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.

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