We stand on a hill.
Ateneo for me was a dream come true. Having been born and raised in Davao, in not the best of financial circumstances – the only hope, I knew even as a child, to surmount the difficulties, was to have a very good education. It would be a foot in the door so-to-speak, and would allow me at least a fighting chance of achieving success and improving our family’s life. And Ateneo de Manila was (and remains to be, if I may say so myself!) the best education institution there is. It stands on a hill because others aim to climb and follow it. Ateneans have been chosen from many and in June of 1987 I was one of those few scholars allowed to climb and join that hill. And for that, I am forever grateful.
This is the Ateneo way.
Beyond the rigor of an Ateneo education (and believe me, it is rigorous!) is the essence of being an Atenean. What grew in that campus was my strength of faith, my belief in my capabilities and knowing the goodness and camaraderie of fellow Ateneans. Everyday I would go to mass and pray for a good day, no failed exams, my allowance to arrive or for me to survive (if the allowance was delayed). And everyday, God worked in mysterious ways to provide and answer my prayers. To this day, I still know that there’s nothing like a Jesuit mass and sermon, there’s nothing like a Bukas Palad choir or just Ateneans singing Anima Christi or Prayer for Generosity to give my spirit a lift.
Being honed an Atenean meant being self-critical and self-reflective even as you take action for the things that need doing. Age quod agis – an old Latin maxim my high school oration coach once taught me. It literally means “do what you do” but more appropriately understood as do your best in the state of life that you are in. And I realized soon enough that doing just that made wonderful things possible, exerting myself gave good results which raised my own expectations and thus became a good formula for success in life later on. Part of it is the almost brainwashing technique of professors that only the best is expected of Ateneans. Part of it is the threat that only 1 in 5 will graduate an Atenean (at least that’s what I recall being said during the OrSem**). Part of it was the fear of facing Fr Galdon, to explain or plead a scholarship probation if you didn’t meet the QPI required (thank God, I didn’t have to go thru that!). Whatever else it was, until now there is a constant need for me to excel and be my best, there is a constant reflection of my life goals and progress, there is a constant urge to do more for others, and there is belief that even if I am one, I can make a difference.
The Ateneo spirit is like no other. Perhaps because I studied there in the era of a UAAP*** repeat (1987-88, go Olsen****!) from 1987-1991 – there was so much school spirit and camaraderie all around. Perhaps because I wasn’t looked down at for being “only a scholar”, I felt I truly belonged. Perhaps I was lucky enough to immediately find a group of friends that remained to be truly golden, it made life easier for me. I found friends that remain my constant sounding board, confidantes and conscience even until now – despite the distance (thank God for technology!). Thru the joys and tears and the laughing years – we were one! We spent countless days and nights studying for exams, quizzes, doing projects and just hanging around Berchmans hall. In fact, the students who came after us should thank us – for we were the ones responsible for Ateneo putting in some benches in that hall. During our time, sitting on the floor was the fashion for there were no benches at all or too few for all ~30 of us (when complete). There were many a Philosophy class of Fr Ferriols that got interrupted coz he had to go down to where we were to quiet us down (now, just imagine how he did it!). Despite challenges, I always knew I could count on my friends for help if I wanted and needed to. In fact, I would forever be indebted to Tricia and her mom – who made my graduation day possible and memorable (borrowed nice clothes and shoes, a trip to the salon – or parlor as it was called then) by being very generous when Tricia found out that my parents nor siblings couldn’t make it to our graduation. And what a grand graduation it was – surrounded by friends – to herald the end of college and the start of life away from the Ateneo aerie!
Down from the hill, down to the world go I.
True enough, an Ateneo degree opened doors for me and the rest of the new graduates. Work wasn’t that hard to find – I just needed to choose the right one (ok, ok, so I had some insider tips since I worked for the Placement Office with Mrs. Sumpaico as part of my duties as a scholar). I quickly realized though that I was more in competition with fellow Ateneans. Nevertheless, I had a few options and started my Marketing career.
Work is different from school. Miss a deadline and you can’t sweetly talk your way out of it. Do a bad job and you don’t get a failing grade but may be out of the job. At least that was the kind of pressure I felt since to me – this was it! I had to be good, I had a crack at it, and I shouldn’t, couldn’t fail! It just wasn’t an option. It may not have any direct relation to Marketing – but at this point, I was so glad Ateneo had oral exams for Theology and Philosophy, and project presentations for various classes – for these taught me how to constantly think on my toes, prepare for possible questions, and articulate my thoughts in a clear and succinct manner.
There is a reason why a balance sheet has to be balanced. Sure, I was independent even in college – but I didn’t really pay for anything except for my food and some daily needs as a scholar, living at Eliazo Dorm then. Out in the world and down from the hill meant real financial responsibilities – living alone (or ala Three’s Company, to be exact) meant paying rent, buying food and clothes and other needs plus paying for my dorm loan on a meager budget. Suddenly, Accounting 101 became so real as I try to remember tips from Mr. Boyet Sison and Mr. Mauricio Lim. Accounting and sound Financial Management were hard as subjects – but I can’t imagine surviving then without having these principles at the back of my pocket.
