“Firstly, the world is your oyster. Find what you enjoy doing and where your natural strengths lie, then apply your commitment and effort. Secondly, take the best from both worlds; both the culture and setting you were born unto. Thirdly, always keep in mind that we’re all in this together as one humanity and so ought to be constantly looking out for one another.”
This is the invaluable advice of Mr. Jozef Maynard Borja Erece to second generation Filipinos who were born and raised abroad. Jozef is a Filipino-Kiwi whose young life is already entailed with prominence. He is the youngest law graduate in Australasian history completing his law degree this past year at only 18 years old.
His parents, Maynard Victor Erece and Dr. Josephine Ana Borja are Filipino immigrants in New Zealand. It is in New Zealand where Jozef and his younger sister Maynah were born. More than the natural abilities that he has been gifted with, Jozef is foremost thankful of being born unto a family that exemplifies generosity, affection and support.
So how did Jozef breeze through his academics? His father sums it up as follows:
“He was accelerated for a year in Primary School. Attended the Stanford University Educational Program for Gifted Youth in Writing and English. Was offered a place in the Oxford University Gifted Youth Program in Mathematics and Physics. Graduated as Dux/Valedictorian of St. Peter’s Catholic School in Cambridge.
Entered St John’s College in 2009 for High School as the Year 9 Academic and Music Scholar.
While at St. John’s from 2009-2011, he enjoyed all aspects of college life. He was the captain of the junior basketball team (blue), the chess team (top board player), a violinist with the Irish Ceilidh and combined St. John’s and Sacred Heart Orchestra, represented the school in speech competitions and science fair competitions. He received his University Entrance within 3 years, hence his further 2 year acceleration in High School via
If ever you find yourself in doubt about your past, your present or your future, simply resolve to do your best in life to become a star.
St. John’s College. After St. John’s College, he was accepted to begin his Law degree at Waikato University at 14 years old but when the family decided to move to Australia, the Australian Universities welcomed him due to his high ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking) score from his New Zealand grades.
Bachelor of Laws via the University of Southern Queensland at 18 years old.
Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice via the Queensland University of Technology at 18 years old.”
In the midst of his busy schedule, Jozef was generous enough to allow Filipino Life Magazine readers a glimpse of his life, his family and his dreams.
What are the key values that make you reach your goals at a young age?
I feel that we all have a purpose in life and duty to each other to do our very best with each of the gifts we have been given. By circumstance, we’ve all been blessed with our own unique sets of perspectives, aptitudes and talents. I was fortunate enough to be blessed with strengths in thematic synthesis, fancy word usage, and the ability to discern under frameworks of both idealism and pragmatism. Foremost, though, I was fortunate enough to be born unto a family background that exemplified generosity, affection and support.
What predominantly drives me in life is that compelling to give back to the world for what the world has given me.
How do you cope and fit in with much older colleagues?
Well, for the most part, by pretending that I’m one of them. Though it’s always noted I look young, people tend to not figure that I’m as young as I am until they find out externally.
There’s no real secret to getting along with people. Just make a conscious effort to treat everyone you encounter with respect and keep in mind that each is a person like you with their own unique history and set of sensations and experiences.
Accomplishing things from childhood, Jozef doesn’t consider himself as different. “Only as different as each of us are from each other”, he says.
“We’re all our own person; characterized by our respective strengths and weaknesses, perks and views. No two paths in life are truly identical, or the epiphanies that come from those paths. Understanding that, you realize there’s no true standard of “normality,” and that the best way to find happiness and acceptance is really just to be yourself.
Despite his young age, Jozef handles his achievements and its accompanying fame with humility and purpose. “If as a species, we’re miniscule on the grand scale, what more me, as one person? I handle everything in the spirit that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and regardless of the circumstances you find yourself under; comfortable, struggling, recognized, anonymous, we’re all friends and family sharing this infinitely wonderful universe.”
One cannot miss the strong family background embedded in Jozef’s personality. When asked on how close they are as a family, he describes, “I feel like words don’t really define our dynamic. Mum has a soul that’s made out of sweetness and goodness and considerateness and manners.
