A LONG-SLEEVED shirt, tie and a briefcase are among the essentials Douglas Pañares dons and carries every day as a businessman.
While he spends most of his time transacting with his customers online, it’s not unusual to see Pañares driving his car to meet with potential property buyers.
But by noon, the real estate broker sheds the formal clothes in exchange for a backpack and a school uniform.
Instead of driving, he walks from his house in Barangay Tisa, Cebu City to the Cebu Institute of Technology-University (CIT-U). He walks a total of seven kilometers to and from school every day, rain or shine, for exercise.
A working student is not uncommon anywhere around the world.
But Pañares is not your regular student, a freshman for that matter. He is 65 years old.
“They say life begins at 60, so I’m relatively young then. I’m like a five-year-old who’s just starting to learn,” he told SunStar Cebu.
Pañares said many of his peers found his decision to finish a college degree ridiculous, and mocked him for proudly wearing his school uniform.
He lamented that many of his elderly friends told him his “screws are loose” and that studying at such an old age would be the death of him.
“They laughed at me and told me I’ve gone mad. But I just ignore them. Going to school at my age is a big challenge, but it’s not impossible,” he said.
It was five years ago when Pañares realized that he has yet to correct his “biggest mistake” in life, which was not being able to finish college.
In 1975, then a 21-year-old mechanical engineering sophomore, Pañares was forced to drop out of school after getting his girlfriend pregnant.
He admitted that he was quite the Casanova during his teens, got drunk and smoked with his friends, and failed many of his subjects.
Knocking up his future wife also knocked some sense into him, and so he decided to leave for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where he worked as a fabricator. He got promoted to supervisor in just one year, and even without a diploma, he led a team of engineers for 14 years.
This resulted to his colleagues calling him a turncoat behind his back, but he stood firm and continued to work hard for his family in the Philippines.
Pañares now runs his own business and has two grown sons, a doctor working in Davao City and a surgery department staff in a medical institution in the United States.
Although he is content with all these blessings, Pañares said he had been feeling a void inside him and realized that it is because he still longs for a diploma.
He would have wanted to enroll in school at 60, but decided to wait for another five years until he can settle all his responsibilities as a church leader.
He also got sick and waited to be in good shape before he started going to school again.
Five years later, Pañares found himself at the doorstep of CIT-U’s computer sciences department, inquiring on what would be the best degree program that can help him learn and optimize his business.
“I can actually afford to hire professionals to develop my website, but I want to be really hands on and make Cebu Homes Bureau productive through my own efforts as a businessman,” he said.
Two months from now, Pañares will be entering his second semester as a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology student.
The first semester had been grueling, especially for an elderly man who had to juggle both work and school.
While there were some professors who offered special teaching methods that would be convenient for their elderly student, Pañares kindly rejected them as he wanted to learn together with his classmates.
Instead of giving up, Pañares accepted his shortcomings and used it to motivate himself and develop study habits he never had during his first time in college some 42 years ago.
“I promised myself and my wife, especially that during my second chance at college, I will be the student I should have been all those years. I know I will do well now because I now have God at the center. I wish younger students would not forget that it’s okay to enjoy your youth, but don’t keep the Lord out,” he said.
He sees the biblical hero Abraham and Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as his inspiration. Both were known for their perseverance and determination despite their old age.
“God will provide the knowledge and wisdom, but it’s up to us to use it well. Age is not a measure of greatness, it’s a motivation for me,” he said.