Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Gift of the Ateneo Education


It’s been more than a month since I departed the halls of my dear alma mater, and two months since my last academic activity. In the weeks that followed, I’ve engaged in futile attempts to encapsulate my entire college experience in words, to bottle that ‘magical graduation high’ lest I forget. However, I always remind myself that writing is a reflective activity: it requires distance and a certain detachment from the experience. Today, after all that’s been said and done- the MVP plagiarism scandal, the job hunting, the fun family trip and my birthday, there is already a sufficient distance between me and that magical March 26 afternoon.

I never expected graduation to be that emotional and bittersweet. I'm not particularly fond of graduations to begin with. In prep school, my graduation was fraught with nightmares and marred by a school tragedy. In grade school, it was tarnished by my conduct C and my absences in the graduation practices. In high school, the grand moment was held back by my barely passing grades and abrupt transitions. Following that trend, I did not allow myself to have high hopes about this one. In the weeks leading to the event, all I wanted was to get my diploma and get on with life.


Right on the month of graduation however, a chain of events came up which gradually paved the way for my change of perspective and change of heart. In the first week of March we had our Pabaon. It was a simple, poignant affair which made us reflect on the wondrous memories and learnings of the past four years together with our batchmates and dear mentors. In between the idealistic battle cries of the speakers, we were given opportunities to thank our teachers, friends, and the other characters that made the Viaje unforgettable. Pabaon inspired me to dream big and be a man for others. Indeed, it was a fitting conclusion to the most inspired four years of my life.

Two days before our graduation we had our Blue Roast. It was the final time that we would be together as a whole batch. Although the raucousness of the event made it a bit tiring, it was truly heartwarming to realize the connections made and friendships shared throughout our four years in college. It was a night of good fun and jovial vibes, a grand celebration of camaraderie, romance, batch spirit, and school pride.

All these however, did not prepare me for the sheer magnitude of emotions during graduation day itself. It was a long day, starting with a baccalaureate mass that was as solemn as it was poignant. The vast basketball grounds overflowed with some three thousand people, all partaking in God’s presence as students of the Ateneo for one final time. Only the magnified voices of the speakers punctured the silence of that breezy, breathtaking morning.


The graduation practice that followed was a pleasant departure from the formal atmosphere of the mass. Some were chatting about the achievements of certain batchmates, whie others were simply joking around. Everyone took to the stage with much joy and pride. After all, every one of the thousands of names in the graduation list succeeded in conquering the Ateneo. It was the culmination of four years' worth of blood, sweat, and tears. We made it! There was every reason to beam to the crowd and jump for joy.

After lunch and a few hours killing time with old friends, it was already time for the ceremony itself. We took some pictures with friends, then assembled at the quadrangle. It was such a surreal experience to bond with my batchmates, many for the final time. How peculiar it was to see batch mates wearing flowing togas that resembled wizard robes. That Hogwarts-like assembly definitely added to the magic of the moment. We marched to the graduation halls with hearty smiles and heads up high. It was the first of two significant glorious moments that day, the second of which was when I climbed the stage to get my diploma.

We were fortunate to be the first course to be called up among a kilometric list of graduates. The honor graduates were the first group to be called up the stage, and I like the rest of the crowd gaped with mixed awe and envy at the medals hanging on their necks. Our own moment of glory came shortly afterwards. As my name was called, time seemed to slow down to a crawl… the voices around the covered courts stretched to a prolonged groan, arms and feet floated instead of walked, and the smiles stayed in people’s faces longer than usual. After seventeen years of schooling, after four years of sleepless nights over deadlines, theology oral exams and accounting long tests, of triumphing over marketing panels and philo reflections, I am finally at the finish line. It has come full circle, the journey is complete, and what a journey it has been. I climbed up the stage with pure pride, and with every step my heart screamed with happiness, my entire being enveloped with transcendent glory. It was ten seconds of immortality, and how sweet it was. The ten short seconds on stage marked the culmination of my entire Ateneo experience- it made everything worth it.


