My cousin Danielle graduated from pre-school a couple of days ago. Not only was she named the valedictorian, she also raked in 7 of the 8 “Best in” medals given out (she failed to get Best in MAPE, which is not that bad—it’s so much better than getting everything except Best in English, if you ask me).

I tried to attend her graduation, and caught the last part of the event—the part when the school principal was already thanking everyone for attending, while half of the audience were already heading out the door.

It was great to see the other kids’ parents congratulating my aunt and her hubby for the academic success of their daughter. It was also cute to see how Danielle’s schoolmates were asking for a photo opp with her. However, what impressed me the most was how my cousin was so nonchalant about the whole thing, and was actually more interested in the dinner celebration we were having that night.

Of course, I was very interested in that dinner too.

The dining table was overflowing with food: baked spaghetti, callos, kalderetang baka, salad, leche flan, cake, pork barbecue, and ice cream. As usual, I stuffed my face silly and ended up looking pregnant after a couple of plates.

When everyone went home, Danielle’s parents gave her a gift—a brand new, dark blue (and well-deserved) DS Lite, which elicited a couple of screams and giggles from her (and envious stares from her sister Demonique).

While Danielle was familiarizing herself with her new gadget, I remembered how I also received gifts (mostly G.I. Joe action toy figures and books) from my mom when I was a young student, because of good grade, of course. I had my share of gold (and silver and bronze) medals, trophies, cards and certificates. After all, I was a huge nerd during the first few years of my grade school life. I was always one of the top 5 students in the whole level, I excelled in a couple of the subjects, I joined contests, and I loved being part of extra-curricular activities.

My mom was naturally proud of my accomplishments (it was proof of her hard work, after all), and she liked collecting my certificates, cards, ribbons and medals in a clearbook. I remember how from time to time, I would flip through those clearbooks and be amazed at how neatly they were displayed, more than anything else. At first, the clearbook was nothing but a compilation of cardboards and metal bits, but then I started to like seeing my name printed on all these sheets of paper. Before long, I was regularly counting how many gold cards or gold medals I had, and feeling mighty proud every time the number changed.

During the last years of my grade school years, something happened. I am not sure what it was exactly (I became lazy, I became stupid, my classmates turned smarter), but all of a sudden, the clearbook stopped getting thicker. I also discovered how fun it was to watch TV (especially Parker Lewis Can’t Lose), sing along to Whitney Houston, and play and flirt with the neighbors instead of studying.

My mom went to the US and stopped my clearbook project. I could have continued doing it, but my life revolved around Corin “Corky” Nemec. And it wasn’t as if I had new medals or certificates to add to the collection.

In high school, I got my groove back and won some awards that I could add to the clearbook. However, I just discovered Daria, Cinemax, Jessica Zafra, witchcraft and my first heartbreak so I was pretty angst-ridden.

I ended up burning all my certificates, cards and medals. (OMG I hope my mom isn’t reading this.) I realized they were nothing but cardboard and metal bits. I figured that it didn’t necessarily mean I was stupid or worthless just because I didn’t have those anymore. It was pretty liberating, actually. Not only did I lose the pressure to grow the collection, I also loved myself a little more after that. The real me. The “me” who forgot how to spell “surround” once, despite possessing numerous Best in Spelling certificates. The “me” who actually hated Science, Christian Living Education and Sibika at Kultura, despite supposedly being best in them.

Most important of all, I knew that even if I won just a silver, I was actually better than the one who won gold. Burning all those medals and certificates made me realize that I knew the truth, and that I didn’t need a piece of paper or a bit of metal to convince myself or others to believe it.

After some time, I learned that I didn’t need to convince others to believe the truth.