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Thanking My College Counselor

Our 'Thank You Series' continues, and in this episode, Jan says thank you to her college counselor who believed in her and changed the course of her life nearly 20 years ago.


Thanking My College Counselor

Aliw Pablo: Hi, Jan.

Jan Valerio: Hello.

Aliw Pablo: Can you believe it? You finally made it on the Making Changes podcast.

Jan Valerio:  I know.  (singing) Some people wait a lifetime for moments like this.

Aliw Pablo: I didn’t know there was a singing contest on the podcast.

Jan Valerio:  That’s why they won’t ever let me man a podcast. But now that I have the chance I’m going to sing.

Aliw Pablo: This is Jan, a senior producer here at INC Media. And today, she’s gonna thank someone who she hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years.

Aliw Pablo: Yes, do whatever you like. So tell us who are we talking to today?

Jan Valerio:  Today we’re talking to Sheldon TaKwata, who I like to call Mr. T. He was my college guidance counselor. And he was the one who helped me dream myself out of Kalihi. A small town in Hawaii. I never thought I was gonna leave the islands.

Aliw Pablo: From INC Media Audio, this is Making Changes, a podcast about the changes we go through and the life lessons we learn along the way…always with God by our side. I’m your host, Aliw Garcia Pablo.  Welcome to season2!  Whether you’re listening to this while driving, working out or walking the dog, we’re so glad you’re choosing to spend your time with us!  So we’re starting this season with a “Thank you Series”  – it’s basically surprise phone calls or video calls to people who have made a positive change in someone’s life, and it’s a chance to say thank you.

And today it’s Jan’s turn, who was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and we’re calling her community college counselor  Mr. Sheldon Tawata, also from Hawaii.

Aliw Pablo :Are you nervous about seeing him? When was the last time you saw him?

Jan Valerio:  I know last time I saw him was when I left Kapiolani Community College.    But yeah, he helped me to reach my goals. Having the opportunity to say thank you to him. It’s actually kind of exciting.

Aliw Pablo: So in one sentence, How did Mr. T change your life, you think?

Jan Valerio:  How did he change my life? He changed my life in a way where there were I could see opportunities. I  really started taking school seriously after I met him.

Aliw Pablo: Okay, well, I think it’s time let’s, let’s go ahead and see if Mr. T is online.

Jan Valerio:  Okay, I hope he remembers me. It’s been a long time.

Aliw Pablo: All right. Let’s see if Mr. T is on. Thanks, Jan.

Jan Valerio:  Thank you. Thank you for making this happen, Making Changes podcast.

Aliw Pablo: Hi, Sheldon. How are you?  Thank you so much, Sheldon, for agreeing to do this, you know?

Sheldon Tawata: No, it’s my pleasure. Oh my gosh.

Aliw Pablo:  Yeah. Were you surprised though, that you get a random call about a former student from years and years ago?

Sheldon Tawata: You know what you told me the year? I couldn’t believe it was that long ago but it still, seems like yesterday, we’re sitting in an office together trying to figure out her leaving Oahu. Which is mind blowing still.  think as you probably know, any youth leaving Hawaii, that’s a huge, huge step, but huge.

Aliw Pablo: Yeah. Jan refers to coming to California as coming to America. Because, you know, the mainland for her is America. You know, moving to… Yeah, it’s a big step. It’s a big step.  Well, without further ado, here’s your former student, Jan Valerio. Jan, come say hi.

Jan Valerio: Good morning, Mr. T!

Sheldon Tawata: Oh, my God!

Jan Valerio:  This guy is the man.

Sheldon Tawata: So leading up to this day, you know how images come up in your mind? You think, Okay, this student did this, or this student did that. And I don’t know why this image stuck in my mind. And this could be true Jan form. But she probably won’t remember this. But when she was at KCC she would have her scooter on campus.

Jan Valerio:  Yes.

Sheldon Tawata: And go from one class to the next. I thought, too. Is she that lazy? And just joking?

Jan Valerio:  No, that’s true.

