ATENEO’S GREATNESS

When I stepped into the hallowed halls of the Ateneo School of Law in 1978, I did not  know then that I will end up  being actively involved not only as a student but  eventually  as a member of the faculty.    It is  therefore from the  vantage point of a  Law Professor  that I share  my reasons why I think Ateneo Law School is truly a  great institution.

First, I have seen remarkable transformations from mediocrity to excellence  exhibited  on a semester  to semester basis by  my Ateneo law  students. They struggle and  learn to grow with the process, ratio studiorum.  There is not much  excitement  when a brilliant student  exhibits his  or her expected  brilliance; but  when a previously shy student getting grades of 50  in the midterms    transforms herself or himself  to  be  a very good student, it is a cause for much celebration.  The Ateneo Law School has time and again showed that she has the atmosphere, capability and inspirational guidance to transfigure  young people by jolting them  out  of their complacency and awaking in them  that inner  energy that can propel them to excel. The Ateneo Law School provides a challenge that enables one to  deeply discover his or her own  dynamism and talents.  This is greatness.

Second, it is     expected  that, in   the  great debates about  which  law school is the best, comparisons are  inevitable.  And in  favoring one school ,  one can  certainly be accused of subjective bias depending upon  which school  he or she  graduated from.  However,  modesty aside ,from  all objective standards, the  Ateneo School of Law presently  stands as the best. This year  2011, there are four bar topnotchers in the top  10  passers of the  yearly bar examinations. They include numbers 1 and 2. This cannot be the product of subjective inclinations.  For the past 10 years, the Ateneo has been ranked by the CHED as the number one law school.   Also, Ateneo law students  represented the Philippines  in the premiere and most prestigious Philip Jessup International Moot Court Competition   held in the United States participated in by law students of other countries . In gaining this privilege,  the Ateneans  beat students of   other law schools in the country during the very competitive national rounds, winning all awards.   Likewise, other law schools are now following the trailblazing lead of the Ateneo in transforming law education from a Bachelor of Laws program to a Juris Doctor program. These facts cannot be the offspring of subjective bias. This is greatness.

Third,    other law schools  criticize  that, at the Ateneo,  the  professors  teach students to  top the bar examinations  but not to become  lawyers. Of course,  this observation is an exaggeration and simply not true. One can never really teach  in the classroom the actual experience of lawyering. Teachers can only guide students and  lay the necessary foundation for them to be ready as lawyers in the future. Life is a step by step  experience. Actual lawyering is learned when one is truly practicing law. Be that as it may,  Ateneo law graduates have matured well in their chosen profession. I have been in constant touch with many of them and they are very successful as lawyers. But, for me, this is not where the greatness lies. It  lies  where a lawyer focuses his  or her efforts on a  “preference for the poor and the disadvantage”, as our Jesuit mentors say.  In the recent years, a number of  Atenean lawyers  decided to immerse themselves in alternative lawyering. They service the urban poor, domestic helpers, trafficked children, the environment and other worthy causes.  Although  this practice   does not provide    a cool and comfy  sinecure in a  Makati law office, it nevertheless resonates with so much passion in the service of others that  make  our lawyers  truly   Lux in Domino. This is greatness.

And so, Ateneo’s greatness?  It  is the  continuing service to others  brought about by the  constant unfolding of life’s various experiences,  deeply inspired by  St.Ignatius of Loyola when he said, “to give and not to count the cost.” There will be no trumpets or heralds as an acclamation for this greatness, but  only  the realization that one has  resiliently endured and responded ,  as Ateneans should endure and respond , to  the difficult challenges in life in order   to excel  in the most  humble way  in the service of  God and country.  “ I am the King’s good servant but GOD’s first.” ( St. Thomas More).

Prof. Sta. Maria is a member of the faculty and Bar Reviewer of the Ateneo Law School.