May 24, 2024

Gemma Dalayoan taught students to believe in themselves.

Over the last 60 years, the University of Manitoba has recognized distinguished alumni for their outstanding accomplishments.

 As the university notes, they are “trailblazers, innovators and visionaries”, whose achievements have “inspired people close to home and around the world”.

For this year’s crop, recipients have made an impact in the fields of finance, social advocacy, community service, and university education.

On May 9, 2019, they will be officially honoured each with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

One of the recipients is Gemma Dalayoan, an educator, who will be recognized for community service.

According to the university, Dalayoan, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, has made community service her mission in life since immigrating to Winnipeg more than 40 years ago.

“As a founding member and three-time president of the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers Inc. (MAFTI), she played an instrumental part in the preservation, promotion and sharing of Filipino cultural heritage through a variety of programs and student scholarships,” the university recalled in an announcement.

“She also spent decades as a teacher and vice-principal whose guidance has helped shape students into future community leaders,” the university also stated.

Here’s Dalayoan in her own words:

I have a very strong will. I’m tenacious, ambitious, and academically inclined like my father taught me. As a child I was very energetic, I wanted always to excel.

I was so close to my father; I idolized him. He said to “strive for excellence: only the first are remembered.” I know now it was too much pressure on me. Nowadays, parents would say “try your best!” or “as long as you have fun!”

I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was five years old. In a middle of a circle of friends, I would hold a stick and teach them. I wanted to be powerful and be the center of attention.

At high school, I was taunted and bullied so that’s when I kind of slowed down. I struggled. I had very lonely days when students would grab my hand and say “don’t play with her”.

When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher for egotistic reasons. When I was older, it became altruistic: I wanted to be a teacher so I could make a difference. I said that I would teach the students to believe in themselves; to have self-worth and self-confidence; to hone their skills and develop their potential.

On October 12, 1976, I arrived in Canada. It was very liberating. I looked down from the airplane window and said “wow, look at this place, it’s so spacious, so clean”.

I learned to drive in 1983. After teaching at John King School, I would drive my station wagon all the way to the U of M for evening classes. Sometimes during the winter, I would go up the boulevard, I was so tired. I’d come home to my six children sleeping already. But my husband was very supportive; he’d call his friends to drive me sometimes.

One of the professors who had the biggest impact on me was Virginia Suave who told us “language is power”. She gave me an A+ on a paper one time but in the comments, she wrote “Gemma, you write so well, but you are still a bud.”

A gemma is a bud of a flower that has not blossomed yet. It’s shy, still very timid. I have a book now called “gemma” that reflects my story from a bullied kid to a successful woman. With the nurturing of the Canadian environment, that gemma has blossomed into a Gemma.

For nearly twenty years, I taught the writing portion of the GED through the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers. I always emphasized to students that even if you are a second-language speaker you are cognitively equal to anybody else here. Don’t feel shy, believe in yourself.

One of the people I mentored made lots of grammatical errors in his writing. This gave me the idea to write a grammar book – a refresher course that targets only where Filipinos make mistakes in their grammar. I’ll be teaching it in September and opening it to the public.

You have to always be aware of what’s happening around you, and then try to analyze it. That’s how you can improve yourself, your family and contribute to your own community.

I like helping people and it is very gratifying to see them succeed. I am thankful that there have been lots, more than I can count on my fingers.

I read somewhere that your self-image, self-confidence, self-worth should come from within, not from without. That’s why I always tell the people in our Filipino community: do not lose your self-worth or confidence, you should think of yourself as special and unique. That’s how I cured myself, how I turned around my perception of myself.

I’m a very well-integrated person now. I’m a Canadian, but culturally I never forget where I come from.

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