When I heard these lyrics, I felt nostalgic. I did not realize what brought about the emotion until I noticed I was packing the things I have accumulated in the course of my stay in the Ateneo. There were books, notes, pictures, test papers and souvenirs. To be exact, Ateneo has been my home for 1388 days and those days have ended. It was a long, tiring, and unpredict-able journey but it was worth it. As the song says, I would do anything for more time.
February 2004 was a tense and hectic month. The final exams were approaching; we were going to graduate the succeeding month but we still did not know which school would accept us.
February was the time universities released their respective lists of accepted applicants; everyone in the school was nervous, but we were too proud to show it. The release of the lists was special in our school because we, as Philippine Science High School scholars in CagayanValley, were expected to get into UP. If you can get into UP, you do not have to think about any other school. This was not the case for me.
Prior to attending the Ateneo Junior Summer Seminar (AJSS), I did not know anything about Ateneo. I did not read the sports page. I was not into basketball, and my goal was UP. It was only through a fluke that the two highest-ranking students in our school decided to forego the AJSS invitation. Thus, I represented our school and stayed in the Ateneo during the summer of 2003. As I had no idea what the Ateneo was, I also did not have any preconceptions regarding the school. My first impressions were “the campus is beautiful” and “the facilities are much better than what I have seen and used”. Beyond the physical attractiveness of the school however, what caught my attention was the sincerity of the people. Instead of competition, there was acceptance. Instead of bias, there was genuine attention.
Since I only took the UPCAT and the ACET, I only had to decide between two schools. I applied for the BS Biology program and I was accepted by both schools. Deciding between UP and Ateneo, however, was a momentous challenge. I had qualms coming to this school because of financial constraints, but in the end, it boiled down to my experience during AJSS 2003. I had an assurance that in the Ateneo, I was going to receive the best education imparted in the most humane way possible.
Coming to the Ateneo was a decision that involved sleepless nights, countless conversations and earnest discernment. Studying here, staying here, and persevering until the end also involved these factors and much more.
Back in PSHS, we were all scholars, and in some way, everyone was equal. Ideally, no one could look down on another for being a recipient of financial aid. One of my fears was that Ateneans, who are known to be both rich and smart, would have misgivings dealing with students of lower socioeconomic status. After all, there is a lot of talk about the Ateneo being an elite school that caters only to those who can afford its expensive education. Thankfully, I was mistaken. Here, scholars are widely accepted, admired even. We carry ourselves with dignity. People recognize that beyond the brains and the grades, we are human too. We do not have to forget our humanity in pursuit of learning. We do not need to forsake our hearts in the quest for excellence.
Being a scholar of the Ateneo has been a heartwarming, character-building experience. What are required of scholars are simple: to avoid failing and to render service hours. The first one is relatively straightforward and is attainable by being a serious, hardworking student. After all, any student satisfied with mediocre performance might be better off not studying at all.
The second requirement sometimes induces questions from non-scholars. They ask, “Does it not bother you, at all, that you have to work for the school?” For me, it was never an issue. Several work hours cannot even begin to compare to free education, endless opportunities that comes after Ateneo, learning that lasts a lifetime and unreserved, overflowing kindness. As a dorm scholar, I rendered porter services for the dorm community and as a university scholar, I rendered service hours for the school. I was able to interact with various people with different lifestyles, outlooks and insights. What I learned from working with these people is that rendering services is not just about delivering what is required in the most efficient way possible. More importantly, it is about earning the trust of people and sincerely offering courtesy, respect and gratitude.
Being an Ateneo student, on the other hand, was an exhausting role. The entire curriculum, whatever your course is, consists of major subjects and core subjects. As a Biology student, I was expected to spend a minimum of eight hours a week in the laboratory, to read a myriad of books and journals, to prepare and present detailed reports, and to be alert and astute at all times. If I only had major subjects, these tasks would have been less difficult. The Ateneo, however, puts emphasis on the development of the whole person. Thus, all students have to take history, sociology, psychology, and the dreaded subjects of philosophy and theology. No one can get through Ateneo without experiencing the horrors of a philosophy or theology oral examination. Students often question the importance of understanding philosophical and theological issues when we already have a hard time keeping up with our major requirements. Based on my experience, being immersed in theological and philosophical discussions is among the advantages of an Ateneo education.
In the Ateneo, it is not enough to develop the mind; it is equally important to nurture the heart. It is not sufficient for us to engage in scientific debates and academic endeavors. We also have to tackle among others, the meaning of life, the value of marriage, the dignity of a human
being, and the truth of meron.
Because of deadlines, tests, and grades, the pressure can be overwhelming. However, we are taught to look beyond the letter grades and numbers and see who we are and who we can be. The organizations here are training grounds for our future professions. By dealing with real people, we ourselves become more human. I originally thought the immersion program I participated in would not make a difference given that I already have first-hand experience of poverty. The two-day trip though gave me unforgettable memories and priceless lessons. The Ateneo has been accused of spoon-feeding its students and sheltering them from the harsh realities of the world, but I prefer to view it another way. It is true that we are treated better than students of other schools. It is precisely through this treatment that Ateneo shows us how things ought-to-be. Through this, we are encouraged to act for the things that should be and change the things that should not be. Of course, discussing the Ateneo also means discussing the school spirit. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole school cheers when there is an Ateneo-La Salle basketball game. If it is a victory, everyone celebrates. If it is a loss, we still take pride in trying. After all, as the Alma Mater song asserts, in basketball games and in any other matter that involves the school, “Win or lose, it’s the school we choose; this is the place where we belong.”
Memories surround me. Four years have enriched my learning in my favorite discipline, with the expertise generously shared by my professors. They have strengthened my resolve to continue pursuing my goals. Four years entitled me to an understanding of the person I ought to become, the value of others, and the importance of faith, with the valuable guidance of Fr. Dacanay, Sir Bobby Guevara, and Sir TJ Rosario. They instilled in me the values of magis and excellence as emphasized by Fr. Que. Four years earned me a hug and a photograph with Fr. Nebres. They presented me with numerous opportunities. They allowed me to establish memorable connections and lifelong friendships. During our graduation, as I officially bid farewell to this school, as I sang the Alma Mater song with my right fist raised high and with a heart contracted with emotions, and as the whole batch got teary-eyed, I asked myself whether I made the right choice. There is no doubt about it. Yes! It was not just the right choice; it was also one of the best.
My four-year stay in the Ateneo has made me realize that this school has never been just an institution; it is and will always be family. It is always sad to part with family but parting and leaving never meant forgetting. I have memories and lessons to take with me as I continue to fight my own battles and forge ahead. As a child of this school, I am called to reach my full potential and, in some way or another, to show my gratitude through excellence in service, to be of assistance without misgivings, to help without devious intent, and to share without expecting rewards.
Now that I look back, the chance to study in this school for four years might have been facilitated by a series of coincidences. If the two top students in our school did not back out, if I was not able to attend the AJSS, if I did not receive a full scholarship, if I did not choose the Ateneo… But as an unknown author quoted, “A coincidence is a small miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous.” I choose to call my whole Ateneo journey simply “providence”.
I am in no way an extraordinary student. I am an ordinary person with some dreams and the Ateneo has unreservedly given me the skills needed to reach them. I offer the Ateneo my utmost gratitude now and one day, I want to return and say thanks again. Because the Ateneo is family, I am certain that I will continue to be received with open arms and open hearts, in the manner that I was welcomed four years ago.
Thank you, Ateneo.
Divine Agustin, BS Biology 2008 graduated Magna Cum laude, Departmental Awardee and recipient of the prestigious St. Ignatius Award for Outstanding Scholar.