Wednesday, January 09, 2008

After a Hundred Years

I am one of those lucky kids who was born a UP baby. My dad was from the Department of Philosophy at CSSP and, at the time, my mom was the chairperson of Visual Communications at the College of Fine Arts. We lived in UP Village, just on the fringes of the University Avenue, and we've lived there my entire life. My mother tells me that when I was a baby, she would bring me to faculty meetings and preside over them with one sleeve carelessly shrugged off and with me suckling on one of her breasts. Take note: she was probably one of three or four female faculty in the male-dominated college. A lot of my parents' colleagues, whom we now affectionately refer to as "Tito" or "Tita", knew me from before I could even walk, and expressed surprise that my siblings and I were now in full possession of our faculties of thinking and speech. I suppose they still remembered the de-de days of the 1980s.

I always knew in the end that I would study in Diliman. The university, for all its quirks, was my second home. I still remember the tiled corridors of the UP Main Library, before the topmost floors were transformed into the offices for the Library Science people - that was where the Fine Arts were placed in before they moved to Bartlett Hall. My mother was the one who designed the college logo that's still being stamped on all official documents until now. I remember meeting SV Epistola and NVM Gonzales when I was barely 13 years old, and the falling down ruins of the Faculty Center was like a second home to me. My dad's office on the third floor still has my clutter: old shoes and stacks of books, the desktop image still from The Lord of the Rings because I tinkered with it. The campus, with the wide, acacia-lined avenues gave me my first taste of barbecue, of the best sisig in the world at Mang Jerry's at Balara, of late-afternoon fishballs fried just the way we like it, and slathered with stomach-churning sweet-spicy sauce. UP pulsated with a charm that seemed to belong to another time-space continuum, filled with lazy hazy days where sunflowers line the main avenue and afternoon joggers threaded in and out with students walking to and from classes, a microcosmic tapestry of the world outside. Even the patterns of sunlight change into a certain shade of gold that can only be found in UP.

So I'm not celebrating with a number of other people who have cheered on the unveiling of the centennial of the university. Instead, I'm stuck here at my flat in Singapore, eating reheated adobo after a long day at work. I did have dreams of serving my country, of course, and serving in the best way possible. But even the best laid plans of mice and UP students can go astray, and mine has led me here. But if there's one thing UP has taught me, it's to make the best of what you have right now - whether it's slaving over your thesis, staying up night after night working on your college lantern, or making you way through the potholes and pitfalls of life. We are resilient creatures, us scholars - place us anywhere in the world and we'll survive and flourish. We definitely have a chip on our shoulders, that's for sure, but we have good reason for it - we're survivors, and we've survived to become the best.

So say what you will about UP - we've all been there. We've complained about the system, the facilities almost in ruins, the cobwebs and dust and the ever-increasing tuition fees. We've complained about the world around us and the world within, but even then, you will always be able to tell who comes from UP by the way they talk, the way they walk, the way we want to change the world. The years we spent as an iskolar ng bayan remakes us into who we are today. UP is not just a school - it's a way of thinking, it's a way of life. Whether you like it or not, whether you've noticed it or not, you are not the same person who stepped into the hall of your college as a freshman. Nobody goes through the University of the Philippines unchanged. And when you leave, if you leave, you have to remember that you have earned more than a degree. You have earned a legacy.

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