I first met Belinda Panelo in the late 90s in Manila when she was an MTV VJ during the time of KC Montero and Sarah Meier. Belinda was known as the half-American, half-Pinay beauty who always had the wittiest comebacks and who never took herself too seriously. She also went the artista route when she did a teleserye directed by Joey Reyes called “Sa Puso Ko, Iingatan Ka” as the character Tara Ponce.
In many ways my story is very similar to Belinda’s as she too got disillusioned with the local showbiz scene and was looking for some depth to sink her teeth into. Here was a bubbly and talented woman who grew up in Seattle, moved to the Philippines as a child and began a career in the local showbiz scene, only to realize that her true passion was to take her craft to the next level. She moved to New York City to train at the Atlantic Theater Company Conservatory, the prestigious theater company of actor William H. Macy and acclaimed writer David Mamet. When she and her husband, pro tennis champ Joseph Lizardo, and their young son, Devon migrated to the West Coast, I was ecstatic to connect.
Throughout the years, Belinda Panelo-Lizardo has been one of my friends whom I could always depend on, as a work out partner and confidante to just rant about motherly woes. When I returned to college, she and I were in constant touch as we were both on the westside of town and were both pursuing acting occasionally despite being full-time mothers. When she got pregnant with her second child and had to deliver early on a Halloween eve, I truly saw her dedication to her family to be the anchor that held them all together. Her resiliency is inspiring, which is why it is such a joy to share that after two and a half years of going to community college, she has been accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles. Here is an excerpt of our chat:
G: How does it feel to be accepted into UCLA?
B: I feel truly honored. UCLA is one of the top institutions in the country and the application process is highly competitive as you know.
G: Why did you want to apply to UCLA?
B:When I was first looking at schools I knew that I could only apply to those that were close by because I have a family and it wouldn’t be feasible for us to pick up and move. Luckily, I live five minutes away from UCLA so it was really a no brainer!
G: What will you be taking up at UCLA and why?
B: I’m enrolled as a pre-global studies major. I’ll have to petition at the end of the fall semester to be accepted into the program as they only take 100 students. I wanted to study something that integrated many different disciplines that I was interested in. Global studies seemed to fit the bill as it borrows from anthropology, sociology, economics, history, and political science. Additionally, as I’ve gotten older and have become a mother, my interest in global affairs and how it impacts our own community is now very personal.
G:What are the challenges of pursuing higher education as a mom?
B: HA! Everything! Trying to balance family responsibilities with school work has been a master class in organized chaos. There are many more dishes in the sink and the mountain of laundry is laughably limitless, but hey, I got an ‘A’ on my last test. In addition, being an older non-traditional student carries a certain stigma that you can’t just shake off sometimes and admittedly that does bother me on occasion.
G: Being that you are a non-traditional student, what was it about higher education that you wanted to pursue?
B: I’ve been wanting to go back to school for a very long time, but the timing never seemed right. As the years went by and I got older and older, I realized that I could no longer rely on timing. I needed to leap and trust that everything would fall into place.
G: What drives you to succeed academically?
B: It’s a very personal story that goes back to childhood. In a nutshell, I have something to prove to myself and that drives me every day and night when I hit the books. My age definitely contributes as well as I don’t have the luxury of time to mess around.
Granted, her academic life is far less traditional than some, she excels with a 4.0 because she is determined to make the most of her time at school. As a friend who also had the amazing opportunity of becoming a Bruin, not only am I proud of what she has accomplished thus far, but know there is even more on the horizon that she will achieve. It’s going to be an opportunity of a lifetime! Congratulations on being #UCLAbound because all the sleepless nights, focus and determination she has invested to pursue higher education is paying off! GO BRUINS!
Giselle “G” Töngi is the host and producer of Kababayan Today, a daily talk show that features relevant topics for Filipinos living in America. Her aim is to bridge not only the cultural gap between America & the Philippines but to help with the generational gap between our own people. She is married with two children and is based in Southern California and makes frequent trips in the Pacific Rim to Hawaii and Manila to feature fellow kababayans who are empowering the FilAm community.