” he shared.

A high school graduate from Dagupan City, he genuinely wanted to go to college. His dreams were put on hold as fending for his family was top priority. However, he soon had to somehow reconsider and revise his plans—the greatest push was remembering the sight of his teary-eyed daughter.

Grabbing an opportunity

In 2014, Ricalde was assigned to the DLS-CSB, and when he discovered that the institution offered scholarships for working students, he immediately imagined himself as one.

He immediately applied, and after 18 years of absence, Ricalde was finally granted the opportunity to go back to class.

Then 34 years old, he discovered he was among the oldest in the batch composed mostly of regular students in their teenage years and other working students in their 20s. Intimidation almost got the best of him. But he quickly adapted to his new environment and tried to get along with his classmates.

Juggling responsibilities

Ricalde would wake up past midnight to prepare his home-cooked rice meals as his baon. He traveled by 3:00 a.m. so he could be on time for the briefing at 4:45 a.m., followed by the start of his work shift until 2:00 p.m. Rest followed, and then he tended to his homework before his 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. evening classes. After a long ride home, he would arrive just before midnight, with still some chores waiting to be finished, and only then could he finally go to bed.

Being a full-time janitor by day and a struggling scholar by night, Ricalde regretfully lost time to be with his family. 

“Aalis ako tulog sila, pag-uwi ko tulog na ulit (They would still be asleep whenever I left the house, and they would already be asleep whenever I got home),” he related.

The working student recalled how he would usually photocopy notes, folded them in quarters, and placed them in his uniform’s pocket so he could easily read them during work breaks. 

Ricalde believed this chance was somehow within his grasp and there was no turning back—he just had to do his best. 

“Kulang man sa tulog, tuloy pa rin ang laban (I may lack sleep, but I will continue to fight),” he said.  

Finding a friend

In the middle of his college education, Ricalde’s main source of strength and inspiration had to be away from him temporarily, when his wife Maricar, along with their two children, had to transfer to her hometown in Bacolod to take care of her aging sickly mother. He then had to fight loneliness after a long tiring day, as he rested to an empty bed space.

A silver lining manifested in the person of a fellow working student known as Karl, 27, best friend since day one and likewise his thesis partner.

Despite the age difference, Karl, though younger, acted as his older brother in school. They had an admirable buddy system—Karl never failed to ask him if he had eaten or if he had enough money for food. Understanding Ricalde’s situation, the friend also willingly shouldered most of the expenses as they produced their thesis.

The duo shared similar dreams: to graduate and eventually provide better lives for their families. 

However, when they were finalizing their paper, Karl was diagnosed with a fatal illness. Sadly, days before the submission of the dissertation, Karl passed on.

Ricalde, only months before their graduation, lost not just a thesis partner, but also a source of strength, a friend, and a brother.

It took quite some time, but the encouragements from his friends assisted him to get back on his feet. 

Achieving his dream

Right after his graduation, Ricalde and his wife rushed home for a much-awaited reunion with their growing children; eager to show them his diploma.

Today, he looks forward to work in an office—for real, this time—and even perhaps save enough to start his own agricultural business.

“Yung pangarap mo, wag mo iwawala. Lagi mong isipin na may pag-asa at kapag hawak at nasa kamay mo na ang opportunity, pag-ingatan mo na ‘yan (Do not let go of your dreams. Always keep in mind that there is hope, and once you have grasped the opportunity, take care of it),” said Ricalde. 

According to him, intelligence alone does not assure a smooth road to success. Patience, diligence, and perseverance help achieve one’s goals.

Once upon a time, Ricalde wielded brooms, mops, rags, detergents, and other cleaning equipment. But he promised that he will never forget how being a janitor at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde gave him once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn his life around and change the future of his family. 

Topics: Emmanuel Ricalde , De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde , inspirational story , graduate , school
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