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Expelled from seminary for ditching retreat week in his teens, 67-year-old finds redemption as Bar exam passer

By Ratziel San Juan Published Apr 20, 2023 2:19 pm

Jesus "Jesse" Cabanacan, 67, had dreamed of becoming a lawyer since boyhood. Through the years, he came to discover that the greatest obstacle to that goal was himself.

"When I was young, my priorities were somewhat misplaced. It may be succinctly paraphrased by the lyrics of the song Yesterday When I Was Young," Jesse tells PhilSTAR L!fe.

He was already in his early 60s by the time he began studying at Tacloban's Dr. Vicente Orestes Romualdez Educational Foundation College of Law.

Expectedly, a couple of his professors took notice of this in his first year of law school, asking him why only now. After all, only three teachers were older than him.


"The major obstacle that actually hindered my dream of becoming a lawyer was the wild abandon of youth. The adage 'youth is wasted on the young' attributed to George Bernard Shaw, could apply to my case," Jesse explains.

What seemed like a lifetime ago, he graduated back in 1968 as the batch valedictorian at Leyte's Barugo Central Elementary School. He entered high school in the seminary and even did well in his first year.

At the top of his class, the student fell hard from being a role model to that kid whom parents would warn about. In the blink of an eye, the boy with big law dreams instead saw himself in big trouble.

"Things changed after that and I ended up being kicked out in the middle of my second year. For being caught smoking and having a drinking binge with three of my classmates while clandestinely skipping retreat week. And things went south from there, as far as my attitude about taking schooling seriously was concerned," Jesse recalled.

He was expelled for at least three reasons, though any single one could have sufficed.

Fortunately, he graduated from high school in 1972 then would proceed to the next four years of his life in college. However, he never went beyond freshman year.

"In fact, the last two years, unbeknownst to my parents, were all pretend school!" Jesse admits.

One of the things that would make me feel happy is if my law school journey is able to inspire someone, young or old, that nothing is impossible if you really believe in pursuing something, regardless of the circumstances.

Soon enough realizing that his contemporaries were already graduating from college, the lost boy in him searched for other opportunities. He wound up joining the US Navy in late 1976.

"It was while in the Navy, already with a family, that I realized what I have wasted. I pursued a college degree at night as a working student. I finished a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University, an MBA from National University (San Diego, California), and a Master of Science in Systems Management from the University of Southern California," Jesse reflects.

Much later in 2010, he decided to settle down at the age of 54, returning to his beloved hometown of Barugo, Leyte.

He would become the director of a local electric cooperative in 2011, barangay chairman in 2013, and serve as a member of their Sangguniang Bayan for three terms.

It was in 2018 when he realized there was still something missing.


"So, I finally decided to pursue my boyhood dream. I thought to myself, why not? And that’s the main reason why I wished then to become a lawyer," Jesse punctuates.

He quickly realized in law school that you cannot enter the field half-heartedly, especially since no one is ever spoonfed what they need to learn.

The senior citizen began studying law at 62 when the youngest in his class was 19. Moreover, one of his classmates was actually the son of a high school classmate who was kicked out of the seminary together with him.

"One of the things that would make me feel happy is if my law school journey is able to inspire someone, young or old, that nothing is impossible if you really believe in pursuing something, regardless of the circumstances. Dream, believe, commit, and persevere! And, whatever it is, will be achieved. We cannot change the world, but we can somehow change the world of a person. If only one person is inspired by my journey by pursuing his own journey, then I have done my part in changing, not The World, but one person’s world. That makes what I have achieved well worth it," Jesse said.

Surely enough, he did. Jesse took the Bar Exams for the first time in November 2022 and emerged as one of its oldest passers announced this year.

Asked by L!fe what his plans are after passing the Bar, Jesse called it the "big question of the day": "As to what I will do with this new legal profession, I am not sure yet. I need time to absorb everything that just happened, which for my classmates is a life-changing event. Too late now for this to have any fundamental effect on my life as it would my classmates. But one thing for sure, I will continue to serve the people in some other way as a lawyer but more importantly as a fellow human being."