How a graduation photo inspired thousands

Kim Arveen Patria
Kim Arveen Patria
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom
Kevin Villanueva, 21, visits his parents' grave on his graduation day. He posted this photo on Facebook, receiving overwhelming reaction from netizens. (Photo from Villanueva's Facebook page)

When a young man posted a graduation photo taken by his parents' grave on Facebook, he only hoped to show the world how much he loved his late father and mother.

The photo, which showed Kevin Villanueva, 21, wearing a toga, was captioned: "Akala nyu kayo lang ang may picture kasama parents nyu ha :)) (So you think you're the only ones with graduation photos with your parents?)"

"pero ma pa this is for the both of you i hope that you are proud of me :))," the caption further read.

Little did Villanueva know that thousands of shares and likes later, he would be the one overwhelmed with touching and inspiring messages and expressions of support.

"Sobrang thankful ako sa maraming taong nagpaabot ng message nila sa akin online (I'm thankful to those who extended their messages online)," Villanueva said in a phone interview.

He even added that his friends think the widespread reaction to the photo he posted was his parents' way of showing him their love.

Related story: Education, not wealth, makes you richer, business tycoon says

Villanueva was 10 years old when he lost his mother, who took her own life after a series of nervous breakdowns.

His father died due to cardiac arrest in 2009, when Villanueva was an information technology freshman in Colegio San Juan de Letran Manila.

"At first it was hard. But as the days passed, I stopped thinking of it as a sad thing," Villanueva told Yahoo! Southeast Asia.

"Instead of thinking of my situation as a burden, I considered it as an inspiration to strive harder," he added.

Villanueva, who said he thought he would have to quit school to work after his dad died, said he owes much to his maternal aunts who supported his studies.

During his first year in college, Villanueva lived with his aunt in Pasig. He transferred to a dormitory near his school on his second year, however.

"The pension I got from my dad paid for the dorm fees, and I lived off the P600 a week I earned while working at my aunt's dance studio in Shangri-La," Villanueva said.

Also read: Student's death sparks education debate

Young Filipinos in difficult circumstances as his, Villanueva said, should never feel desperate or helpless. "Maraming taong handang tumulong (Many are willing to help)," he said.

His aunts, for instance, put other students apart from him through school, Villanueva said, even as he urged needy students to "forget about pride."

Aside from his family, friends were also instrumental in helping him get by, Villanueva said.

He recalled how his friends in the dormitory often offered to share their food or pay for his meals without asking to be repaid.

More than filling his stomach, those simple acts of kindness reassured him that "life was worth living," Villanueva said.

In other news: 'Doomsday' forecasts for state education budget slammed

With a college degree under his belt, Villanueva is determined to move forward and is in fact excited to try "adventurous jobs that are surely out there."

He said he may pursue a career in IT but is also looking inclined to try his luck as an events host, a radio DJ or a music channel VJ.

Villanueva also hinted at giving a singing a shot, even as he remembered how his mother died while he was performing a song at a school program.

"The night before she died, I asked her what song I should sing in school. I don't remember the lyrics but she sang it to me; that was my best memory of her," Villanueva said.

He held on to such memories and resolved to see a better future, Villanueva said, adding that so should other Pinoys in similar situations.

"They should not think that they don't have money and instead build determination to not stay where they are right now," Villanueva said.

"They should not lose hope because, however cliche it may sound, everything happens for a reason," he added.