by Momar Visaya/AJPress
NEW YORK – After 101 seniors had marched up the stage one by one to receive their hard-earned associate in applied science degree in nursing, the face of one student who should have been there flashed on the screen and his classmates stood up and cheered.
The face on the picture was Nestor Sulpico.
Sulpico, 51, New York City’s “Most Honest Taxi Driver,” died of colon cancer last April in Iloilo. Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing, a Manhattan-based school awarded him with a posthumous honorary degree during its graduation rites recently.
He made the headlines four years ago when he returned $70,000 worth of black pearl necklaces left in his cab.
In an interview with the Asian Journal, Dean Janet Mackin, RN, EdD said that the awarding of Sulpico’s degree was a “request from the students that became an administrative decision.”
“Nestor’s classmates wanted to do something for him and the school agreed so we bestowed on him this special honor,” Dr. Mackin said.
Among Sulpico’s classmates and close friends who graduated that day were Luanne Kwon and Edmundo Mercado. Kwon knew Suplico from the first day of school while Mercado met him during the orientation program.
“It was a great feeling. I felt like he was there celebrating amongst us. It was very fulfilling. We really wanted to do something special for him,” Kwon said.
She added that Sulpico’s story touched her. “Nestor’s story is very inspiring for me. I asked why he wanted to become a nurse and he replied, ‘This is my last shot to go after what I really want’.”
The three of them studied together a lot after school and formed a bond.
“I did not know his story but in the course of our friendship, he shared it with us and I was in awe. That reinforced the friendship we had. He is a very special person,” Mercado said.
“Nursing school was really tough and stressful and I am so happy Nestor was there with us most of the time. He was really a funny and very positive person. He didn’t stress out about the small things. He was a very calming force in the school, where the atmosphere was very serious,” Kwon added.
Mercado agreed, “Masayahin na tao si Nestor pero pagdating sa studies, seryoso siya. He took nursing seriously kasi yun talaga ang dream niya. I know he was doing it against all odds.”
“The Class of 2008 is a diverse group of students who have completed a rigorous program of nursing education in our traditional day and innovative weekend programs,” said Dean Janet Mackin, RN, EdD. “This is the culmination of concentrated learning and preparation for working in a variety of patient care settings, as well as a stepping stone for more advanced nursing degrees.
At a touching and solemn ceremony, the largest class to graduate from the school received their diplomas and prepared to join the ranks of the revered profession.
Consul General Cecilia Rebong was on hand to receive the award on behalf of the late student, who dreamed of becoming a nurse and was given a full scholarship by Phillips Beth Israel, but succumbed to cancer last April.
Dean Mackin also announced the establishment of a Nestor Sulpico Fund, an initiative of classmates Luanne Kwon and Edmundo Mercado.
“It is something that Edmundo and I talked about a lot after we learned of Nestor’s death. We discussed it with school authorities and we found out that the school was also planning something similar so we are going to combine our ideas,” Kwon said.
Sulpico’s death surprised his close friends who were unaware that he had cancer.
“When we found out about his death, things became more clear,” Kwon shared, “The three of us studied a lot after school. On our second year, he distanced himself from us. There was a noticeable difference.”
Kwon and Mercado confronted Sulpico on two different occasions but he said it was nothing.
“We let him be. We thought he would come around at some point. I should have bothered him more. I should have been a better friend. I should have been more relentless. Then we found out he left. There was no closure,” an almost emotional Kwon said.
“There’s a part of me that feels really guilty,” she admitted.
Mercado, on the other hand, felt bad when Suplico suddenly disappeared. “We were very close and for him to just leave like that, parang gusto kong magtampo,” he shared.
“I feel that he was ready and prepared to die. Napaghandaan na niya,” Mercado said. The two used to discuss a lot on topics such as death, philosophy and religion.
Majority of the class are second-career individuals who switched to nursing, determined to be the solution to the nursing shortage.
Dean Mackin noted that most of the students held jobs and many raised families and had other responsibilities while in school.
“It is not too late for anyone who might be considering a second career. A good 42% of our students are aged 30 and above. I hope they follow Nestor’s example to study. He was already in his late 40s when he enrolled but his age did not deter him from pursuing his dream,” Dean Mackin added.