Men are defined not by their accomplishments, but by the journey they undertook to achieve triumph. In totality, the feat alone does not justify their worth, it comes auxiliary to the herculean effort and eventual victory. When the end of the road seems all too imminent than than it already is, that’s when the beckoning call of hope shines, even on the darkest of paths. All it asks in return is a step forward.
In theory, the sword of Damodes hangs the heads of those who choose to fight the battles they previously lost. The pressure that comes with redemption is one which only a few can withstand. Noel Fernandez refused to believe in that. In 1993, he failed the bar exam only to top it as number one the following year. This is his story.
Between a rock and a hard place
On his first attempt at the exam, Noel decided on a risky strategy to prepare for it. Looking at it purely from a numbers and odds perspective, he decided that he, on his own merit, had a reasonable chance at passing the exams. With that, he opted not to enroll in any formal review schools, deciding to do it all on own.
While studying for the exam, Noel came across certain realizations. “When I did my own review for my first bar examination, i only began to grasp completeness of the bar subjects for the first time,” he said. Still, he maintained his belief in his strategy. “My goal, however, was only to obtain a passing grade of 75 per cent and start m law career.”
The day of the bar exam came quickly as it passed Noel failed.
Despite passing all the bar subjects, Noel struggled with the Civil Law portion of the exam. “I received dismal grade of 55 per cent in Civil Law which pulled down my final grade to a little less than 74 per cent, which is a failing mark.”
It begs the question of what happened to his initial confidence in his odds of passing. lt turns out that the calculations he made when playing the odds game produced a conclusion that was almost correct. One mistake caused a shift between calculations and reality. “If opted to have memorized the Civil Code. I would have received higher grade in Civil Law and would have obtained a passing mark on my first bar examination.
When you play the odds game, you have to be prepared to lose. “I played the odds, I lost.”
The aftermath of failing the momentous exam brought Noel certain realizations. “It was of course a humbling experience, but [it] did not really bother me.”
“I did not do my best when I took my first bar examination. I had to admit the consequence,” Noel said. He then had a realization that changed his view on the goals he needed set for himself. “I realized, however, that we need to give our best in everything we do. A passing grade is good, but it should be a final goal if we are able to do more. We have to always set the bar high and push ourselves to be better.”
Man on a mission
Recovering from the pitfall of his first take took a toll of disappointment and doubt floating within the mind of Noel. He had been a consistent honor student from nursery and his undergraduate degree, also managing to be the president of many student organizations. It seemed as if lhe world was on his shoulders to deliver the promises that came with a student of such acumen.
“I was not depressed, only embarrassed that I failed my family. I was confident I could pass it the second time, confident enough to aspire to land in the top ten.” explained Noel – and so he did.
But just like all success stories, Noel had to go back to square one. Right off the bat, he enrolled in a review school in which he finally took down notes, attended all lectures, and reviewed the day’s lessons over and over again. Noel rigorously followed a schedule that saw him allocate two weeks for each bar subject for the first two months in the order of their actual schedule in the bar examination. He gave added importance however; to the subjects that he felt dampened his ability to reach his goal of top ten.
“In subjects I consider my weakness, I exerted double my attention to address my weakness. I, therefore did not take any subject for granted,” echoed the now chastened yet driven voice of Noel. He realized however, that going all-in with memorization and reviewing could only do so much. For Noel, the thing were within his control he controlled.
His diet was strictly limited to “brain food” like fish. He avoided eating fatty foods like pork, particularly those which would require more energy to digest. Even when studying, he configured his body clock to be at its highest alert level from 8 am to 5 pm every Monday to Saturday. On Sundays, however, he’d drop all his books to go to church, watch a movie, or otherwise just give his brain a much needed break.
What Noel regarded most important, however, was his unwavering commitment to pray at the end of each day and ask whether what he wished was also what God had planned for him. He specifically asked that he’d land in the top ten—God answered and Noel delivered.
“Some would call it luck. I would call it divine confirmation,” said the bar topnotcher.
Rise from the ashes
A bunch of heartfelt prayers and several fountain pen ink cartridges later, he was finally ready to face his failure. After moments of realization that he was to blame, that he had to prepare thoroughly, and that he had to understand that this should be taken seriously, Noel was finally taking his second bar examination.
His goal was to land in the top ten, but more importantly, he was confident that he was going to pass the second time. But Noel did more than just pass.
The days of buckling down to memorize and to take mock exams had finally paid off while the times when he felt like he disappointed his family had stopped. The dark clouds had cleared and it was all because of his efforts to turn his life around.
Instead of failing, Noel topped the bar exam. It was more than he asked for indeed.
“It was ecstatic when I landed first,” he recalled.
There is this adrenaline that rushes. through our veins when we find out we have accomplished something. It’s a tick in the to-do list, another hurdle overcome. For Noel, when found out, the first thing he did was tell his mom and run to tell the neighbor next door out of excitement.
“I, of course, shed tears of joy,” he admitted.
For Noel, topping the bar exam made him reaffirm belief that these obstacles and accomplishments do not depend on merely wishes. “It was laid out ultimately by our Creator,” he believes.
Despite all the emotions he felt during his moment, the bar topnotcher remembers feeling humbled. “To be granted the honor of making it first the bar examination would carry a responsibility to do better.”
Now, Noel is the Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy of the Philippines in Canada. “The failure opened a new door for a career in the government,” he said.
There are those who would call Noel’s story the stuff of dreams. His story generally follows that of the underdog; defeat, realization, then a rise from the ashes. Yet his experience with the bar exam proves that such magic has its place in this oftentimes cruel reality we live in.
His story serves as proof that despite failure’s frequent visits into our lives, that there is so much fruit to be borne from these, as it is through failure that we develop as people. He said, “lt is in rising each time we fall that we learn to become better persons.”
Noel also implores people who have failed the bar exam like he did, people who are yet to take it, or anyone for that matter to go beyond the expected by saying, “Do not aim for mediocrity or merely to pass; seek to pass with flying colors.”
The value of hard work and perseverance is also made evident in the success he has borne from his initial struggle. Like watching underdogs beat the odds, it’s hard not to enjoy Atty. Francisco Noel Fernandez III’s story. His is a story that anyone can take to heart, and give us that little push to push onward and and keep fighting, just as was done in a bar exam in 1993.