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Grace and Purpose: SU Queens in their Communities

By Kristia Niña Daymiel | November 9, 2023

As lights flared onstage and cheers filled the seats, the Gandang NegOrense 2023 title awaited to be declared. Standing on stage with their bedazzled gowns, 18 trans women hailing from different municipalities of Negros Oriental graced the Lamberto Macias Sports and Cultural Complex on Oct. 16 in their bid to win over every audience and panelist who wrote their fortune with a critical gaze. Posing with their best smiles, strutting their best walks, and embodying charisma, each candidate competed for a spot until the number of all the aspiring gandas dwindled to a handful that was left to receive a crown. 

Segment after segment, when the music intensified and the cheers grew louder, five of the finest contenders worthy of a title were finally announced—two of which are products of Silliman University (SU): Zaid Neirel Lerien, Gandang NegOrense International 2023, and Atty. Lee Verdoguillo, Gandang NegOrense Universe 2023.

Gandang NegOrense Universe 2023

Defining “garbo” (pride) as the most important Negros Oriental word, lawyer and former SU College of Business Administration teacher Atty. Lee Verdoguillo—with her wit and beauty—clinched the top title of Gandang NegOrense Universe 2023. Believing pageantry to be a means to influence the community, she finds the Gandang NegOrense pageant as an opportunity to be “relatable,” further describing it as a “humbling experience” where she competed with other equally empowered women on equal footing.

“It [beauty pageants] requires endurance and being in good shape and health at the same time…there’s so much to prepare for. It’s not as easy as walking onstage as I thought it would be. That’s why I have gained more respect [for] these girls,” she explained.

More than that, Atty. Lee’s professional life did not stray too far away from pageantry. Beyond the glitz and glam of the stage, Atty. Lee calls herself a “baby lawyer” after practicing law for three years. Even while working among the juniors in her profession, she admittedly had her novel stints in the competitive field of beauty pageants, first claiming “Queen Philippines” last year which was directly followed by her bid for Gandang NegOrense. 

In these previous pageants—though victorious—Atty. Lee thinks her performance in being a beauty queen still has room to grow. 

“When you’re onstage you have to move [energetically] as well so you can be seen, but I’m not that type of person,” she narrated.

More than a thriving beauty queen, Atty. Lee spends her in-betweens bringing the law closer to the young and less privileged LGBTQIA+ members, imparting to them the laws that protect their welfare. She also believes that “…as a marginalized group, they are the most vulnerable.”

Her heart for the community is not only evident in her duties as Gandang NegOrense Universe but also in her personal initiatives. Magically, both avenues allow her to advocate for inclusivity. 

Gandang NegOrense International 2023

Preceding Atty. Lee’s crowning moment, Zaid Neirel Lerien also received her award. She who once dreamed of being onstage, walking in heels, and wearing a gown, has now been adorned with a crown presenting the title of Gandang NegOrense International 2023. 

Looking back on her performance, Zaid remembers she was “a bit disappointed” about mishearing the final question. Asked “What is the most beautiful word from Negros Oriental or in Bisaya?” she mistakenly heard “word” as “bird”, resulting in a digressing answer. Nevertheless, after she was corrected by the panelist, Zaid took her best shot the second time around, redirecting to a victorious answer that brought Dauin triumph and pride. 

More than nailing the pageant stage, Zaid is also a biology graduate who bets on either working for a year before medical school or flying abroad for her master’s degree. However, since the Gandang NegOrense International crown was placed on her head, another responsibility was added to her agenda. Thus, the task priority in her to-do list has since proven uncertain. 

“I really have to think about what I’m going to do, that’s why I haven’t applied yet for a job,” she said. 

Aside from her efforts for the crown and her diploma, preparing to take her groove to Singapore’s World Supremacy Battlegrounds Asia dance contest is currently on top of her list.  

“…I want to finish that international dance competition before I proceed to [pursue] my career in biology…my career as a student,” she added. 

Though diverse in their priorities and stories behind bagging a Gandang NegOrense title, Zaid and Atty. Lee are yoked with one bond—the Silliman spirit that channels their competence, character, and faith. At the end of the day, they work for the same purpose of advocating the greater good—remembering Silliman University as more than the degree they earned, but a community that lent them the success they have today.


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