2008 Special Academic Convocation
Journey as metaphor and motif (Special Academic Convocation 2008)
By Miguel Antonio N. Lizada
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
When Ateneo turns into Hogwarts
A few minutes before the processional, a surprised colleague remarked “Nandito ka ah. Ang good boy mo naman!”
“No.” I replied. “I just want the opportunity to don the Harry Potter look.”
Unlike full-time professors who are more obligated to attend academic events, young part-time faculty members have the privilege of having unwritten, pre-approved leaves disguised under the subjective umbrella term “highly encouraged.” Togas in a way are also textile signifiers of scholarly achievement in that those familiar with academic branding may find the basis for determining who’s hot and who’s… not so hot. And while my other professors and colleagues possess the necessary bragging rights to “strut their stuff” – a UP Ph.D medal for this one, the school colors of the NUS Graduate school for that one, Fr. Dacanay over there sporting his “Roman Inquisition” look – I satisfy myself (at least for now) with the dark blue “Bachelor’s degree from the Ateneo” look.
Still, I find myself drawn to academic convocations despite not being mandated by the powers-that-be and in spite of appearing plain amidst the draped colors of excellence, experience and wisdom. After all, more than the togas and the post-ceremony refreshments, convocations celebrate achievements in as much as they commemorate journeys. The processional march at the beginning of each exercise is in itself a symbol of the participants’ long journey – be it personal or political, spiritual or intellectual.
We find this motif especially affirmed by this year’s Special Academic Convocation Awardees. In the next passages, let us then walk through (pun intended) the awardees’ journeys – their stumbling blocks, their choices between forked paths and the horizons they discovered and opened for all of us
Continuing an Order’s mission:
The journey of Antonio M. Pernia, SVD
Bukas Palad Award in memory of Fr. Manuel Peypoch, SJ
The mission of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in the Philippines began on August 15 1909 when two young German priests, Fr. Ludwig Beckert and John Scheirmann arrived in Manila. 99 years hence, the Philippine chapter of the SVD is maintained and run by over 600 members all over the archipelago.
Among the many male religious who chose to serve God is Fr. Antonio del Mar Pernia who elected as the Superior General of the SVD, is the first Asian and the first Filipino to head an international religious Order.
Born in Tagbiliran City, Bohol on January 2 1948, Fr Pernia entered the SVD minor seminary when he was still 12 years old. He was ordained a priest on September 5 1975. After doing years of seminary teaching in Tagaytay and Davao City, Fr. Pernia studied in the Gregorian University for his doctorate in systematic theology.
His post-doctorate life saw him continuing his religious advocacy not only through teaching courses in theology but by doing administrative work as well: Rector of Davao seminary, Vice Provincial (1990) and Provincial (1993-1993) of the SVD Southern Province. His appointment as the SVD Vicar General in 1994 gave him the opportunity to visit missions and institutions around the world.
As Superior General, Fr. Pernia seeks to confront the challenges of globalized and post-modern world with both complexity and creativity. These programs include among many others: “One heart, many faces”; “Mission: from conquest to dialogue”; “prophetic dialogue as a mode of mission.”
For all his achievements, advocacies in leading the journey of the SVD in a world plagued with poverty, social injustice and unrest and the ills of post-modernism, the Ateneo de Manila awarded Fr Pernia with the Bukas Palad Award in memory of Fr. Manuel Peypoch SJ – an award which recognizes “a lifetime of dedicated service to people, nation, Church and God.”
Crossing the boundaries of politics, journalism and education:
The journey of Eugenia Duran-Apostol
Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan (Public Service Award)
Eugenia Duran-Apostol is a figure and an institution in Philippine politics, journalism and education.
During the dark days of the suppressive Martial Law era, Apostol armed with her creativity and fueled by her zeal for the truth, reformatted a “lighthearted women’s magazine” into a critical medium for freedom. Through a tabloid size magazine called Mr and Mrs. Special Magazine, Apostol led journalists and writers into a quest for truth about the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. She later moved on and gathered other journalists and formed a newspaper which would cover the reports Agrava Fact Finding Commission, a “superficially impartial investigation” formed by dictatorship to investigate Aquino’s assassination. Thus, the Philippine Daily Inquirer was born.
