Ateneo de Naga High School Graduation 2011: Valediction
Usually the High School Principal proposes the name of a guest speaker for a graduation like this for my approval. This time, however, tradition was set aside. Mr. Abonal simply declared that after the eloquent valedictory address of Mr. Art Angelo Cerio, I would have to deliver my “valediction” as outgoing President. I could have refused. But I guess I really didn’t want to. For what other President has had the opportunity of addressing such an august gathering as this?
I consider it a privilege to address you graduates, your parents, relatives and friends, along with the administrators, faculty and staff here present of the Ateneo de Naga University.
In the twelve years that I have been here, there have been many changes in the university. We have become autonomous. We have attained institutional accreditation. But nowhere was the change more dramatic than in the high school.
Now that the high school is built and the regular co-educational classes are ongoing – taken for granted – we can look back and smile.
Originally, I did not want to put the high school here in Pacol. My original idea was to make this a center for technical and scientific disciplines on the college level: especially engineering and computer science. But God had other plans. As did Mr. Abonal. It was pointed out that it was not good to mix the college and the high school cultures, and that the overcrowding of the high school and college students in the Bagumbayan campus was unhealthy. The high school classes had to compete with the college classes, and sometimes a high school student had to move from one classroom to another classroom on the third floor of a building on the other side of the campus. Worse, there were reported incidents of intrusions by college students into high school life, of freshmen college girls falling in love with senior high school boys, and senior high school boys reciprocating with love.
So explorations began to transfer to Pacol. Teachers, parents and students were consulted. The Archbishop was not only consulted; we needed his permission. For it was not only the momentous move to Pacol that was at issue, but it was the historic step towards co-education – the admission of girls to Ateneo – which was very contentious. This needed the approval of Jesuit superiors in Rome, who in turn required the permission of the local ordinary – the Archbishop.
At that time, the idea of coeducation at Ateneo, whose girls would have to come from feeder elementary schools, was very threatening to our neighbor school, then still the Colegio de Sta. Isabel. Its President, Sister Justin Rosales,DC, was of the conviction that we would “murder it” with co-education at Ateneo. They feared we would deprive them of all their students. Of course, that never happened. Now, the Universidad de Sta. Isabel is still alive and healthy. But as we started the discussions, Archbishop Legaspi was against co-education. Co-education at Ateneo would not bring harmony to the Archdiocese, but discord, he first thought. Eventually, however, he reconsidered. Parents would be able to choose between the educational services of USI and the educational services of Ateneo, and it was good that this was theirs to choose. So he approved coeducation. With that approval, the approval of the Board, and the approval of the Jesuit superiors followed. The construction of the high school could begin.
Building the high school on this new campus was very challenging. Our friend and University trustee, Engr. Salvador Aldecoa, designed it with his colleagues, after we had evaluated the high schools of the other Ateneos. To build it, we needed a lot of money. When at that time we borrowed 100 million pesos to add to our insufficient resources to build this, it was the biggest loan ever taken out in Naga. There were many problems along the way. We needed reliable suppliers. We needed skilled workers. We needed competent engineers. As the project progressed. we needed more time than we had. But eventually, this four-storey, rectangular high school was built with its inner garden court and huge covered courts. Also completed was the free-standing Church of St. Francis Xavier. Most important was the fact that it too was built with Four Pillars: for generations, the Four Pillars was the favorite icon of the Ateneo de Naga.
It is in this Pacol campus that you have experienced your high school. And as I say goodbye to the Ateneo de Naga University, I thank God for the privilege of having been part of bringing Ateneo de Naga High School to you on this campus. In doing so, in co-laboring with the faculty, staff, parents, students, and especially the leadership of our Principal, Greg Abonal, the high school did not just occupy a new set of classrooms, laboratories, library, study areas, covered courts, playing fields, administrative facilities and a free-standing church, but it arrived at point where it could again determine its own high-school culture. It was no longer second priority to a more important college operation that had started very small but had meanwhile begun to crowd it out of the campus it had once owned. In Pacol, the high school was again on its own, free to nurture the high-school culture and to structure the high-school day as it saw fit, in the best interests of the students, and their need to grow in learning, love of God and the church, responsibility for society, social skills, and service of the needy.
You who are graduating today have benefitted not only from this relatively new high school complex, but from the administrators, teachers and staffers who have peopled these buildings and have dedicated themselves to your education. As you walk though, behold, and in time, look back at the Four Pillars, I hope you are reminded not just of soaring steel and stone, but of these down-to-earth persons: a teacher who coaxed you to develop your talents to the full, a counselor who helped you through a family problem, an administrator who worried about your optimum growth in the school, a staffer who helped maintain the campus conducive to your growth and development. I hope you cull from these memories of people who have worked for you the challenge to fill the bill of the Profile of the AdNU Graduate: s/he is competent, conscientious, committed to change, and Christ centered.