Work can be fun. Like college and perhaps life in general, attitude counts a lot. Work can be dreary at times – with constant deadlines, obligations and what-have-yous that drain energy. However, I learned that like college – I can take the good and the bad by simply finding fun in every situation. Work mates can likewise be friends if I allowed them to. And yes, I found some gems of friends at work as well. In fact, the error of some is to get too attached to the fun part of it all that they forget their work responsibilities. There are many I’ve known who were good but failed because of too many “let’s destress” nights.
Mary for you, for your white and blue.
Marketing can make a difference in people’s lives. I initially worked for FMCGs***** and quickly realized the impact an ad, a promotion can make in consumers, and how cut-throat companies are in getting a bigger share of the spend (or share of wallet, or share of mouth as food companies would like to call it). It’s making a difference because what I did had a strong influence on where people would spend their monies on and therefore – I sensed a great responsibility to make sure that the products I marketed are good quality products. I also made a vow then that I won’t accept any offer from companies that sell liquor, cigarettes and the like. It’s a vow I’ve kept to this day. And in a way, it is a vow to stay true to be of good service to many in my own way.
Service industries where I have stayed in the last 12 years is a 24/7 job. Every single customer counts and satisfaction is based on their current experience regardless of day and hour. It delights me to say that I’ve had a hand in what cable channels to bring into the Philippines, as well as produce new ones that truly reflect the Filipino viewing tastes and habits. It’s with pride also that I can say I’ve launched cable internet and the first prepaid mobile telephony service in the country. In a way, I always think that advances like these help in the development and progress of the nation.
Making great things possible. A year working for a telco is equivalent to a dog year (7 years) in other companies, so we like to say. But it is a thrill! To be part of such a breakthrough industry wherein everything I do impacts a good majority. Launching over the air services (load sharing, electronic load, etc) in piso-piso fashion for example was something marveled at internationally but I was satisfied more in the fact that more Filipinos can now afford to sustain their prepaid mobile subscriptions. And now broadband connects people all over the world, making it truly possible to stay in touch anytime and anywhere, not just socially but for work and education as well. There is joy in knowing you made those things possible!
Faithful to You.
Success is how you view yourself vs your goals and aspirations. I’ve learned early on that it’s useless to compare myself with others – for I ended up either jealous or vain. It doesn’t do me well to do that. Instead I compare myself vs my own goals and aspirations, whether I truly am living the life I want to live. It may seem here that my life is always great and a fun ride. Such is not so. What’s not mentioned here are the other struggles and challenges over the years. Decisions made for the sake of the kids and my own personal beliefs despite what others may perceive to be as taboo. Choices to renew life and strengthen faith and begin again after each fall. Struggles to remain true to what I believe in despite the many temptations to do otherwise. It is difficult but I truly appreciate my Ateneo education as well as the guidance of my parents, faithful and diligent teachers and work mentors – for honing in me the values and ethics I live by now and try to impart to my own kids. The essence of life itself is making the best of it, being true to oneself, being true to God, striving for completion. Pagmemeron******!
Living life the Ateneo way.
It is a joyous path but a road less travelled. I sometimes think that I have too much of a Jesuit conscience (plus my mom’s!) to really make it “big”. But I remain steadfast, knowing that I can sleep well at night, and face myself in the mirror each day. It isn’t as easy or fast but it’s a life worth living. Being a man for others may not just mean serving others in a literal way – but can also mean living a clean life that benefits and sets an example for others to follow – despite the many ways by which others can seem to progress at a much faster rate.
I am forever grateful and honored to be part of the Ateneo community. As my two boys study there now (and my little girl gets to share in the experience), I hope that they learn and appreciate what Ateneo can give and in turn grow up to be truly men for others.
I can not ever pay back what Ateneo has given me so I pay things forward. Helping anyway I can those that need extra encouragement, support and assistance, material or otherwise…knowing that in my small way I make a difference.
“To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heal the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and ask not for reward
Save that of knowing that I do
Your most holy will.”
* Ateneo: Ateneo de Manila University, a top private university in the Philippines founded in 1859 by the Society of Jesus.
** OrSem: Orientation Seminar, a week-long activity for incoming Freshmen university students
*** UAAP: University Athletic Association of the Philippines, a collegiate athletic association in the Philippines
**** Olsen: Rodericko Racela, more popularly known as Olsen Racela, a batchmate in Ateneo who was part of the championship basketball varsity team. He went on to become a professional basketball player and coach.
***** FMCGs: Fast-moving consumer goods
****** Pagmemeron: English translation is having or becoming. It's a philosophical concept under Fr Ferriols that all Ateneans learn as part of Philosophy classes.
******* AMDG: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam which means for the greater glory of God. This is an Atenean maxim of doing things, becoming excellent at what you do for God's glory (and not your own).
About this Post: I wrote this November, 2010 as part of what eventually became a published book called Hope Springs, a compilation of 36 stories and essays from 36 scholars to celebrate the Ateneo Scholarship Foundation's (ASF) 36 years. I am humbled and honored to have been chosen and included in the book.