The Post-people power Apostol constantly worked in making sure that the ideals and principles remained in the minds and hearts of the Filipino people. She established the Foundation for Worldwide People Power which constantly made its presence in the public sphere through education and media advocacies. During the Estrada Impeachment Trial, Apostol launched Pinoy Times, a tabloid format newspaper which chronicled and investigated controversial topics like the Erap Mansions, the Midnight Cabinet and the “second envelope.”
In 2002, Apostol carried the spirit of People Power into the structure of the education sector by launching Education Revolution. Under this banner, Apostol called on and challenged every member in Philippine society to answer the plight of the public school system in our country. As of today, organizations such as the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, Synergeia Foundation, Philippine Business for Social Progress, Philippine Business Education and the League of Corporate Foundations have responded actively and to this call.
The Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan is given to an individual or a group of individuals who have distinguished themselves through public service. For her passion for truth and justice and by carrying the spirit of People Power throughout the Martial Law years and beyond, Eugenia Duran-Apostol is this year’s recipient of the Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan.
An odyssey across literary landscapes:
The journey of Gilda Cordero-Fernando
Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi
Everyone can write creatively. But not everyone can be (or choose to be) a creative writer. And among those skilled with the art and passion for words, very few master the craft and style of different genres. Rarely can one find a writer who has mastered the brevity of the poet, the imagination of the fictionist, the wit of an essayist, the generosity of a playwright and to an extent, the discipline of a cultural worker. Gilda Cordero-Fernando is one of them.
Cordero-Fernando’s early fiction (1950-1970) depict the “realities of war and post-war suburban middle class life” and are until today still seen as a critical stimulus for philosophical insight and aesthetic discourse. Her movement from fiction to the personal essay came at a time when the dark and turbulent socio-political positioning of the Filipino people demanded critical insight wrought from imagination, creativity and wit. Her column “Tempest in a Teapot” was a response to this need.
Recently, she has helped construct an emerging genre in the literary scene known as creative non-fiction through her anecdotes and accounts which examined through humor and wit the lighter and provocative side of the Filipino life.
A cultural worker as well, Cordero-Fernando explored and unearthed some of the more elusive cultural artifacts otherwise lost in time and “buried deep in academic journals and libraries” and made them more accessible to the general audience.
Cordero-Fernando invaded the Philippine literary scene through her stage productions “Jamming on An Old Saya” “Luna: An Aswang Romance” and “Pinoy Pop Showtime.” Through its “fusion of drama, fashion, sculpture, dance, music and ritual,” the plays introduced to the Filipino audience the dulce and the utile of theater.
An odyssey cannot be complete without a narrative of homecoming. And by awarding both the Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi and the English Department’s Irwin Professioral Chair for Creative Writing for this semester, the Ateneo de Manila University welcomes Gilda Cordero-Fernando back home.
A walk for land, a march for justice
The journey of the Sumilao Farmers and Atty. Arlene J. Bag-ao
Once upon a time, there was a community of farmers who concerned themselves only with the simpler things in life: tending to their land and flock, providing for their families. The state’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program guaranteed them 144 hectares of land to till and call their own. An order from the Office of the President however gave the land owner the permission to convert this land to an agro-industrial area. This order was never realized. The owner instead sold the land to a powerful corporate giant which decided to construct a piggery in the area.
So began a story which gripped the hearts of an entire nation. So began a literal and a spiritual journey, a journey which spanned months of emotional hardships, physical sacrifices, and spiritual courage, a journey which will be remembered forever not just as a reclamation of land but an exodus of a reconstructed nation towards social justice.
Accompanying the farmers in this seemingly Cinderella story is Atty. Arlene Bag-ao. After finishing her law studies at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law in 1993 and passing the bar examinations, Bag-ao focused all her energies and prowess as a legal practitioner on the so-called “alternative lawyering work:” working with the poor and marginalized sectors, joining and becoming the Executive Director of Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanao (BALAOD-Mindanaw).