The greatest part of the graduation ceremonies came at the end. Our graduation video came with an inspiring message for all of us graduates: “Because the world will die without it, go with love.” Moments after, we sang Song for Mary as one whole batch for the last time. It was probably the most bittersweet moment of my life, and the melodious chorus of over a thousand voices tugged at my heartstrings like a guitarist’s hands would with his instrument. The Song for Mary was both solemn and surreal, a sign that the journey was over and it was time to go down from the hill. Beyond that, the farewell song was an induction song as well- it bound us as one big community sharing a proud lineage of leaders and heroes. It was an affirmation of the batch valedictorian’s speech, that we are all connected. Indeed at that very moment I felt that the song connected me to all my friends and batch mates in that hallowed hall; it connected us to all the one hundred fifty batches that went down from the hill; and it connected us in love to every life that has been touched and will be touched by the gift of the Ateneo education.


As I went down from the hill that night and exchanged final congratulations with many batchmates whom I might never see again, my memories harked back to earlier times, a flashback of my Ateneo experience: that lazy afternoon when I first heard I got accepted into Ateneo, the day I first set foot on campus to confirm, ORSEM, block outings, English classes, enlistment, LRT and tricycle rides, NSTP, JEEP, Zhuhai summer exchange, playing cards at the caf, basketball at cov courts, hanging out at JSEC, meetings in Matteo, attempting-to-study-but-ending-up-dozing-off in the lib, watching live UAAP games in Araneta and screaming my lungs out every time the Blue Eagles scored, screaming even more whenever the Blue Eagles won, nearly going crazy when they won the championship, experiencing near-transcendence when they won again, Sesqui celebrations, marketing overnights, LS bazaars, immersion... it was a high-speed roll of film reeling with reminiscence.

Out of the drunken nostalgia, I recalled that aimless young self of four years ago, that self who questioned the merits of the Ateneo education and resented the awkward transitions that college life had brought about. I contrasted that self to a new self on graduation day and marveled at how much my four years in Ateneo had transformed me. Through the org activities and leadership opportunities, I learned to be responsible to causes far greater than myself. Through the business courses, I learned how to earn a living while seizing on opportunities to create value and make the world a better place. Through the social science courses, I learned to view life through multiple perspectives, to traverse culture, economics, and history in order to arrive at the most informed decisions. Through the humanities courses, I learned how to be truly human, to understand our place in creation and realize our mission of love. The entire Ateneo experience has made me see the world in a new light and emerge a better man.

As I went down from the hill that night, the sky looked quaint, and the familiar school buildings looked a little fuzzy, as though objects in a dream. Ateneo will always be a home, a breeding ground of dreams, a refuge for the ideal. It was time to move on, and with the end of an era, a bright new beginning had come to take its place. I marched down from the hill unsure where life would lead me next, but one thing is certain, always will be: I am mighty proud to be an Atenean, and I vow to make the Ateneo as proud of me.

Thank YOU for the Gift of the Ateneo education.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


In a flash of reflection, I realized that my favorite number is actually 3. Prior to this, it’s 8, but that's only because of Chinese tradition and herd mentality. But now, it’s 3, yes, three. I figured that 3 is a balanced number, a number that can stand on itself, unlike 1 or 2, and it’s a simple number, not as frivolous as 4 or 5 or 8. They say that 2 is company and 3 is a crowd. In a group, I think the dynamics become a lot more loose and comfortable when there are 3 instead of 2 people. In social terms, 3 is the minimum number for fun. 3 also reflects my ideals very much - balance, independence, and simplicity. It’s also a symbol of stability, as 3 legs is the minimum number for any structure to stand, 3 is also the minimum for a stable vehicle, and 3 just fits right with the flow of things. 3 is also a divine number. If we base the luck of numbers with Chinese traditions, then they should share identical pronunciations with lucky things or concepts. 3 is with tree. With Chinese, 3 is san, which of course is the name of my mother. San also sounds closely like shan, which is the Chinese word for good.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Twenty-one reasons to love life

With birthdays always come this sense of disbelief, an exclamatory awareness of existence that proclaims the joy of being here, in this world with others. This experience especially intensifies for someone who is about to shed the cocoon of childhood, and enter the unpredictable, exciting yet tumultuous real world. It especially intensifies for someone who philosophizes and theologizes most of the things he sees, and attempts to weave connections in the grand tapestry of life. It especially intensifies for someone who is grounded, thankful, and hopeful. I cannot believe that I am now twenty-one, a full-fledged adult and university graduate. My twenty-one years have been rich with experiences and reflections, with friendship and with love. For every one of my twenty-one years of existence, there are an equal number of reasons to celebrate and love life.

