In serving the academe for the past 38 years, Saint Michael’s College of Laguna (SMCL) president Lourdes Almeda-Sese believes that life is a journey to significance.
“I have learned that life is indeed not a journey to fame, power, and fortune but a journey to significance. To lead a life of significance has become the ultimate aim in my quest for peace and happiness. And to succeed in this quest I have discovered that it is imperative for me to build, to create, to be of service, ” the esteemed educator told The Sunday Times Magazine in this exclusive interview.
It was on her sixth year working at a private firm that Sese’s aunt Luisa Limaco de Leon offered her a job at SMCL. Coincidentally, at that time, another aunt and her godmother, Miguelunda Educational Corporation Vice Chairman Teodora Limaco, had just gifted each of her godchildren a 240-square-meter lot in Segunda Village near the same school.
“I wanted a bigger lot for the house that we were planning to build at that time with the help of my mother, Maria Limaco. I was sold another lot by the school’s founder [my aunt Pura Ligaya Limaco], on the condition that I commit to help the founding president [another aunt Milagros Ligaya Limaco]run the college. I thought that would be the start of my semi-retirement so I can devote more time for my daughter, Andrea. But I was wrong, my work [in the college]became my life and my life [became]my work. Call it destiny, consider it providential,” she related.
Vocation and advocacy
For Lourdes Almeda-Sese, education is both a vocation and advocacy.
“Education is the most strategic of interventions against poverty. It is a tool to empower the learner and ennoble the learned to improve the quality of their lives, steering the whole community into growth and development. It was this belief that led to the founding of Migeulunda Educational Corporation. What better way to give back to society whatever benefits one gets from it in a spirit of love and service and perpetuate the philanthropic ideals of [my maternal grandparents]Miguel and Segunda Limaco,” she philosophized.
Sharing the same vision of quality education made readily available to the people of Biñan as her aunts, Almeda-Sese helped steer the then Biñan College become what it is today.
“The Limaco sisters—Pura, who provided the necessary financial support for the school’s operation and Milagros, as chairman of the board and school director—played active roles in SCML’s development. But their sister, Luisa, who relocated with her family to Iloilo always held her hometown close to heart. It was her who convinced me to join the school [as Registrar],” she continued.
“SMCL took a dramatic transformation not only in the campus’ physical infrastructure—with the addition of Milagros L. Limaco Learning Center and the St. Theodore Hall—but also in its service delivery in 1997 while I was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, following the retirement of Milagros Limaco. In 1999, the college forged an academic exchange program with then Namhae College of Gyeongsangnam-do in South Korea.”
Modesty aside, Sese said that since taking over as college president, SMCL has metamorphosed from its humble beginnings in 1976 into a major presence in 2004, becoming the first deregulated institution of learning in the Province of Laguna. Moreover, it officially joined the ranks of the top six percent of private higher educational institutions nationwide.
This deregulated status was then elevated to autonomous in 2016. SMCL had been granted ISO 9001:2008 certification by TUV Rheinland in April 2014 and re-certified in April this year. The college also received the Gold Award from Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation (Pacucoa) with 100 percent of its programs accredited in 2017. Its community extension arm, the Lingkod at Pagmamahal ng SMCL, was converted into a foundation.
More importantly, producing graduates imbued with the values of service, moral uprightness, commitment to excellence, love for humanity and intercultural sensitivity, Sese is proud to say that SMCL provides a strong teaching force in the education sector.
“Most of our graduates occupy administrative positions in the Division of City Schools. The same is true with our Information Technology, Hotel and Restaurant Management and Business Administration graduates who are employed in multinational companies both here and abroad,” she elaborated.
With the continuous positive feedback on her visionary and transformative leadership, she conveyed that SMCL’s progression as university in the future is very likely.
While discharging her duties both as mother to Andrea and steering SMCL greater heights, Sese bore another child, Michael, on top of completing her post graduate studies. She has a doctorate in education from the Philippine Normal University and graduated from a course on Strategic Positioning for Educational Leaders at the Asian Institute of Management.
