Class valedictorian commits to the poor
KENNETH ABANTE, the valedictorian of Class 2012, had all the coveted feathers in his cap to begin a corporate success story right after graduation, but he has chosen to tread the road less traveled.
His post-graduation worry was not being able to find a job, but being able to pursue what would bring him genuine happiness. After a long reflection, he has decided on his plans for his immediate future.
“I tried to find that specific calling and I believe I have found it: I am sure God calls me to serve Him through government, specifically through the Department of Finance (DOF),” said Abante in an email interview.
“It is where I am most needed,” he explained. “It is where I can serve the poor the most.” He turned down hefty offers from reputable multinational companies to make way for this new chapter of his life.
Abante’s parents initially balked at the path he has chosen for himself, reacting negatively to his decision.
“It took a lot of negotiating to tell them about my dreams and how being in government would be both the best way I can help my country and still be a choice practical to the family,” he said, admitting that his chosen line of work does not promise as much material reward as the corporate world does.
Abante’s decision reflects his words to his fellow graduates during his valedictory speech last March, when he said, “The call for us Ateneo students, now and in the workplace, is to serve the community and to be open to the poor despite the inconveniences.”
Abante was chosen as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) in the National Capital Region (NCR) last April 30.
He graduated cum laude with a degree in management engineering (ME) and was also named the “Most Outstanding Individual” in the Loyola Schools Awards for Leadership and Service.
Serving God and the poor
“[The DOF] is where I can serve the poor more directly, using the skills I learned in ME,” Abante said.
“It is what will allow me [to gain] a greater understanding of the Philippine situation, thus bringing me closer to realizing my five- to ten-year goal of going back to Bicol to help organize our enterprises.”
Abante plans to work in the DOF for the next three years with the same dedication he showed as the immediate past president of the Council of Organizations of the Ateneo (COA).
Sanggunian President Gio Alejo said that Abante’s choice to work in the government says a lot about “his willingness to really make a positive change in the community.”
“Ken is an advocate of social justice. He fought for the Sumilao farmers when they went here [in the Ateneo] asking for help. He’s always a person who does not forget the people who are less privileged, and he reaches out to these people,” Alejo added.
For now, Abante has no specific plans on how he can help his fellow Bicolanos, but is committed to helping them in the best way possible.
He noted, however, that the challenge for him is to be always open to God’s surprises, as one of his Jesuit friends told him.
Despite Abante’s admission that certain uncertainties of his future bring him fear, he said that he will still resign to the will of God.
“I still do not know where my life will go, but God provides for those who respond to His call. God loves us, and that is enough,” Abante said.
The “outstanding” paradox
After meeting the 21 other regional finalists for TOSP, Abante felt it was already an honor reaching that far. He said that awards and recognition were just a “bonus” to his acts of service.
Abante remarked that being named one of the “outstanding” students in the Philippines for NCR presented a “beautiful paradox.”
“[For] who am I really but a student who ‘stands out’ because I am ‘the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever met?’ The community that I fell in love with, that has transformed me, is really what changed me radically,” he explained.
He added that the people who had contributed to his formation deserved the recognition more. “I am definitely not the well that gives, but the bucket that receives,” he said.
For Abante, the TOSP award serves as a reminder to stay true to himself and to continue improving in service of God.
Gratitude and promise
Abante said that his awards are his expression of gratitude to the people who, in one way or another, changed his life.
“These successes are for them most especially, and the myriad others to whom these awards are contingent on,” he said.
He named several teachers who inspired him through their knowledge and wisdom.
Leadership and Strategy Department Chair Darwin Yu showed Abante how his course could enable him to effectively serve others. Theology Department Assistant Professor Bobby Guevara showed him what it means to be a true and committed Christian.
Meanwhile, Abante said that Filipino Department Instructor Jethro Tenorio had always been his model Filipino—a citizen who loves his country.
Many more teachers had a part in shaping Abante’s life, as did his family, his friends, and, particularly, people from the Office of Admission and Aid.
He said that his achievements represent the commitment he plans to stand by with, which is to serve.
A humble lodestar
Alejo believes that Abante defines the essence of a valedictorian. “It’s not just all about the grades or being a recipient of [Latin honors], but it’s really about living out what the ideals of this university are,” he said.
Alejo added, “He inspired a lot of people, including myself. I can’t be happier that he was chosen as the valedictorian. He really deserved it.”
While Abante’s colleagues and friends saw that he was befitting an Atenean valedictorian, the erstwhile COA president said that he never gunned for such a distinction.
“I was telling one of my friends that I never really saw being valedictorian as an end or goal of my stay in the Ateneo,” he said.
The news of his selection as valedictorian reached him during the seniors’ retreat. He said it was difficult for him to accept the award at first, knowing how other eligible students were also deserving.
Abante shared that he prayed over and pondered on the distinction during the retreat.
“Just as in the greater scheme of things, I am nothing yet I receive everything in God’s love, I am called to accept this blessing,” he said.
Alejo said that Abante as COA president was dedicated to and passionate about his work.
“I think all these awards and accolades he’s been getting is something that he really deserves,” he said. “Although, despite it all, the most admirable [characteristic] of the person is his humility.”