1. God - I have a very complicated relationship with God, stemming perhaps from my view of God as ‘the voice that called the universe to be, and the whisper in my heart that speaks to me.’ He is my creator and my source, yet he is also my friend and closest confidante. He is my life and my purpose, yet also the subject of my doubts and questions. I am thankful to God for bringing me to where I am today. I am incredibly blessed with everything I have, and everything I am. I also feel thankful that I got to know God much better this year, with the in-depth classes in Theo 141, 151, Philo 103 and 104. I am that much more appreciative of my God, and I hope to sustain and extend this faith to my other activities as well.

2. Family - Where will I be without my family? They are my constant source of strength, inspiration, and happiness. My wonderful parents and my dear brothers complete me. They’re the most fun-to-be-with people on Earth, and we can do anything from eating out at midnight to long drives to riding long train rides in Japan to simply hanging around at home, and it’s always a magical experience. My mind is clear and my heart filled whenever I’m with my family. With family like Dad, Mom, Shaun, Ade, and Avery, along with my relatives Aunt Stella, Aunt Beth, Karl, all the others, and our Yayas, life is always colorful and filled with love. Thank you so much.

3. Kim - Kim was an unexpected blessing, and I am most thankful that she came to my life. A lot of times I may have taken her for granted, but day by day I come to appreciate how much she means to me. She’s the person I feel most comfortable with. I just feel so light and happy around her. She may not be the dream girl I envisioned, but she’s so much more… she's the most charming and lovable person I’ve come across, and I am so blessed to share this special connection with her.

4. High School Friends - I am very lucky to have a wonderful high school experience, most especially with 4C. Up to now, I still maintain close connections with many of my high school friends. It’s great that time did not diminish the relationships we shared, and as my world expanded, there are still these friends that I can count on. It’s so heartwarming to realize that the bonds that we shared for seventeen years still hold, and that the future will be that much brighter with them by my side.

5. College Friends and other friends - It was in college where I discovered my core group of friends, along with my best friend. Aside from Saint Jude, I share friendships with Beijing friends, Grace Gospel friends, Zhuhai friends, OJT friends, blockmates, Ateneo classmates, orgmates, friends, and acquaintances. With these friendships, my world has expanded significantly. It feels wonderful to share at least a conversation, a smile, or a greeting with an acquaintance you meet in a hallway. It’s great to have a bunch of people to laugh with, walk with, and identify with. It’s awesome to have a set of friends that you can always count on no matter what. I am very much thankful for the gift of friendship.

6. Teachers - While I am also thankful to my approachable and influential teachers in high school, it was in college where I was truly molded and radically moved by my teachers and educators. In Ateneo, I met sublime teachers who through their lessons, inspired me to become better. I met great teachers who changed my perspective, grounded my purpose, and enlightened my mind. More than the lessons they taught, I was also deeply inspired by the persons that they are, giving their lives in the service of their students and the school. Through the social science subjects, I learned what to live. Through the business subjects, I learned how to live. Through the humanities subjects, especially philosophy and theology, I learned why to live. For these learnings I am deeply thankful to my teachers.

7. My Saint Jude education - More than any other influence in my life, my Saint Jude education shaped me to be who I am today, for better or for worse. My meekness, my threshold for difficulty, my cheery disposition, my comprehensive knowledge of school lessons, all these I developed through my Judenite education. All those nights and mornings memorizing the long literature notes and history lessons sort of paid off with my accredited Level 7 proficiency in Chinese. More than anything though, the memories I carry and the friends I met in Saint Jude are my most valuable takeaways from the school.

8. My Ateneo education - Where will I be without Ateneo? Amidst the regrets and the what-ifs, I am most thankful to Ateneo for one thing - it transformed me to be who I am today. From the aimless, faceless being that I was in high school, I transformed into an ambitious, confident, and idealistic young man for others. Ateneo granted me with an unquenchable thirst for learning, along with the drive to be the best and to make the most out of everything. Ateneo taught me practical business knowledge, interpersonal skills, as well as the meaning of my humanity. Beyond that, Ateneo taught me that the quest for excellence has to be oriented towards uplifting others and glorifying the Lord.

9. Stories - I always immerse myself in stories. I love them so much, stories of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. Whether they be movies, TV shows, games, articles, or books, good stories just fascinate me no end. It’s just amazing how stories can magically weave words, characters and events to elicit emotions, stimulate the imagination, and shed light on the human condition. Stories spice up the blandness of life; they allow one to escape, to dig deeper or to fly higher. I am thankful for the sense of magic and wonder that stories bring to me, and I hope to one day weave my own stories as well.

