From grinding poverty to the presidency of a leading institution of learning – that is the life story of Florentino Cayco, Sr.
Born in Malabon of poor parents, Cayco had to work very early in life as a gardener in the Bureau of Lands in order to support himself through school. His pay: 10 centavos per hour.
After finishing the seventh grade, he was appointed, in view of his superior performance, primary school teacher at a salary of P20.00 a month. Later, he took the examinations for intermediate teachers, which he topped. This improved his position by his appointment as intermediate teacher with the then fabulous salary of P40.00 a month.
Realizing that there was a great disparity between the salaries of Philippine teachers and American teachers that could be bridged by passing the American Teachers Examination, Cayco, after three years of patient studies, took the test and passed it with flying colors. This led to his appointment as supervisor, one of the first Filipinos to hold such a position. About this time, in view of the increasing number of high school and college graduates, he was in the awkward position of being supervisor to teachers who possessed a higher degree, much better qualified, academically, than he. He decided to get a college degree.
But there was a problem. He did not possess a high school diploma which was required for admission into college so he had not choice but to go through high school. Through arrangements made by a superior who recognized his ability, he was allowed to enroll in high school without necessarily attending classes with the condition that he take and pass the examination at the end of every semester. To fulfill this condition, he took a geometry, biology or physics textbook with him to study during his inspection trips. At the end of each semester, he took his place among high school students to take the examinations. He completed the required high school units that made him eligible for entrance to college, though he was not granted a high school diploma because of lack of residence.
He then took the pensionado tests, which again he passed with high honors. He was sent to Indiana State University, where he so distinguished himself as to earn a membership in the exclusive scholastic fraternity PHI BETA KAPPA. His scholastic record at Indiana State has not been equalled, much less, surpassed up to now. When the Indiana State University celebrated the 100th year of its founding, fifteen of its best students, on the basis of scholarship and campus leadership, was chosen to represent the original fifteen students that formed the first class of the University. Cayco was one of the fifteen so chosen, the only non-American in the group.
After Indiana, he went to Columbia University in New York City in 1922 for his MA degree. Again, he so distinguished himself at Columbia that a hall of the University was named after him.
Back in the Philippines, he was made Assistant Superintendent of City Schools, which position he held from 1922-1935. At the same time, he served as professorial lecturer at the University of the Philippines.
In 1935, he resigned from the government service to accept the presidency of the National University, which position he held until the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941.
Immediately after Liberation, he was appointed Undersecretary of Education. He resigned from the position in 1946 to assume the presidency of Arellano University, then still the Arellano Colleges. The growth of this institution of learning under his leadership was phenomenal. From a modest school of 500 students the University has expanded to eight branches, 12 colleges, schools, and departments with an average yearly enrolment of 20,000.
This feat was accomplished not only because of hard work combined with his honed abilities and long experience as an educator, but also due to his passion to build and mold the minds of the youth as the future backbone of the Filipino nation.