Sheldon Tawata: But I thought there was no one, no one on campus that did that. And so when I saw that, I thought, That’s Jan, you know, didn’t really,

Sheldon Tawata:  That’s the true Jan form. Like she is who she is she is going to do what she’s going to do. She doesn’t care what other people think. That’s Jan.

Jan Valerio:  Yes, Mr. T, yes, I did have a scooter. I can’t believe you remember that?

Jan Valerio: I barely remember that. But now that you bring it up, I’m like, Yes, I did scooter on campus all the time.  So I wanted to thank you, Mr. T. for being part of this podcast when Aliw said that the theme of the podcast was a Thank You series. You were the first person that popped  into my head.

Sheldon Tawata: Oh, my goodness.

Jan Valerio:  Because I’m being honest with you. Every time I find myself, in a spot where I’m like, man, you know, I’m in a good spot in my life. I love what I do. I always think back to how Mr. T believed in   me, because I have to, I don’t remember, if I told you who I was in high school, I wasn’t a good student, I did the minimum. And when you’re doing the minimum, the teachers I grew up with, they would say things like, “you know, if you don’t have good grades, you can’t go to college.” “If you don’t have good grades, you can’t go to even a vocational school, you can’t do this, you can’t get a good job.” So in my head, I was always thinking, there’s no opportunities for me because I, I wasn’t motivated. My outlook was small. So the only thing people were telling me was like, go to community college. But my grades and my confidence were so low that I was thinking, what if a community college doesn’t even accept me? Until one day during the summer before transitioning to KCC (Kapiolani Community College.) There was a little dream in my heart, like I had bought a camera. And I was starting to film things and putting things together. I was like, this is interesting, maybe, maybe there’s something for me here in broadcasting, or I knew I had to do broadcasting or film. And then I remember walking around campus, (Audio fades)

ALIW VO: It all began with a flyer that Jan saw on one of the campus bulletin boards that had a happy face on it that made her go see a counselor. That’s how she first Mr. Sheldon Tawata who encouraged her to check out SF or San Francisco State University to pursue a major in Broadcast Journalism.

JAN:  And you said, “Have you heard of SF State?  I said, “No, but that sounds fancy.” And then you said, and then you said, “I actually came from there.” And I looked at you with bright eyes. And I was like, Oh, this guy came from the mainland, he knows he has experience he can teach me. So you’re giving me this whole two year plan for me all these classes to take. And then at the end, it was kind of overwhelming for me, This was the first time you even looked at me. And you’re like, Jan, this requires some hard work. I looked at you and I said, “Okay, you think I can do this?” And then you said, “Can, Jan, can.” And then I said, this is the first time anyone has ever told me, “can,” because in high school, they said “can’t.” But after talking to you, and you said, “Can” I was like, maybe, maybe there’s hope here. And then I walked out of that of your office thinking. Maybe it’s just today I feel motivated. But then you emailed me and you said, Hey, how’s it going? Come to me once a week, so we can make sure you’re on the right plan. So I started coming in once a week.

ALIW VO:  And from there, what began as once a week counseling session, became 3x a week for Jan. Everytime Jan had challenges with her classes and felt like giving up, Mr T would tell her  “just stick to it, Jan” and he even found a tutor for her for classes that she was struggling with.  And   when it came to financial aid assistance, he helped her fill out all the required paperwork and even told her what to expect once she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jan:  “…where you’re going to live Jan?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And you said, “I used to live in Westlake it’s foggy there. But it’s okay. And it’s close to SFC, you can take the BART.” I was like, “What is BART?” They don’t have Aloha the bus? And then you said, “No, I may have BART it’s like a train” and I said, “I’ll take that train, mister?” You’re like, “yes.” Like you never sounded annoyed. You’re so encouraging. And then you just, you just helped me. And it’s, what…20 years later, I always think back to how blessed I’ve been in being able to have this career. I work in nonprofit. We work for Christian media. And it’s been such a blast – this journey, doing the job that I love being able to have the college degree to help in this type of meaningful work. So I’m thankful to you. And I actually this is very full circle for me, Mr. T, because Aliw is actually the one who introduced me to this type of work. So she was the one who planted the seed in my heart, and you’re the one who helped me execute it. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you went to SF State, I feel like it was all aligned, and God made it happen this way. And to think I never thought that I was going to leave the islands. I never thought I was going to leave Kalihi. But God had other plans. And He allowed me to cross paths with Aliw and you. So I’m thankful actually, to both of you.

