Address: Ateneo de Naga University Alum Homecoming, 2010*
As the music plays, the beer and the brandy flow, and the harambugan heats up in genuine joviality, allow me to address you, the alumni and the alumnae of the Ateneo de Naga University one last time. I address you who are here, especially the host Silver Jubilarian Batch of 1985, with the honoree Golden Jubilarian Batch of 1960, but also those alumni and alumnae who remain united to this school in gratitude, in loyalty, in support and in prayer. Twelve years ago I addressed this gathering for the first time; today I address it for the last time.
As I mentioned earlier at Mass, as the celebrations on the occasions of the 300th Anniversary of the Devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia and of the 70th Founding Anniversary of the Ateneo de Naga come to an end, I welcome you home. You have come from near and far, some of you from Canada, the United States, the Middle East and Europe. I welcome you to the home of your high school or of your tertiary education. Seventy years ago, when Ateneo de Naga was founded at the request of Bp Pedro Santos, it was basically a high school. Over the years it has had its ups and downs. Ten years before I came, when Fr. Bonoan took over as President, the school was facing closure. He was told he had a choice: either close the high school first, then close the college; or close the college first, then close the high school. Today we thank God that Fr. Bonoan did neither. He upgraded the curricula, raised salaries, built out the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education, and Commerce, and rallied the AdNU alumni and alumnae to the defense and rescue of the school. Today we must acknowledge that if Ateneo de Naga continues to exist, it was because of the faith and determination and leadership of Fr. Bonoan. But it was also because of the great generosity of the alumni. The alumni had closed ranks in support of Fr. Boanoan and in defense of their school. Under Fr Bonoan, what was a moribund school reached university status.
As you know, soon after the celebration of AdNU’s university status, Fr. Bonoan passed away without permission, and the torch of leadership passed to me. At that time, I was supposed to have been involved forever and ever in the formation of priests, having been rector of San Jose Seminary and president of Loyola School of Theology. Suddenly, however, I was here in Bikol, tasked to succeed a Jesuit who had been a giant in history and in educational leadership. The truth is, I was scared, and I prayed that the AdNU would survive me. I remember, the first day I came officially to Bikol I went to the Basilica and I talked to Ina. I knew my shortcomings and my sinfulness. I asked for her guidance and protection. You know, it’s the experience of every Bicolano, and now mine as well, pray to Ina, and she doesn’t fail you!
Today, I can say, gratefully, the Ateneo de Naga has survived me. From the fledgling university it was when I took over, the Ateneo de Naga is today one of only two PAASCU institutionally accredited universities in the country, and the only university granted autonomy by CHED in the region, based on its level three accreditation and its center of excellence in teacher education and centers for development for excellence in entrepreneurship and information technology. It has six colleges: arts and sciences, education, business and accountancy, computer science, nursing and engineering. It performs consistently well in national board exams, grabbing the topnotcher spot in the last nursing board exams. It is admired, if not envied, for its faculty and staff formation program in Ignatian spirituality, not only locally but internationally. It is admired, if not envied, for its instruction, research and outreach, presided over by an University Academic Council, a University Research Council and a University Social Involvement Council of equal weight and importance in university administration. If there are these achievements to rejoice in, it is because people at the Ateneo de Naga University have worked very hard, not just because it is their job, but because of a mission that they own and share in a school that is Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit.
As has been decided by my superiors and the members of the Board of Trustees of the Ateneo de Naga University, I will be succeeded beginning next academic school year, 2011-2012, by Fr. Primitivo Viray, S.J., current rector of Loyola House of Studies. Fr. Viray hails from Nueva Ecija, but was raised in Cebu, holds a doctorate in development studies with a specialization in microfinance from the United Kingdom, is sensitive to issues of formation, and is about the same age I was when I assumed the presidency of the Ateneo de Naga twelve years ago.
In bringing all of this out in the context of your Alumni Homecoming, I wish to convey to you one simple, but urgent message: the Ateneo de Naga needs you. It needs your support.
I would like to say: if in my years here at the Ateneo de Naga I may have given some the impression that I did not value alumni/ae support, I would like to apologize. That impression I never meant to give. I meant always to draw alumni support for scholarships, but also for the construction of the university church. But considering the low alumni participation in the scholarship program of the university today, I guess I did not succeed.
Early on, on one of my early visits to the alumni in California, one of the respected leaders of the alumni, Johnee Magdaraog, after a decade of working with Fr. Bonoan, told me the alumni were suffering from donor fatigue. I guess at that time I understood that. But at this point, 12 years later, I pray for the day the donor fatigue might end.
If I have fallen short in my efforts to motivate you to support poor students who come to the Ateneo and through their education are empowered to break this horrible thing called poverty in their lives, I apologize. In the name of these students, and mine as well, I apologize. Up to today, the number of those knocking on our doors, hoping for admission, hoping for a break in life, is really more than the university can take. We need scholarship sponsors badly.
As I leave the Ateneo de Naga University, I thank God for the privilege of having served here. But I also pray God to motivate you, despite my shortcomings, to play a more significant role in the development of your alma mater.
I’ve always said: there are two reasons why alumni associations exist. The first is fellowship: finding friends once again, harambugan, re-living old experiences, sharing stories of how life has treated you. The second is help for the alma mater. For the Ateneo de Naga University Alumni, there is no problem with the first, and much challenge in the second.
The Ateneo de Naga University needs you. Help it give education to those who need it, to those who are intelligent but poor, to those who wish to serve society meaningfully, but need to be empowered to serve, to those who have suffered through misfortune, and long to move on.
Tonight, I bid farewell to you, with much gratitude for having given me a home in Naga for the last twelve years. As your new President comes in, please forgive me my shortcomings, and resolve to work hard with him, as you worked hard with Fr. Bonoan, to bring your alma mater to new vistas and new heights in pursuit – always first – of the Kingdom of God!
*[Since the circumstances of the 64th Homecoming did not allow the delivery of this address, it is offered here for those who may be interested.]