The school we choose
By AR Samson
(Note: This article was written by Antonio R. Samson (GS 1958; HS 1962; Coll 1966) for his regular column “Left Field” in BusinessWorld and was published on Aug. 10, 2007.)
In a simple but well-attended ceremony at the Gesu in the Loyola Heights campus last 5 August, Ateneo de Manila launched its sesquicentennial celebration as a school that culminates in December 2009. The rather cumbersome name for one hundred fifty years derives from Latin (sesqui
, or one and a half) referring to one and half century, a term first used by Baltimore, Maryland for its own celebration.
Fr. Ben Nebres in his homily mentions the first Ateneo in Intramuros in 1959 commemorated even now with a marker. The school then was connected to the Jesuit residence by a bridge, a metaphor linking the flow of knowledge from one side to another, and maybe even vice versa.
Outstanding alumni are always honored as a tribute to the school. One only needs to name the foremost alumnus as the model of the values the school stands for. Jose Rizal stands out not just for his role in the propaganda movement and eventual martyrdom. His four-year exile in Dapitan demonstrated too his engagement in his community where he designed and built the water system, established a school, and opened a clinic.
The bridge in the first Ateneo also serves to link the past, present, and future alums (to accommodate both alumni and alumnae). The newest school of medicine and public health brings the school forward to its next sesqui. The Intramuros bridge in microcosm too carries the DNA of the Atenean, a man for others is always trying to be the best he can be.
My own memories in my fourteen years there starting as a six-year-old until one month shy of turning 20 (1952 to 1966) flashed through my mind as I watched the AV presentation, a quick kaleidoscope of portraits and images from the past century and a half.
I remembered too: the Quonset hut classrooms of Padre Faura in Ermita where a mall now stands; the hole in the wall through which I passed as a short cut inside the campus; the move to the vast hundred-hectare campus in Loyola Heights marked by the Blue Eagle gym where important events like the mass on St. Ignatius day took place; the candy shower in Grade School with janitors on the rooftops dug into big cans of candies and threw these into our eager hands in the feast of the guardian angel in October; high school retreats in Angono, kneeling in a tiny chapel, slightly bigger than a confessional box, almost nose to toe in front of a slumped and broken crucified Christ in all His bloody glory with my old testament retreat master, Fr. Raymond Gough’s words ringing in my mind (If your eyes scandalize you, pluck them out.)
The song “We Stand on a Hill” which has become the alma mater hymn sung after the games either first or last, but always lustily, started life as a graduation hymn which its valedictory themes of saying goodbye to the school and going down from the hill and down to the real world.
I don’t feel I ever left school. Or, it never left me. That Sunday morning at the Gesu church, I was a student again among the Jesuits, as I know I always will be. Anniversaries require us to go back to our roots, the happiest years, the formation of friendships, and the lessons never forgotten, even if not always lived up to.
The bridge of that Intramuros School stretches from the first 23 students in 1859 to those entering kindergarten this year. It crosses through the seventeen thousand students now in the Ateneo. It reaches back still to the tens of thousands alums throughout those years.
In a way, the school we choose has also chosen us. This mutual bonding driven by choosing a school and being able to meet its entrance requirements and scholastic rigors through each academic year, establishes an abiding bond, a bridge to be crossed and re-crossed in a spiritually enriching process.
Whatever happens afterwards, the school we choose lets us go back up that hill of idealism and hope.