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Meet the single mom who, after 20 years of working, gets her college degree at 42

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  • November 15, 2019November 17, 2019

  • Michelle Sison is the single mother who gets her college degree at age 42
  • After working for more than 20 years and helping her siblings finish their studies, it was her turn.
  • She finished cum laude at the National Teacher’s College, a dream 20 years in the making

A single mom beat the odds and achieved her dream of graduating college after workings as a former OFQ.

In the Philippines, getting a college degree is one of the most-awaited milestones in a person’s life. It is even more so for this 42-year-old single mother and former overseas worker.


Meet Michelle Sison. She was only 17 when she completed her freshman year in civil engineering at the University of the East in Manila. However because of the lengthening list of technical materials that was required for her course work, she could no longer afford to enroll. So, she begrudgingly relinquished her slot at UE.

So over the next 20 years, she found herself going into every odd job she could find: a saleswoman in a cockfighting arena and a hardware store in Bulacan province; a seamstress in Rizal province; a vegetable vendor in Caloocan city; and a computer and electronics operator in Taiwan.

But throughout all of this, the lure of a college degree remained tantalizing for her. She still wanted to have that coveted college degree.

Cum Laude, Graduate, Single Mom
via Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

In an interview with the Philippine Inquirer, she expressed that it had always been her dream to have one.

“Even as a kid, I loved studying. So I planted it in my head that the time would come when I would finally finish a course.”

So on June 1, 2019, after years of helping her parents put her four younger siblings through college, Sison’s dreams finally came true: She graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from National Teachers’ College (NTC) in Quiapo, Manila.

As an added sweetener to the accolade, she was conferred the Gawad Haraya, the school’s highest honor.

The Perseverance of a Single Mom

Things weren’t as smooth up until the finish line for Sison. Just a day before graduation day, she felt quite ill. But she still pushed herself to get out of bed, she said, because she didn’t want to rob her mother of the chance to walk on the stage beside her.

“I could see the joy on her face,” she said. “When we walked up I could feel her hand shaking. She was so excited.”

It was hardly a surprise that mother and daughter would be overcome with emotion. They both knew Sison’s triumphant graduation march was a payoff decades in the making.

She had been working for this moment ever since. Sison had spent nine years working in Taiwan, where her odd jobs ranged from assembling CDs and silicon boards to testing chemicals at an electronics company so that she could send money home every month.

After two grueling years in the small island-nation, she returned to the Philippines in hopes to find a more stable job here. But, she quickly found out that the local job market was a harsh and unkind place for someone who finished only as a high school graduate. Like many others, she was forced to take on seasonal jobs and burned through all her savings.

“I lost hope,” Sison said. She spent the next few years returning periodically to Taiwan, where she found herself at the mercy of whatever work contract she could secure.

When she went back to Taiwan in 2010 for a three-year stretch, however, the strain of being an overseas worker became doubly acute because she is now a single mom and had a 5-year-old-daughter whom she left in the care of her parents.

But, she never gave up on her dream and pretty soon she found herself having a scholarship and a grant to go to NTC, which, under its open-admissions policy, does not require prospective students to take and pass and entrance exam. And for Sison, the degree and honours were a vivid answer to a constant prayer.

“My prayer is always this: ‘Lord, I want my family to have a good life, and I want to be the one to give it to them,'” she said. “This is a blessing I didn’t expect. It’s still sinking in,” says the single mom.


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