Dad, though he’s a bit rougher around the edges, I guarantee will go out of his way every single time without so much as a second thought to aid a person in need. I really admire that about him. We’re a family that just does its best to uphold and exemplify traditional values of love, kindness and compassion. It’s kind of cliché, but there’s really no other way to put it.
The Erece family spends time together among meals and masses and regular outings. Most of all they find enjoyment in watching movies and TV shows together. Recently they’ve really enjoyed watching a marathon of the TV series “Once Upon A Time.”
Filipino communities abroad are always a presence wherever you go; especially around the Church. We have many good friends in the Australia and New Zealand Filipino community. In terms of “keeping to roots,” I always seek to take the best of both worlds wherever I go, keeping close to my heart the puso intrinsic to our Philippine culture and taking it with me wherever I go.
I also regularly attend local Philippine Independence Day Festivities and always enjoy taking in all the aspects of Philippine culture that are on full display at those times (and the food; Sinigang will always be my favourite dish).
Are you fluent in Tagalog? What language is spoken in the Erece household?
I am fluent in understanding Tagalog but I mix and match English and Tagalog a lot when it comes to speaking it. We speak both English and Tagalog quite a lot, especially since we’ve recently been doing our best to assist Maynah in her learning of Tagalog.
When was the last time you visited the Philippines? How close are you to your family back home?
Our last visit to the Philippines was in 2013. A lot of our extended family are also now situated in Australia and New Zealand, but I have one direct Aunt still living in Los Banos in the Philippines with her family, as well as all of my second and third generation relatives all around the Philippines who we enjoy reuniting with whenever we visit.
What places in the Philippines do you wish to visit someday?
Jozef: Manila has this metropolitan beauty vibe that’s always quite the experience to take in, and I have always liked the refreshing breeze of Baguio City where my parents grew up, but most of all, I would like to visit Romblon, the original home of my Lola on the paternal side for the first time and of course pay another visit to the really aesthetic beaches of Boracay.
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years – academically, professionally and personally?
I can’t really make a commitment here. Wherever it is that the righteous path leads, really.
Suffice it to say that peace, unity, and the collective prosperity of mankind will still be at the top of my list of priorities and motivations as they should be for all of you who would set out to make some sort of difference.
Jozef Erece is also a huge achiever in both sports and music. As an athlete, he became the youngest taekwondo instructor in New Zealand at 13 years old after he got his third degree blackbelt in the said sport. He also captained his high school basketball and Chess teams and led them in tournaments outside New Zealand. In music, he is an accomplished violinist.
Jozef excels in whatever he puts his hands on. But when told so, he humbly states, “I wouldn’t say that. In every area of human existence, really, excellence comes from commitment, effort and perhaps gifts of natural talent. In absence of the other two elements, natural talent only makes up a third of excellence.
For example, it was pretty evident early on that I had zero natural talent at cooking- I literally ended up accidentally setting fire to an oven in Food Technology Class once- but I have confidence that with commitment and effort, I could excel to a greater extent than someone that possessed natural talent but did not apply the other two elements to their craft. … Maybe I’ll look into cooking one day.”
Jozef Erece has been blessed with natural gifts yet is driven in giving back to the world. He has every huge opportunity within his grasp yet he never fails to uphold the love for family and his roots. He carries his gifts with humility and purpose. At a very young age, Jozef Maynard Borja Erece is indeed a reflection of greatness.
“Remember whenever you’re feeling down that there’s humor in the fact that we’re all intertwined as friends and family in this human collective improbably bound by gravity to a sphere in the middle of inexplicable dark nothingness with a bit of shiny glitter sprinkled around. These are the stars that grant us dreams, the stars that grant us wonder, the stars that grant us hope.
If ever you find yourself in doubt about your past, your present or your future, simply resolve to do your best in life to become a star. A star finds not its true worth in feats of wealth, fame nor brightness. To become a star is to become a source of inspiration in all that you do for all of the people around you.”