You are graduating today, because you have been tried and tested. You have not been found wanting. But allow me also to say: your journey is not yet done. You have yet more to learn, yet more to discern. The future is bright. But light will not be without night; for your life, for your God, you shall have to struggle and fight. At stake is the quality of human society on our globe, and the survival of the Church in that society. At stake is the quality of your human life, and your own survival as a Christian.
Today, human society is threatened. The Church in society is threatened. Human society is threatened not just by bombs and bullets, by great earthquakes and monster tsunamis, but by its contemporary penchant to dodge the difficult, avoid the struggle, shun the suffering, and stay on the relatively easy and congenial plane of superficiality. The world has not solved its problems of hunger, nakedness, lack of shelter; it has not remedied its loss of respect for human life, it has not developed a prevalent culture where human values are nurtured, propagated and celebrated. It has not come to a point where the haves are helping the have-nots enough. Instead, it is a world fascinated by newly discovered capabilities: the freshness of global commerce, the ease of global communications, the fun of social communication, the fascination with new, electronic gadgets: from iPods to powerful digital cameras, from computers, to fascinating iPads. Already, many of you have had these in hand. The focus today is not on sacrifice, it is on enjoyment, mediated by fascination with technology – no matter the costs to the quality of human life, no matter the cost to the quality of Christian life. The high priests of the enjoyment are not in the churches – they are on the TV programs, the cinema screens, on YouTube and on Facebook. Their disciples are the people you shall work with, the clients you shall deal with, the colleagues whose values shall be different from yours. Hopefully. Hopefully, you shall notice what is disturbing in “friending” and “unfriending” with the click of a mouse, and not surrender what was once profound, serious and challenging to the superficial, trivial, and eventually, boring.
As human life is threatened, so is the Church in society is threatened. There was a time when it was easy for the Church to call forth heroes of the faith or heroes of service. That is more difficult today. There was a time when it was easy for the Church to enter the lives of its people, to enter the lives and fill the imaginations of such young women and men as yourselves. What the Church faces today are not hateful enemies who would murder its priests and burn down its churches. What the Church faces is a cancer of indifference, where it is present, but ignored, where it speaks, but people do not hear, where it gives witness to deep values, but people do not care.
As you and I leave the Ateneo de Naga University I ask you to consider these two not-unrelated challenges – the challenge of human society, and the challenge of Christ’s Church – as something that you may wish yourselves to address, not with one day, not with one year, but with your entire lives. Live human, happy lives. But distinguish between happiness and consumerism, between happiness and hedonism, between happiness and irresponsibility, between happiness and superficiality. Live human lives whose happiness leads to gratitude before God, duty-fulfilled lives before God, sorrow for sins before God, and, before God, opens up to ultimate everlasting fulfillment. It is too easy today to do the impossible: to live without God. So take the trouble to live with God, and in God discover the depths of human living. Walk with Jesus, who walked this earth for us. Be intimate with him in friendship, one with him in suffering and death, and successful with him in Resurrection.
Heavy stuff for a graduation? Perhaps. But not if you consider that this graduation is graduation into the rest of your lives. Remember what the message of this morning’s Gospel was: “Do not be afraid!” Trust in the Power of the Lord. Be proud of your diploma, let it bring you to the college of your choice and the profession of your choosing. Let it remind you of happy high school days when you learned English, Pilipino, Mathematics, Science and values for life, work, love and friendship. Let it remind you of days when you looked up to the challenging statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola, marched under banners of our Lady of Peñafrancia, and worshipped during celebrations of the Eucharist. In all these, let it remind you always of what is at the core of the Ateneo de Naga spirit: its motto: Primum Regnum Dei – first the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, even when people seem indifferent to it, when people ignore it, when people do not hear the truth. For you, first the Kingdom of God, whether you become priests, nuns, married persons or remain single, whether you become Presidents or laborers, engineers or technicians, doctors or nurses, computer programmers or politicians. First, the Kingdom of God, because this is what you are called to as an Atenean, and because as an Atenean, this is what you choose.
In this context, as alumni and alumna of this school, I request you: be grateful for this school. Nurture gratitude for it in your lives. In coming to the Ateneo de Naga you and your families have paid tuition and fees, and you have paid dearly. At the same time, I don’t think anyone really pays for the gift of a good education, the quality of which is so intimately bound with the personal sacrifices of teachers and administrators, who, in choosing to teach you, have chosen not to be employed elsewhere. Be grateful for your alma mater, and help it to continue to serve other Bikolanos, eventually, your children and your children’s children.
Finally, I thank your parents for your trust in and support of Ateneo de Naga. Thank you for entrusting us with the care of your daughters and sons. I thank Mr. Greg Abonal for being at the helm of the High School through most of my years here.
It is not the name of Tabora that is first associated with the high school, but the name of Greg Abonal. The high school is richly blessed because of that! That is why, even as I leave, he is staying here!
Thank you all for having given me the privilege of serving you in the last twelve years! Please hold me in your prayers. Beg Ina to continue to watch over me, sinner that I am. God bless you – Dios mabalos na maray!