Ateneo (short for Ateneo de Manila University) is a premier Jesuit educational institution in the Philippines, where I had served for 34 years as faculty member and administrator, before I retired from service in 2009.
While I was reviewing my old computer files yesterday, I stumbled upon this speech I delivered to a group of newly hired teachers in 2004. I thought that it would be such a waste, if it is allowed to sit in my hard disk to gather cyberdusts over time.
I find it pitiful to just relegate it to oblivion. The teachers who heard me speak must have forgotten it by now. Even I have forgotten that I delivered this speech.
Now that I have a blog, I can preserve it here, and allow all who happen to be passing by to read and hopefully be influenced by it.
Here then is my speech, as it was delivered in 2004.
I ENVY MY COWORKERS IN ATENEO WHO HAVE IMBIBED AND INTERNALIZED THE VALUES that this institution upholds. Values like generosity, excellence, social involvement. Some friends I have talked to tell me that I have them and that I just do not realize I do. Perhaps, they see these values in me, but unfortunately I don’t see them in myself.
But let me just talk to you about the values that I think are true of me, and perhaps in these values we may find some links to the values that the Ateneo upholds.
I have learned to value criticisms.
In the course of my 30 years of service at the Ateneo, I have come to welcome (and on some occasions, love) criticisms, realizing that through them I am able to see the aspects of myself, hidden from my own view. I welcome criticisms, be they sugar- or vinegar-coated and whether they are true of me or not.
My first bout at an insulting criticism came to me in my first year of teaching at the Ateneo. At that time, name-calling by students of their teachers was prevalent. One teacher was called “bangaw” (big fly) because of a big mole on her face. Another was called “baboy” (pig) because she was fat. My friend was called “ipis” (cockroach) because of his moustache. I was called “goyung” (reversal of the word “unggoy” [monkey]) because of my hairy forearm.
I was young at that time, and this kind of criticism was something that I could not take. I did not confront my students because it would only make matters worse. And so, I just let it happen while I repeatedly recited a mantra to myself: “Sticks and stone can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
This baptism of fire gave me the strength to accept less painful criticisms, as I came to realize more and more that they were stimuli for my personal and professional growth. Now, when people criticize me, whether spitefully or constructively, I do not give any meaning to it more than just a statement of fact or opinion, to which everybody is entitled.
I got my first blow of criticism from the Principal in my early days of my registrarship. And from time to time, I get occasional criticisms from (students’) parents and even from my very own staff. Though they hurt at first, a decision to accept them as blessings in disguise make me very grateful, because I know what areas in my performance I should improve on.
I have learned to value problems.
I don’t love problems, but I don’t hate them either. I used to hate problems. I used to hate them , until the time when I presented a work problem to my friend Pol Biso who told me, “This is not a problem, sir. This is a challenge. Okay, give it to me, and I’ll take care of it.” The next morning, problem solved!
I was so embarrassed at having that attitude. My friend did not realize he had just taught me a very valuable lesson in life. Now, I consider problems as challenges for me to take on as opportunities to contribute.
In effect, problems that turn into challenges become missions. Mission is the very reason for my being at the Ateneo. If there were no mission, there would not have been anything for me to aspire to achieve, and I would not have a job. My job – everybody’s job – is to accomplish a mission.
It is mission that feeds my family, sends my children to good schools, allows me to enjoy the finer things in life.
I am a (school) registrar, because there is a mission waiting in my office for me to fulfill. You are teachers because there is a mission waiting for you in the classrooms. If there were none, we would not be here in the first place.
If we welcome problems, if we welcome challenges, if we welcome missions – if we love them – we will be happy persons, because by them we will be fulfilled.
I have learned to value the primacy of the organization over self-interest.
In 1982, our then Principal Fr. Alberto Ampil appointed me as Chair of the Social Studies Department. I was unfortunate to have in my department a teacher who refused to support me and seemed to influence the other members of the department against me. It was my perception from her actions that she wanted my position. Perhaps, I was wrong in my perception, but that was how it came to me – very strongly.
The next year, Fr. Ampil received his new assignment from Fr. Provincial (Superior), and had to leave our school. He was succeeded by another principal, to whom my unsupportive and uncooperative teacher happened to be close. I was the first among the department chairpersons to tender courtesy resignation, emphasizing the word IRREVOCABLE in my letter.
At last, my teacher got what she wanted. I could see the sunshine on her face and hear the ripples of excitement in her voice, when she was appointed to succeed me.
Right there and then, I had to make a very important decision as a member of her department – to do to her exactly what she did to me or to do to her the exactly the opposite of what she did to me. I did not let the very strong temptation to be vindictive obtain the upper hand of me. I know how much the school would lose, if I should let my personal interest prevail.
Owing to this, she was lucky to have me in the department. She found in me the most cooperative and the most supportive member of the department. I treated her as a real friend, as though nothing had happened.
This was all because I valued the interest of the organization over my own.
I have learned the value of obedience.
My transfer to office work was a dream fulfilled. There had come a point in my career when I wanted to separate myself from the classroom.
I was first appointed as Assistant to the Principal in 1998 (thanks to [the Principal] Mrs. Oracion), and then as School Registrar in 2000. Though I still had some teaching loads in the beginning, I asked that I be permitted to devote my full time and energy to my work in the office. I did not want to have anything to do with classroom work.
When (Associate Principal for Formation) Fr. Holscher needed a class moderator, he turned to me. I did not want to accept the invitation, but like a good soldier as St. Ignatius was, I obeyed. He promised he would not ask me this same favor again next year. The following year, some teachers appointed as moderators started declining the offer, and again he turned to me for help. Like a good soldier, I accepted without question, without objection.
I accepted not out of blind obedience, but out of the realization that when I joined this institution I placed myself at its disposal to assign me any task, even classroom work, whereby I could best contribute to the over-all effort at achieving its corporate goals.
I learned this value of obedience from the Jesuits.
Before, when asked to perform duties other than teaching, I used to say: “I applied here as a teacher and not as a _____ (whatever job I was being asked to perform). But now that thing has changed. I realized that when I applied for a job at the Ateneo, I was not just applying as a teacher but as a partner of the organization in achieving its objective in whatever capacity this organization may see me fit to serve.
Again, last June 11 I did not want to accept the invitation of (Campus Minister) Fr. RB for me to do some witnessing during our induction and renewal of commitment. (Oh, my gosh! What can I share?) But “like a good soldier, I obeyed”. I did not want to accept this invitation of Mrs. Oracion to speak before you now, (Oh, my! I don’t think I have Ateneo’s values in me. What am I to talk about?) but “like a good soldier, I obeyed”.
I would be willing to accept any job the Ateneo would see me fit to serve in, whether I am prepared for it or not. Preparation for that job is not a factor determining my decision to accept. Preparation for a job, in many cases, is done on-the-job.
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It has been 30 years now. It is as though it was only yesterday when I came around as a young man. Time flies so fast. As I close my eyes, I can see myself back in May of 1974, a new teacher in this institution, unsure of myself, lacking in self-confidence and in character. But as the years swiftly passed by, this passing of the years propelled me upwards – well, simply because I was in Ateneo.
All that I am now has been because I have been a member of a group called the Ateneo Community. I may not have imbibed the basic values of generosity, excellence, and social concern that the Ateneo is upholding. But through the many opportunities and experiences it has exposed me to, Ateneo has formed in me these values I have just been talking to you about.
You new teachers, if you will only stay at the Ateneo for a longer time, I am confident that with proper attitude your experience here will transform you into better persons, just as it has done to me all these years.