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Gemma Dalayoan [BEd/83, MEd/90]

Gemma Dalayoan: 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient for Community Service

April 1, 2019 — 

The recipients of the 2019 University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Awards are graduates who are outstanding in their professional and personal lives. These honourees encompass a wide range of achievement, innovation and community service and inspire fellow alumni, current students and the community.


I have a very strong will. I’m tenacious, ambitious, and academically inclined like my father taught me. As a child I was very energetic, I wanted always to excel.

I was so close to my father; I idolized him. He said to “strive for excellence: only the first are remembered.” I know now it was too much pressure on me. Nowadays, parents would say “try your best!” or “as long as you have fun!”

I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was five years old. In a middle of a circle of friends I would hold a stick and teach them. I wanted to be powerful and be the center of attention.

At high school I was taunted and bullied so that’s when I kind of slowed down. I struggled. I had very lonely days when students would grab my hand and say “don’t play with her”.

When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher for egotistic reasons. When I was older, it became altruistic: I wanted to be a teacher so I could make a difference. I said that I would teach the students to believe in themselves; to have self-worth and self-confidence; to hone their skills and develop their potential.

On October 12, 1976, I arrived in Canada. It was very liberating. I looked down from the airplane window and said “wow, look at this place, it’s so spacious, so clean”.

I learned to drive in 1983. After teaching at John King School, I would drive my station wagon all the way to the U of M for evening classes. Sometimes during the winter, I would go up the boulevard, I was so tired. I’d come home to my six children sleeping already. But my husband was very supportive; he’d call his friends to drive me sometimes.

One the professors who had the biggest impact on me was Virginia Suave who told us “language is power”. She gave me an A+ on a paper one time but in the comments she wrote “Gemma, you write so well, but you are still a bud.”

A gemma is a bud of a flower that has not blossomed yet. It’s shy, still very timid. I have a book now called “gemma” that reflects my story from a bullied kid to a successful woman. With the nurturing of the Canadian environment, that gemma has blossomed into a Gemma.

For nearly twenty years, I taught the writing portion of the GED through the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers. I always emphasized to students that even if you are a second-language speaker you are cognitively equal to anybody else here. Don’t feel shy, believe in yourself.

One of the people I mentored made lots of grammatical errors in his writing. This gave me the idea to write a grammar book – a refresher course that targets only where Filipinos make mistakes in their grammar. I’ll be teaching it in September and opening it to the public.

You have to always be aware of what’s happening around you, and then try to analyze it. That’s how you can improve yourself, your family and contribute to your own community.

I like helping people and it is very gratifying to see them succeed. I am thankful that there have been lots, more than I can count on my fingers.

I read somewhere that your self-image, self-confidence, self-worth should come from within, not from without. That’s why I always tell the people in our Filipino community: do not lose your self-worth or confidence, you should think of yourself as special and unique. That’s how I cured myself, how I turned around my perception of myself.

I’m a very well integrated person now. I’m a Canadian, but culturally I never forget where I come from.

About Gemma Dalayoan

Since immigrating to Winnipeg more than 40 years ago, Gemma Dalayoan [BEd/83, MEd/90] has made community service her mission in life. As a founding member and three-time president of the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers Inc. (MAFTI), she played an instrumental part in the preservation, promotion and sharing of Filipino cultural heritage through a variety of programs and student scholarships. She also spent decades as a teacher and vice-principal whose guidance has helped shape students into future community leaders.

The University of Manitoba will recognize the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients for their outstanding achievements and contributions at the Celebration of Excellence gala on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

Tickets are $85 and can be purchased online or by calling Alumni Relations at 204-474-9946, or toll free in Canada, 1-800-668-4908.

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