Norman King suffered through poverty, discrimination, and calamities to get to where he is: the first ever Aeta to graduate from the University of the Philippines Manila.
Last June, Norman climbed the prestigious university's stage wearing a lubay (bahag) to thunderous applause.
But a documentary on GMA Public Affairs' Tunay na Buhay showed that the journey getting there did not start on the first day of school several years ago. Having an education was something Norman struggled for his whole life.
Norman was born in 1988 at the foot of Mount Pinatubo, merely three years before the deadly eruption.
The eldest of seven kids, Norman had to work at an early age to help his parents provide for their family. He worked after finishing high school in Angeles City, Pampanga, where he said he faced discrimination.
"Part of it is yung tinatawag ka ng maitim, baluga, which is ayaw na ayaw namin yung term na yun. It's degrading to us. Parang tingin sa 'min is hindi tao," he said.
His father, Roman, eventually decided to send him to Manila, where he studied to become a computer technician while moonlighting as a delivery boy. He then accepted several jobs in the city.
Studying in UP Manila was not in the plans until a patron offered to help his family.
His father, having fought for Aeta's rights and won, was usually invited to speak about disaster risk management.
It is in one of these gatherings that someone expressed their desire to help, and what Roman wished for was his son to go to university.
Norman fulfilled his father's dreams, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Behavioral Science.
It may not have been Norman's first choice, but it provided him with plenty of opportunities.
He said that studying and working in Manila was both enlightening and challenging.
"Sa Manila na-realize ko kung gaano kahalaga yung value ng pera. Aside from that, yung pakikisama mo sa ibang tao. Sa Manila never ako naka-experience ng discrimination," he said.
Norman never once faltered in his determination to get to the finish line.
"My attitude is simply, kapag naumpisahan ko, tatapusin ko. Regardless kung gano siya kahirap, kung ano man ang struggles na iharap niyo sakin. Oo I might fall down, but then again I will stand up and I will continue to fight," he said.
Life of service
Only a month after receiving his diploma, Norman has already received several job offers.
No less than the Senate, a governor in Pampanga, the Diwa ng Magdalo Foundation, and an international consultancy firm expressed interest in working with him.
But Norman is determined to serve his community first and foremost.
"Mas mahalaga sa 'kin makipagbigay serbisyo sa aking kalahi. Yun ang pinaka-priority ko muna," he said.
He is considering accepting the job at the Pampanga Capitol, where they are offering him a position as the Community Affairs Officer of the Aeta Commununity.
He said that he also wants to teach in UP Manila, during which he can also pursue a master's degree.
Inspiration to others
Norman continues to inspire others with his story.
He has been invited to talks, where he tells the audience about the obstacles he overcame to get where he is.
During his talk at the PAREF Southridge School in Muntinlupa, Norman was able to have an impact on the youth.
"Na-insipire ako, yung in spite of those struggles, financially pa, tapos marami pang nangyari sa buhay, ay nakagraduate pa siya," one of the students who attended said.
"Natutunan ko sa kaniya na kung kaya mo, kaya mo, kung gusto mo talaga, 'wag ka susuko," another one said.
Even now, Norman remains thankful for everything coming his way.
"Up until now, na-o-overwhelm pa rin ako sa blessings. They keep on coming," he said. —Jessica Bartolome/JST, GMA News