“From a seemingly comfortable ‘nothing life,’ I embarked on a voyage—a voyage of inner discovery – within myself, within our organization and beyond. I have been on this voyage long enough to finish my post graduate studies, bore another child Michael, and see my children finish college, and make me a grandmother four times over,” she enthused.
Toward the end of 2008, she was diagnosed with Stage 2A aggressive carcinoma breast cancer, which she considers her life’s greatest challenge, but her faith prevailed.
“Having the big C, it was not enough to pray for a long life. As I lay in bed trying to regain my strength after each chemotherapy treatment, [I realized that] being alive is useless if life has no meaning and purpose. It was really a life-changing experience and I’m glad to be looking forward to celebrate my ninth cancer-free birthday on December 17,” she revealed.
Old school vis-à-vis millennials
With the passing of the free education bill in state universities and colleges, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte into law as the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act on August 3, what does a private education executive like her plan to do in the near future?
“I share the stand of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] that education must be the top priority because it is a basic human right and the foundation on which to build peace and drive sustainable development. The government must ensure inclusion and equity in education; it means that tertiary education for all must be delivered where public and private higher education institutions are collaborators. The competition for enrolees must not be an issue, rather the strong partnership between private
and public schools in providing quality education should surface,” she replied.
As to how SMLC is adjusting in the age of social media and millennials, Sese said, “As a 21st century learning institution, SMCL caters both to the old school and the millennials. We have not totally departed from the old and tested methods though we provide our students access and equity to digital tools in learning. We strike a balance between the two since we cater to diverse students from different places. We also utilize strategic interventions and enhancements such as blended learning, differentiated instruction, collaborative assessment and the like.”
Besides its strong academic offerings, SMCL takes pride in its Enterprise Development Program pointing students towards entrepreneurship as an alternative to the lure of bigger incomes offered by technological courses.
“Relying on their skills and business acumen, we build their self-esteem and prepare them for greater opportunities [under the entrepreneurship program].”
For Sese, an ideal campus must foster a nurturing and supportive environment where students can learn and succeed, maximizing students’ potential by providing the needed reinforcement and enrichment, which her college exemplifies.
“SMCL provides a learning environment that will bring forth to the world individuals who will embody the Michaelean ideals of service, moral uprightness, commitment to excellence and love for humanity,” she said.
The president asserted that SMCL’s core values—Service to God and Country, Moral Uprightness, Commitment to Excellence and Love for Humanity and Intellectual Sensitivity—are equally important in the institution’s success.
“Our tag line is, ‘Here in SMCL, we make you the best that you can be.’ We aspire to transform our students into competent and compassionate graduates who are ready to share themselves in promoting the Filipino identity and in spreading love to the world.”
Looking beyond the walls of her turf, she said that there is more to life than here and now.
“What matters most to me is how I shall be remembered for how I had left this world better than I found it. I should live a life that matters. Living in the light of eternity has colored how I handle every relationship, task and event. There must be bits of Christhood that should shine though when I think nobody does or cares, when my ego falls away and the only audience that matters is God,” she asserted.
“From my professional side, what I consider as the real return on investment for SMCL, and for me in particular, are the countless empowered and ennobled Michaelean graduates situated here and in the different parts of the world, continuing the Michaelean legacy in their own small way.”
She takes pride in the fact that the majority of students who pass through the school’s portals with hardly anything in the beginning had been able to make something of themselves.
“Just like my grandfather Miguel, a young stowaway from China,” Sese related. “Theirs may be simple stories and humble achievements, but the difference that they have made, and will continue to make in their own sphere of influence – speaks of something immeasurable. As I said on my sunset, I am confident that SMCL will never fall. Its ideals will live in the heart of every Michaelean. They will continue to plant the Michaelean seed,” the seasoned educator concluded.