Sheldon Tawata: You know, what’s amazing about that story is I always, I don’t know, maybe this is the reason why I’m on high blood pressure  medicine because every time I meet with students, I want to make sure that they are doing the best for themselves. And the thing for me, even as a parent, you want to intervene, you want to dare I say control, because you just want to make sure that folks are living a healthy and fruitful life. And so to be on the sidelines, I gotta tell you, super stressful. And so when you mentioned “Hey Mr. T I think I want to go to the mainland.” I was like, “Okay, let’s go.” But my palms are sweaty, and my blood pressure’s high. But in my but I think like with all of us, there’s this degree of faith, right? You just have to just kind of believe. But the fact that you’re in this place right now makes me so unbelievably happy. Because the thing that I feel people don’t know what they have inside themselves is resiliency. And that goes a long way. And so Jan, if you think if you can think back to the moment, not the moment you bought your… Well, let’s think back to that point. Think back to the moment you bought your plane ticket. Was it a one way ticket or two-way? Was it a round trip or one way?

Jan Valerio:  It was one way.

Sheldon Tawata: What did that feel like?

Jan Valerio:  Honestly, I was scared. Because like I said, like you even mentioned, this is a new place. This is why I’m leaving everything I know. And do they even speak my language too? Will they understand Pidgin? Will I learn English? But…

Jan Valerio:  But yeah, like, buying that plane ticket was scary because it is a leap of faith. But I kept thinking, you know, God brought me to this point. Mr. T believed in me. But you know, there was a time where I was here after six months, and it was foggy an d I was like, “Ha, I’m gonna go home. I know more money for  my financial aid is running out.” But I’m gonna come home as a loser. Nah. I don’t like come home as a loser. You know, I’m gonna stick it out. I’m gonna stick it out.

Sheldon: So at your six month point, like what made you push through?

What really pushed me to stay. I was able to get a tuition waiver for SF State that allowed me to pay my tuition. I went to the registrar’s office to see how much it would cost because my family was having financial difficulties at the time too. I’m waiting for some crazy amount. And they the lady at the registrar’s office said $3, and I was like, what?”  $3! I said these four full time classes. And she was like, yeah, $3 and Mr. T, I kid you not, I had $5 in my pocket. And I gave it to her. I didn’t question her or anything. I went home…

Sheldon Tawata:  And you got change back then.

Jan Valerio:  I got change back. When I went home, I checked my status online. And it said that I got a tuition waiver, which is something I don’t remember signing up for how I got to this day, but I do know that it was through my prayers, because I kept praying and I said, you know, God, should I stay or should I go, and this was a clear sign for me to stay. And so, being at this point right now, I’m like, after that I was like, I just gotta keep going. I just gotta keep going. Because the signs were clear, like having you helped me. And then once I was here in SF, having that tuition waiver, it was like, all signs point to “yes.”

Sheldon Tawata: Oh my gosh. So as you probably know, I’m still working with youth.  So this past August, I think I will make 20 or 21 years at KCC.But in the mean, there’s what’s neat about my job, everyone has a story to tell and what makes being in my profession such a gift is that I get to hear everyone’s story. But what always fills me is when they talk about it. s word up again, as resiliency when I hear their story of how they’ve overcome all these challenges and just kind of push through. It’s just simply amazing. It’s just I can on a deeper level understand because I too, similarly, I went to Roosevelt High School, I wasn’t supposed to graduate. I was told to go rake leaves instead of go to class. I was told I’m better off just hanging out in the vice principal’s office versus the classroom. I understand what it feels like to be told you can’t do this. Understand that attention is sometimes taken away from you because you don’t shine like the others. But to me, I just have this heart felt natural connection for those who have to fend for themselves, who have to dig for resources, because it’s almost a survival thing. And to watch them struggle, which is very uncomfortable for me. But to then see them succeed is like the best gift ever. And so, knowing that, when…