10. The Big Picture - The big picture is something I share a close affinity with. The greatest moments for me are those when I feel endowed with a million perspectives. It is I at its most noble yet most real. It is recognizing that there is always something higher and greater than the self, or even any or all the fragments of this world - the big picture. It is recognizing that the world is big and beautiful, and more so if it is enriched with an enlightened world view. I love any kind of knowledge and insight for this purpose, for the connections between things that yield a more insightful big picture. Nothing beats the eureka moments of creating connections or completing the jigsaw puzzles of life. The big picture is organic, it just gets bigger, and it offers a rich and unifying perspective of the world.

11. Nature and Traveling - City-dwellers like us often understate nature as nothing more than beautiful scenery, yet there's so much more to it that we take for granted. Indeed, nature reflects the majesty of divine handiwork. Nature can just take our breaths away and get us in touch with our core and the divine. How? It allows us to step out of our comfort zones, and partake in the sheer grandeur of our planet. In line with this, I am so blessed to have travel opportunities almost at least once a year. All in all, I’ve been to Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong. The experience of traveling is always enriching. Not only do you get to expand your horizons about a new country and culture, but you also get to be independent and appreciative of the grand tapestry that is the world.

12. Basketball - What will life be without basketball? For me, it’s so much more than a sport. It’s a therapeutic stress reliever, as well as a physical and social outlet. It’s a way of keeping my body fit, as well as maintaining good camaraderie with friends. It’s also the funnest sport to play and to watch, as there’s always something new and exciting about it. Basketball was my key out of my intellectual and scholastic prison, and I believe I have become a better and more well-rounded person because of this sport.

13. Innovation and the Future - The future fascinates me no end. I have spent countless sleepless nights reading up on new trends about how technology will change the world and make it a better place for man. It always has something new to offer, and it always gives me something to look forward to. Innovation fuels the fire in my belly, makes me giddy with inspiration and passion. With a vision of the future so bright, it is my great hope to have my place in it and ultimately leave my mark.

14. China - China has a special place in my heart. Aside from having Chinese blood in my veins, my weeks in China were also some of the best in my life. Beijing tour was an eye-opening and absurdly fun turning point of my teenage life. Zhuhai was the fulcrum of my college life, and undoubtedly the most wonderful time of my life so far. China is extremely impressive for its rapid development and sheer grandeur. I love it for a greater reason though - China is the breeding ground of my dreams.

15. Technology and Gadgets - I love my gadgets. In fact, I’m typing on one now. My set of gadgets are nothing short of life-changing. For me, each gadget I have brings with it a revolution, a paradigm shift on how I go about my life. They have made life so much more convenient yet complete. My cellphone, which has a high-end camera, nearly unlimited messaging, and other conveniences; my laptop, where I spend most of my waking hours; my Nintendo DS, my newest toy and source of ceaseless fun and pleasure… Even though they are merely gadgets meant to be used as means rather than ends, I am still very thankful for them. I am also equally or even more giddy with the prospect of owning and using new gadgets and the latest technology.

16. Writing - Writing is my life. It has provided me with a core to cling to, and something to be proud of. I write when I am happy, I write when I am sad, I write when I am excited, writing is just so intertwined with my life already. I am thankful for the gift of writing, for my love of writing, for what I bring to writing, and for what writing brings to me.

17. BS Management, Career, and Business - BS Management… another source of constant internal debate and daily dose of what-ifs… I feel blessed and thankful that even though it isn’t as prestigious or as rigorous as other courses, I ultimately made the right choice with it. Its entrepreneurial orientation is in line with my long-term plans. Its holistic training in various business disciplines fits my personality and interests and grants me much flexibility in terms of career options and paths to take. Based on the interviews I’ve gone through, the articles I read, and the prospects I consider, BS Management has sufficiently prepared me for the challenges of the real world.

18. Internet - The world in our fingertips, anytime, anywhere. A playground, office, bar, moviehouse, music player, notepad, the Internet can be anything you want it to be, and it is impossible to live without it. I am thankful to be born in the Internet generation, where information and media is instant and universal, and the whole world is just literally one click away.

19. Opportunities to Help - I am deeply influenced by my Ateneo education and its social orientation. In the past four years, I’ve been involved with ACIL, NSTP, JEEP, Task Force Ondoy, and Immersion, as well as other social ventures like CSR talks and discussions on social entrepreneurship. I hope to extend this to become one of my major career paths. The world is in need of change, and life is so much more meaningful when it is engaged in helping others and promoting change.

