To continue the narrative of growing up in Davao, I asked Perbs Balchand, my GS/HS classmate to write about college life at Ateneo de Davao. For college, I studied at Ateneo de Manila (1961-1965). So here is Perbs Balchand’s first-hand account of College life:
Memories of College
In my second year in college, I went to Manila for exposure to business. There, I met some students who formed a group called GIV: Group for the Increase of Vocations. In the group were Antonio Ledesma (presently the Bishop of Cagayan de Oro), and Patricia Licuanan (head of the CHED until recently). We met at the Ateneo Law School in Padre Faura. In late December Tony Ledesma invited the group to spend some days at his familys villa in Baguio. Tatti and some ladies went up also. I remember the cold evenings and mornings. In the early morning we would go to the Cathedral for Mass. We toured the sights of Baguio. I am still grateful to the kind Bishop Antonio Ledesma for inviting me to join them.
I remember also joining the national convention of the National Union of Students. Active members then were Rene Saguisag, Raul Roco, Richard Gordon, Joly Benitez and Sonya Malasarte. When we arrived in Manila, Roger Fernandez and I visited Joly in his residence. Joly was interested in running for the presidency, but I dont remember who emerged president. It was my privilege to meet men and women who would one day be shakers and movers of the country.
I recall some teachers and will share some memories of them. Mrs. Concepcion Echeverria was probably seven months pregnant when she taught our Typing Class. One student fumbled in class when he replied to her and addressed her “Miss,…” She shot back, “Mrs.”
Engr. Luis Lagera taught us Algebra. When he solved the problem one way, and a student solved it differently, he would reply, “There are many ways of skinning a cat.”
Atty. Epifanio Estrellado taught us European history. His famous distinction between a lawyer and a layman went like this. When explaining the operation of addition, a lawyer will say, When in the course of history it becomes necessary to add a unit of an entity to another unit of the same entity, the sum will necessarily and invariably be two. On the other hand, a layman will say, One plus one equals two.
Jean Garcia taught us English Diction, and our friend George Jover was her student. I was surprised that a romantic relationship between student and teacher was in the realm of possibilities and later, they got married. But George Jover passed away many years ago. Jean later was a principal at RMC department and at PWC.
Mrs. Elsa Escano was our professor in first year English. One assignment she gave the class was for each student to make a newspaper. I thought to myself, what would be a good headline? I finally decided on “Laly wows Perbs.”. Laly was Sylvia Sison, a classmate I admired. I ended the banner article by quoting Shakespeare’s poem “Sylvia”, which goes thus:
Who is Sylvia, What is she
that all our swains commend her?
Holy, wise and fair is she,
The heavens such grace doth lend her,
that she might admired be.
I joined the extra-curricular singing class of Mrs. Ongkingco learning songs like, Rosemarie”, “Old Mill Stream” and Anak ng Dalita”.
The Jesuits were dedicated to their work. They engaged in activities for the greater glory of God and the good of souls. They gave so much of themselves because they believed in training the students to be excellent in thought, word and action, be it in academic or extracurricular activities. In addition to the students developing excellence, the school became known for its standard of excellence.
Fr. Thomas Patrick Lynch taught us English Novels. I appreciated “The Scarlet Letter”, “Moby Dick” , “Portrait of a Lady”. He assigned the class to imitate two pages of the last novel. He was so pleased with my imitation that he read my essay before the class.
Fr. Eladio Borja taught us Shakespeares plays, Dantes Inferno and a Philosophy class. We saw the stark differences between excessive deliberation of Hamlet which thwarted his ability to decide and act, and his uncles greed for power; the ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth and her critical description of Macbeth as too full of the milk of human kindness. We were struck by the declaration of loyalty of Othellos two daughters to him but they left him out in the cold; while the third daughter would not declare her loyalty, but was later the only faithful daughter. And we travelled through the different regions of Dantes Hell.
I enrolled in the “Religious Poetry” class of Fr. Forbes Monaghan. We took up great poems like The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, by Gerard Manly Hopkins, and The Four Seasons” by T. S. Eliot. These poems had a great impact on me. I remember many lines from Thompsons work, but only one sentence from T. S. Eliot, namely, We must be still and still moving, into a greater reality, a deeper communion.
I once visited Fr. Mitchell in his office just a few days before Christmas. I expressed my sadness over the plane that crashed a few days earlier, killing our valedictorian Armando Valencia. He commented, That plane crash would have been much sadder if there had been no Christmas.
Fr. Mitchell visited us in the store along San Pedro Street a few times when I was probably still in high school. He once remarked to me, Your Mom may not be a Christian but she has Christian virtues – referring to her faith in God, her kindness, and her love for people.
Fr. Justus Wieman was the chaplain then, and many students would frequent his office. I was surprised at his tolerance. The lady students would leave their bags in his office; sometimes there would be as many as ten bags in his office.
Fr. Wieman was teaching a class and an essay referred to elves. He called a student and asked, What is an elf?. To his chagrin, the student replied, A wee man..
He was our moderator in the Sodality of our Lady. The spirituality was one of going to Jesus through Mary, and focused on self-sanctification and sanctification of others. I was chosen prefect in senior year.
He was also the head of the English Department. He loved English Literature so much that I got infected by it, and still cherish English Prose and poetry from Chaucer to the Romantic poets. I still remember lines of The Cuckoo Song from Chaucer’s time and some sonnets of William Shakespeare.
One day, told me that I was chosen to represent the college in the Rizal Oratorical Contest, sponsored by the Knights of Rizal. I was amazed at the amount of time he gave to train me for this event, considering that they had other classes to teach, papers to correct and other activities to attend to. He coached me two or three times a week for at least a month. The same can be said of other Jesuits like Fr. Hudson Mitchell and Fr. Francis Dolan who coached contestants and directed the annual plays, respectively, in high school.
I will not delve anymore into the impact of the Philosophy and Theology classes on me. But I used to visit the Blessed Sacrament daily, both when the chapel was in the old building, and when it was moved near the entrance alongside C.M. Recto Street. I was discerning and confirming my religious vocation. And so, I did not pursue my crushes. And knowing that it was not possible to enter the novitiate right after graduation, I accepted that my years in the Ateneo, and even the years after graduation would be a prologue to the priesthood.
After graduation, I continued my association with Ateneo. And so, I made it a point to attend the Masses on the feast of St. Ignatius, on the Fiesta, on Christmas eve and on New Years eve. I would also attend the retreats during the Holy Week.
Since graduation I have had a debt of gratitude to Ateneo. From grade two in 1950 and until I finished college in 1965, I was at Ateneo. If I would be asked what were the three most valuable things I got from Ateneo, this would be my reply. 1. I developed my social skills, relating with friends and schoolmates. 2. I developed my intellectual, emotional and moral powers: seeking the truth, loving the good, and appreciating beauty, in all forms. And 3. I developed a spiritual life, having faith in God, hope for a better world here and hereafter, and loving service for God and all.
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