Keeping eyes on much bigger prize
Manila native overcomes obstacles that would break a lesser person and is now reaching for the stars
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By Mira Brody  October 18, 2013 12:00 am

The stars are always there,” says Sonoma State University senior John Michael Vincent P. Coralde, one of 23 students statewide to receive the California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. “Even when we cannot see them, they are always there.”

At only 21, Coralde has had his share of darkness, having come to America at 14 from the impoverished side of Manila in the Philippines. But no matter how dire the situation, it was never hard for him to focus on the light in store for his life ahead.

Less than a decade ago, he was selling flowers and candy on the streets to feed his family, and today he is studying to get his Bachelor’s in Kinesiology, and then enter the Dual Master’s program in Science and Medical Health Epidemiology. He hopes to return to the Philippines one day and expose those less fortunate to experience real health care and nutrition.


A cherished opportunity

With no school supplies or books and sometimes an empty stomach, Coralde remembers having to walk up to an hour to school in Manila and sit in a classroom of 80 or 90 students, usually on the floor.

“Even today I still can’t believe I am here,” he says. “Individuals like myself don’t typically get the opportunity to study in America. Back home we were lucky enough to eat twice a day, sometimes only once.”

After his father’s family moved with him to Sonoma County, Coralde was forced to integrate without much English into middle school. He stood out, he says; people could tell he was different, but he did not let it bother him because he knew what real-life obstacles were. “Fitting in” was not one of them.

“There seems to be a lot of opportunities here in America, but students don’t really take them,” he says of the education system in particular.

He remembers what it was like to finally have a desk to sit at, food to eat and books to borrow from the library. “They (his family) knew how important education was. They wanted to give us a chance.”

Since his acceptance into SSU, Coralde has taken more than a full load of units every semester, as well as participated in many on and off-campus community services. He was a summer orientation leader, a summer bridge leader and is also a peer mentor where he helps students like himself, whether they are financially or educationally challenged, or an ethnic minority, to have a support system through higher education.


Repaying the kindess

He explains that it is important for him to give back because he remembers so vividly how it was to rely on the kindness of strangers for life’s daily necessities.

“There were times when in order to eat I had to literally beg people, and I can remember how I felt when they did (help). There’s an instant happiness that you’ve created. When I’m feeling down, I remember that moment that someone was nice enough to give me some spare change.”

Set to graduate in spring of 2015, Coralde already has a map of his future before him. After his Bachelor’s degree, he hopes to work as a physician’s assistant and get involved in a world medical administration program. Having experienced it himself, he is no stranger to the conditions less fortunate countries deal with every day and strives to find a solution.

Although still an undergrad, his accomplishments have already been recognized by the state. The CSU Trustees’ Award is presented to those students who not only go above and beyond in their academic work, but exhibit extensive community involvement despite economic obstacles. Because of their recognition and help from government grants and scholarships, Coralde is able to not only support himself, but he sends money back home to his mother’s family, which still lives in Manila.


‘Education before everything’

He describes his life here as a “hallucination” – something he still cannot grasp is true and says even in his darkest moments he will stop, rethink his priorities and take life one step at a time.

“I just have to remind myself that at the end of the day I am going to SSU to get my degree. Education first before everything,” he says on setting his priorities. “I remember that I’m so close to getting that degree: the key to alleviating my family.”

Although it has been a rough path to success, Coralde has an incredibly positive interpretation of his struggles. He believes that destiny gives challenges to its toughest soldiers, and that if he had not experienced the hardships, he would not be the same person.

“I look at my struggle and see it as motivation,” he says. “If you don’t take that risk, you’ll never know what could have been. Stresses should make you crave what you want more.”

No matter what life throws your way, the dream of a higher education should never be stifled, and Coralde remains proof that it is possible, that passion overcomes any obstacle as long as your ambition is strong enough.

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