20. Hope - I am thankful for the challenges that life has brought, thankful for the way these challenges have reinforced my character and my spirit. As life goes on, I know that it won't be as smooth-sailing as the past twenty-one years; life just gets tougher and more challenging. I am blessed to have a new perspective on hope, Marcel's hope which I learned in Philo 103, that presents a more enlightened view of life's challenges and grants me strength to stand up and fight in the battlefield of life. I am generally a positive and optimistic person, but it is this genuine hope that allows me to transcend the trivialities and tribulations unto the mythic horizon of love.

21. Love - Love makes us human and connects us to humanity. Love is our purpose and our direction, our source and our end. Love is a way of life. Because the world will die without it, go with love. Love is the greatest reason to love life, and the greatest reason to go on living :)

To all that has been, Thank You. To all that will be, Yes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Learning and Living

I sit here, exasperated, confused, not knowing what to do with my life.

I have spent the better part of my life (seventeen years to be exact) in school. One school year will end, another will begin, and the cycle of homework, deadlines, and exams will start all over again. It was always straightforward, even taken for granted. There were moments of existential groping, but there was never a question of what I would do, it was always studies, school, education, but there was never an urgent “Okay, what now?”

Last March 2, I was thrown into the water unprepared. On my last day in school, the rush of ecstasy was quickly doused by the icy hands of reality. I was running this race all my life, and suddenly, I was at the end of the line. No more straightforward life for you. You’re on your own now. Sink or swim. The moment I went out of Mogwai’s in Cubao after delivering my last ever school presentation, I could swear that I heard a voice screaming, ‘And that was it!’ Until now, I still feel aftershocks of disbelief.

It’s true, man is condemned to be free. When freedom was as limited as it was back in high school, things were simpler and much easier. The freer a man goes, the more complicated life gets. Such is the irony of life. Freedom, I realize now, is like a bright, blinding light. The path is just so clear that you don’t know where to go anymore. There are countless paths to choose from, and you will never know which one is actually the best. In life, nothing is ever completely measurable. There is no direct cost-benefit analysis, no comprehensive SWOT analysis. Life’s just one big gamble.

We practically spent the last seventeen years to raise our odds in the great gamble of life. All those years spent studying not only gave us tools for the intellect; education was itself the tool that constantly chiseled us to perfection. All those late nights mastering algebraic expressions and memorizing chemical symbols, all those tears shed over failed exams and laughter shared over buzzer beater submissions, all these made us live to learn so that we can learn to live.


There are two types of people - those with mirrors, and those without. With mirror, a person is able to reflect more clearly, he is able to see himself from a third person point of view. If he likes what he sees, he keeps it up. If he doesn’t, he knows what to change. On the other hand, a person without a mirror is very complacent. He is carefree and not very conscious about what people think. A mirrorless man is content with who he is, and very rarely tries to dig deeper or hide. To me, mirrors are both blessing and curse. The mirrored man is self-conscious and self-effacing, often leading to paralysis by analysis, while the mirrorless man is straightforward and transparent. I am much more comfortable to be with mirrorless people… what you see is what you get with them. Meanwhile, mirrored people are like icebergs, with 90% of their identities and intentions hidden from view. In the end though, I believe that it is the mirrored man who can make the more principled and though-out decisions, as well as make the most of himself, while the mirrorless man is the happier and more contented of the two. I myself bear the constant burden of a built-in overarching mirror, always within my eyesight, reflecting my conscious glares. It’s plenty useful especially for a writer, but sometimes I prefer to get lost in the flow at least once. I want to experience what it is like to live in a world without mirrors.


I was supposed to end this reflection, but a curious insight came into play after the last line: Indeed, what is a world without mirrors? How will we deal with people when everyone can see us except ourselves? How will the world be when we can see everything except our own faces? I love to do out-of-body imagination experiments, and put myself in the shoes of a man in a mirrorless world. I imagine that it will be a more equal world, because much of what we make of ourselves come from our self-esteem. In a mirrorless world, the ugly man will be that much more confident, while the handsome man will not be as haughty and headstrong. In a mirrorless world, criticisms from other people will rise, but criticisms from the self will fall. We won’t have as clear-cut an idea about who we are, and that can be both good and bad.