Atenista pa rin

March 19, 2006. I spent my high school years in Ateneo. Every time someone would ask me why I didn’t pursue my college education in Ateneo, I always say that I don’t feel like I belong to Ateneo or with “Ateneans”, for lack of a better answer.

In Ateneo, we were formed to be future leaders who will serve the Filipino community or to be men for others. We were instilled with the value of compassion for the underprivileged, the poor and the disadvantaged, with a conscience to defend what is right. There is nothing inherently wrong with those. But now that I come to think of it, it all seemed elitist and messianic. Even the school’s geography complements this dynamics of social space. “We stand on a hill between the earth and sky” cries our alma mater song. Indeed Ateneo sits on a hill (a ridge, actually, Loyola Heights) looking down on Marikina Valley, where we actually often go for our exposure trips and Tulong Dunong tutoring sessions.

I don’t pretend to be proletariat. Ateneo, apparent in its mission vision for its students, recognizes the fact that much of its student population comes from the privileged few of this country. Whether you like it or not, Ateneans do become the leaders in business and politics in this country. [It is interesting to note that all of the Arroyos are Ateneans]. And that is why Ateneo apparently tries to mold us future leaders into socially responsible ones while in its ‘care’. [Let’s try not to think how many Ateneans failed to live up to their alma mater’s aspirations for them to be the leaders it aspired for them to be]. Ateneo High School has a lot of social service programs for its students, geared to make them more ‘aware’ of the society they live in and to make them realize of their status and social responsibility as ‘future leaders’. I volunteered for the week-long exposure trip to Zambales, diligently fulfilled tutoring and community service duties, but in the end I don’t think afternoon exposure trips and weekend immersion programs or weekly community service sessions are enough. They are but temporary “field trips” Ateneans could conveniently take when they need to or when they feel like it. I guess I wanted to take it to another level. It was time for me to become a man WITH others. As part of this society I wish to serve, it was imperative for me to be with the people, to be with the bayan I am part of. Some Ateneans might find this terribly offensive, but chances are slim of fulfilling that desire while I remained in this exclusive gated and guarded university we call Ateneo. [Okay fine, it’s my bias].

In UP, I found myself within an atmosphere more conducive for the fulfillment of my personal and social convictions, which Ateneo played a big part in forming. This is not to romanticize the university but it is truly in UP where I feel like I can do more. The experience of being with others is more genuine. You are part of and much committed to the bayan you used to observe from the comforts of Loyola Heights. You are more committed to the bayan who toils to pay for much of your education. You get to have the chance to understand better their struggles and aspirations and join them in their call for reform and changes. It comes to a point when you realize that you shouldn’t even make the distinction between a me and a them. It become a collective struggle. It is our struggle as a people.

In its website, the Ateneo High School claims that it is a college preparatory school, and as such it prepares the student for the university. With that, I might as well say that Ateneo High prepared me well indeed to become a student of the University of the Philippines. If anyone would ask me why I left Ateneo, I’d now say it’s because I find fulfillment in my being a man for others by being an iskolar ng bayan.

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