Jan Valerio:  You say it’s a gift for you, it’s also like a gift that keeps on giving. And like, like, it’s been years, but I still remember you. And every time I think of you, I’ve always I always think you have been such a great blessing in my life. And it’s, I’m always an advocate when younger people are like I’m lost or whatever. I’m like, talk to your college counselor. Talk to your guidance counselor. But yeah,  talk to someone, talk to someone. It helps.

Jan Valerio:  Yes, yes. Thank you, Mr. T.

Sheldon Tawata: It’s my pleasure. And oh, my goodness, this couldn’t have been a better day… better year. You know, this is just amazing.

Sheldon Tawata: Thank you. Again, I can’t thank you both enough for this opportunity to be here.

Aliw Pablo: Well, I’m just going to jump in. I know Jan’s really modest and she’s not going to tell you these things, but coming from Kalihi, Jan has traveled the world just to find stories to tell. We’ve gone to South Africa, we’ve done documentaries there. We’ve gone all over Asia. We’ve gone we’ve gone to Australia, and maybe after this Jan was shared with you, but coming from Kalihi, a girl who doesn’t really speak English. She’s actually our producer. She’s our senior producer for one of our shows called Faith Speaks and it’s basically a TED talks for young people. And, you know, she helps write and coach them, helps do their story arcs and mold their stories and so, yeah, she’s really come a long way. And what she’s been able to contribute to the world, to us here at INC Media and to the people whose stories she’s told you know, that’s the impact from you, making time, sitting down with her a couple times a week, and making sure she worked hard and got the sand out of her hair. And just went to work. But what I wanted to ask Mr. T, see, I’m gonna call you, Mr. T now, is that OK?

Sheldon Tawata: That’s totally fine.

Aliw Pablo: Okay…you mentioned that you’ve been doing this now for over 20 years?  What is it that keeps you mentoring and helping students like Jan, and those who are lost and helping, carry them, and telling them, “look can, can, can,” you know, and just giving those three letters makes such a huge difference?

Sheldon Tawata: You know, I truly feel that we have this, we have this huge bank of change agents. And some people know it, some people don’t know it. But I feel like every person I meet, they have the ability to make this place, make this world a whole lot better in whatever, whatever contributions they make, be it in media, sport, whatever. And I think when I see that spark happen, like in Jan’s case, when she just kind of saw the potential that’s out there, that, to me, is the motivation. And to see that as my job, I mean, if you can imagine my job is to see people grow into the person that they want to be. And I think that’s what keeps me going. And, Jan, I know, were you and your sister the first in your family to go to college? Did your parents go?

Jan Valerio:  Yes, we’re the first. My sister went to college, and my mom was like, “are you gonna go to college? Are you gonna make something of yourself?” And I was like, “I don’t know.” But yeah, it was a big deal.

Sheldon Tawata: Yes, even though I still meet with youth today, where that conversation at the dinner table doesn’t happen, like, what do you, what do you see yourself five years from now? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? I think the conversation is more, how I am going to pay the bill tomorrow. And so to hear that, I mean, it crushes your heart. But when you see those that just work hard. They embrace reality, and then they try to make that shift. Yeah, that’s what keeps me going.

Aliw Pablo:  And also, to your point that the conversations happening at the dinner table isn’t so much about college, but rather, how are we going to pay the bills? In fact, there’s studies right, that show that less and less kids after, during because of the pandemic, or going to college, because of the financial strains that pandemic has brought to families. How different or how much more challenging is it today to work with students because of how much of the world has changed also, higher rates of depression and things like that, mental health compared to almost 20 years ago, during Jan’s class?

