Not novel to many, but Visayas State University (VSU) started off as an agricultural school to cater to the rich agricultural nature of Baybay City, Leyte. Over time, the field of agriculture as a program has transformed into the university's source of global pride, attracting numerous students into choosing VSU for their agricultural endeavors. Notably, the College of Agriculture and Food Science (CAFS) has retained its status as the largest college within the university to this day.
Among the many students who ventured into agriculture was Dr. Rex Bernardo and Sam Josephus Biliran. One is a dreamer, and the other one is now living the dream. Their lives, though separated by years and experiences, are intricately connected by the threads of learning, growth, a love for agriculture, and a shared dream for VSU.
With this, Amaranth presents its first #TatakViscan story, featuring the lives of two agriculture enthusiasts who despite the challenges they’ve faced in their separate timelines, have shown dedication, intelligence, and adaptability– a set of characteristics that forms the Viscan brand.
Sam Biliran: Pursuing the ‘Yuugo Hachiken’ Dream
It may be quite unconventional for many but Sam Josephus Biliran, a 20-year old junior student from Tagbilaran City, Bohol who is currently pursuing Bachelor of Science in Agriculture major in Animal Science, was actually inspired by an anime series titled “Silver Spoon” in pursuit of his aforementioned degree. It is a story about a student named Yuugo Hachiken who escaped the city life to pursue studies in an agricultural school. It may not be a typical get-go on how dreams are formed, but Sam made this dream a reality.
Apart from being a proud DOST scholar, Sam is also a talented musician being a member of a VSU band known as “Banana Bread.” He is also the frontman and lead vocalist of Bohol-based indie band “Friday Cleaners,” which already had a few music releases which you can check out here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/236BtfjFlDSQNZkVpbzq8W?si=ClZ_kGFTSc62HpiAO8FDhg
He also sits as the current Vice President of the VSU Debate Society (DebSoc) further proving how multi-talented he is.
Dr. Bernardo: Embracing the Passion for Agriculture
Just like Sam, Dr. Bernardo was also once a dreamer. A name that is no stranger in the VSU academe, Dr. Bernardo graduated as part of the first pioneering batch of then Visayas State College of Agriculture (ViSCA) who was also heralded as the first ever Summa Cum Laude of the university.
Being the son of ViSCA's founding father, former President Dr. Fernando Bernardo who pioneered the efforts to turn a small agricultural school into an internationally recognized institution of today, Dr. Rex Bernardo faced high expectations. However, despite this, Dr. Bernardo saw it as a way to challenge himself and become better with his studies which he brought to fruition with his many achievements.
Dr. Bernardo’s roots in the university can be traced back to 1974 when his family moved to Baybay when he was just nine-years old. He was part of the first graduating class of ViSCA Foundation Elementary School in 1977 where there were only five of them in the batch.
He finished high school at ViSCA Experimental Rural High School (now VSU-Integrated High School) and obtained his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (major in Plant Breeding) in 1983. He was able to finish college in only two and a half years because of a program at ViSCA back then that allowed incoming freshmen to earn advance credits for general education courses. These credits were earned by passing what would be the equivalent of a final exam for a given course. However, if Dr. Bernardo were to do it again, he admitted that he probably would have opted for a regular four years of study so he can have more time to form bonds with friends in the university.
After graduation, he briefly worked as an instructor in the Department of Plant Breeding and Agricultural Botany in ViSCA before pursuing his Ph.D degree in 1985 at the University of Illinois in the U.S. Currently, he works as a Professor and an endowed Chair of Corn Breeding and Genetics at University of Minnesota, USA. His line of work includes discovering new ways of breeding corn for innovative uses, and on educating future plant breeders.
The role of faith
One thing that makes both Dr. Bernardo and Sam similar is with how they perceive the importance of faith in achieving their dreams. Dr. Bernardo considers faith important as it helps us grow into a better version of ourselves. He mentioned that being a part of the VSU Polyphonics back then where he was able to mold his faith and create meaningful relationships with people rallying to the same praise for God has helped him shape his spiritual nature.
Meanwhile, Sam believes that it's important to know that everything happens for a reason. In his own words, “In order to survive, you must believe that there is a reason for everything that you're going through. May that be religious, may that be your personal reason, whatever it is, just know that everybody is going through the same thing and that everybody also wants to succeed.”
A note to Viscans
When asked about what particular advice they can give to Viscans of today, Dr. Bernardo expressed how important it is to have the eagerness to learn.
“Try to study with others…and always have an attitude for learning. Remember that the world around us changes very quickly.If we stop learning, we can become experts of something that no longer exists,” Dr. Bernardo expressed.
On the other hand, Sam expounds on the importance of looking for meanings on why we want to achieve things.
“There's a reason why we're going through these things. And that is, of course, for our own self-improvement, for our character development, per se. And I always believe that there is always meaning, or at least we should find the meaning in all the suffering that we're going through. Because if we don't find any meaning, if we're just needlessly going through all that stuff, then it'll all be for nothing in the end because we're not really learning anything from it,” Sam explains.
Reflection on VSUs impact to their lives
As VSU is set to approach its centennial year, Dr. Bernardo has expressed his gratitude to his alma mater and emphasized how it is an honor for him to embody the Viscan brand as he ventures into the professional world.
“First of all, Congratulations VSU! 100 years is a wonderful achievement. Second, thank you for the opportunity to become a part of the Viscan community…part of this thankfulness is gratitude to all of my former teachers. Third, I’m proud of VSU - I wish the university all the best, all the faculty, students, and their constituents” Dr. Bernardo said.
Meanwhile, Sam hopes that VSU will continue its advocacy concurrent to its 100-year milestone.
“I hope that VSU will continue their advocacy for the preservation of our environment. I hope they continue to develop more and more exemplary students who top the board exams, not just top the board exams, but show exemplary character when they go forth into their future careers,” Sam expressed.
Further, in Sam's words, "I want to apply everything that I've learned in the university, everything that's valuable to me, and I want it to have a meaningful impact in my life going forward."
Connecting Threads Across Generations
The journey of Sam Biliran and Dr. Rex Bernardo mirrors the #TatakViscan brand that VSU has worked on throughout its almost 100-year history. Sam, with his dreams of reaching heights of success in the field of agriculture and law, represents the current generation of Viscans embracing a multi-faceted approach to learning. Dr. Bernardo, a beacon of success and continuous learning, embodies the enduring spirit of VSU's legacy.
In the midst of VSU turning 100, these stories remind us that education is a bridge that connects generations. The challenges faced, lessons learned, and dreams earned that we have, link the past, present, and future of VSU. As the university continues to evolve, it remains a nurturing ground for dreamers, achievers, and those who, like Sam and Dr. Bernardo, carry the pride of being a #ProudViscan beyond the campus into the world.