The journey of the Sumilao farmers and Atty Arleneo Bag-ao is a tale of solidarity. Solidarity first, of a community against a common adversity. Solidarity too of a once fragmented nation against the age-old enemy of injustice.
For metaphorically inscribing in the Filipino nation’s narrative a chapter of hope, justice and social transformation, Sumilao farmers and Atty Arlene Bag-ao receive the Ozanam Award – a public honor to people who serve through the principles of justice and charity – from the Ateneo de Manila University.
Towards the light of the Lord
The journey of Dr. Fernando Hofileña
“Life in the Ateneo is a journey. A journey into God’s light… the journey ends in the realization that to be Lux-in-Domino (God’s light in the world) is the Ateneo way”
We find this passage in the application packages of the Office of the Admission and Aid (OAA). It characterizes an Atenean’s journey as a journey towards enlightenment, an enlightenment illuminated by none other than the light of the Lord. The culmination of an Atenean’s four or five-year journey towards light is not an end but a beginning, a calling to share this light in his/her own special, unique and creative way.
The Lux-in-Domino award recognizes “extraordinary individual[s] who [have] in life, and perhaps even in death, in exemplary manner, the noblest ideals of the Ateneo de Manila University.” Chosen to receive this year’s Lux-in-Domino award is a doctor and an artist who spent his life imbibing the spirit of magis and the passion for serving others and God.
Born on December 26, 1919 in Bacolod City, Fernando Hofileña graduated First Honors from the Ateneo de Manila High School and summa cum laude from the Ateneo de Manila college where he earned his Associate in Arts – Pre-Medicine. When the Second World War forced him to temporarily discontinue his studies in medicine, he served as acting mayor of Free Silay when his mayor-father was “incapacitated by a venomous insect bite.”
Upon graduating from medical school in 1952, Dr. Hofileña involved himself with various service-oriented activities and projects: teaching in the graduate schools of Ateneo de Manila, University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle, opening a child guidance clinic in UST hospital, being the principal of La Salle Grade School, sharing his knowledge through a regular column “Child Care” in Times Journal and finally establishing a center for special child study (now known as the Cupertino Center for Special Children).
Not just a doctor but an artist as well, Dr. Hofileña wrote and directed four plays that centered on the lives and concerns of nurses and doctors. He also involved himself with student theater groups such as the Ateneo Children’s Theater, Dulaang Sibol and Tanghalang Ateneo. In 1978, his love affair with music made him accept an invitation to be the Ateneo Glee Club’s moderator.
Later, the Filipino-historian in Dr. Hofileña brought him to the Atenean Heroes Memorial Committee which recognized and honored 127 Ateneans for their valor.
Fernando Hofileña himself admits that he is now at the “twilight” of his life. Yet one must always remember that the experience of twilight is preceded by an experience of light, of seeing the brightness of the day. In his journey towards the light of the Lord, Fernando Hofileña grappled with the corporeal mysteries of the human body, danced with the candor of the Muse and helped illuminate a dark chapter in Philippine history. The life of Dr. Hofileña is an enlightening story of hope and inspiration. And so for this year, he is the recipient of the Lux-in-Domino award.
When Hogwarts turns (back) into Ateneo
The author last year with Dr. Nunez of the English DepartmentSpecial convocations end the way they begin. With the professors mechanically exiting the theater. And when the professors and staff remove or surrender their Harry Potter costumes, what’s left are the usual long sleeves and tie, the formal dresses – the attires of your “usual” school function.
For a young faculty member, convocations will always seem magical. And the magic I mention is not so much a reference to the unreal as it is an acknowledgement of the extraordinary. In convocations we celebrate the extraordinary, magical journeys of seemingly ordinary human lives. And when the togas are un-donned, the plaques shelved, the medallions enshrined, when the music and magic fade, what’s eventually left are the memories and stories which never cease to inspire the spirit in all of us.
For life in the Ateneo is indeed a journey. And in moments like these, we pause and listen to those who have walked ahead of us, who traversed this road and chose to go the extra mile and who in a way, challenge us to do the same.
The journey continues.