Sheldon Tawata: Certain things are just totally changing. It’s becoming okay, now, how do I redefine everything? Now I, because I don’t know what the future truly looks like. And so to me, conversations I had with Jan are very different now because it’s more, how are you able to reshape the next, the next move or how you better reshape what your next plan is going to be?  Folks always had the ability. But now more than ever, you have the ability to be even a huge change agent because you can rewrite the script now.And so knowing your tools that you have, whatever passion that you have, how can you make it your own now because again, you can write your own script, And to see them struggle with that it’s still stressful. But to see them come up with possible solutions is also exciting. I mean, I only saw Jan, up until like, maybe her third year of college. And after that, it’s like I had to let her go, I had to let her kind of venture, I gotta let her fly. And then it’s like, Okay, I hope she’s gonna be okay. And so that’s hundreds of students like that. It’s like, okay, I have to let them go. And then just see how they do. But I always tell them, I’m always on the sidelines for you. And if you ever need to come back to reconnect, to just be a soundboard, I’m more than happy to just kind of hear your story. But that part of even now watching them take flight, in light of everything that’s happening in this world– but also kind of a joy to see what they’re going to do.

Aliw Pablo:  As a counselor, what would be your advice to students who may be listening to this, but maybe they don’t have a guidance counselor to help them. But what would be your advice for the first step in them wanting to create a change to start their future?

Sheldon Tawata: Talk to Jan and own a scooter. Nah, just joking. That seems to be the secret. But, I think it would be…talk to someone, it may not have to be a, like a college counselor or guidance counselor or whatever, but someone you trust, someone that, you know, won’t pass judgment. And having that space where you can lay out all your ideas on the table, and just have a dialogue. I think that’s where it starts. Because then you’re then in a place where you are, again, free of judgment, and you’re just kind of flowing with your thoughts. And then I think that’s a start.

Aliw Pablo: Would you say that God put Mr. T in your life for a reason? When you look at the path that God has laid out for you, how much of it was divine guidance, you think?

Jan Valerio:  Oh, definitely. I prayed a lot about my future. And I remember the moment I was inspired to do the work that I wanted to do. I started praying and that’s when I met Mr. T.  And I believe God sent him there. He was a blessing in my life. God put him there.

Aliw Pablo: Well, this was so awesome. I want to thank you both. And you know, Mr. T, when she spoke about you, she just had such, you know, like, a glimmer  in her eyes and so you should have seen her eyes when I said, hey, guess what he called back. He’s got to be on this show. So you know, you said she’s made your day, she’s made your year. I think for Jan, it’s even more so, huh, Jan? This is your dream. This was your dream, number one to be on the podcast. And number two, to get Mr. T on.

Jan Valerio:  Mr. T, I always work behind the camera behind the scenes. I think they think I’m a liability or something when I’m on so, now I’m on!

Aliw Pablo: You can attest to that of all people right, Mr. T?.

Jan Valerio: And I’m so excited to share this platform to be able to thank you because you’re not I know when I left. I said thank you. I emailed you when I left. I said thank you. Maybe five years afterwards, I emailed you again. And I was like, thank you. But I think I will never we’ll never stop being thankful for what you’ve done for me. Like I said before, in high school. There were a lot of can’ts. You were the only one who said “can.”

Sheldon Tawata: Thank you so much, Jan. This is very special. Thank you. Thank you.

Jan: Thank you Making Changes for making this happen!

Aliw Pablo:  Special Thanks to Mr T and Jan, for being part of our thank  you series. Gosh, this episode just goes to show what a difference one person can make in changing someone’s life.

So if you have a “Mr T” that you’d like to thank for making a change in your life, send us a message on our Making Changes instagram account. We’d love to hear from you  and maybe even have you both on the show!

If  you enjoyed  what you heard today, please share it with a friend and we’d greatly appreciate it if you can leave a review on whatever platform you’re listening from. Be sure to subscribe to Making Changes to stay up to date with new episodes.  For more inspiring content or to learn more about the Iglesia Ni Cristo  Church of Christ,  log on to or download the INC Media app.

Thanks for listening. And may your change uplift you.