WHEN I was 6, my milkshake brought all the boys to the yard.
That, a game of jolen (marbles), contraband kakâ (spiders) fights and time on the monkey bars brought us all out into the sun. One grading period, we were served camote with margarine as an afternoon snack which sent a couple of parents into a tizzy: camote for our kids with this tuition, they cried. The school system was way ahead on proper nutrition, our folks lagged behind on that curve.
When I was 10, Father Nuñez (then the school director) called me into his office for a little talk. “It seems that some of your teachers are complaining that your entire class is submitting the same homework to them.” I cringe. Every day, there was a line of boys behind my chair and my open notebook with neatly-penned homework passing from one eager hand to the next. “We’ve traced the source back to you,” says Father Nuñez.
At this point, the conversation could have gone either way. It was one of those moments that determined future choices, even if you were too young to realize it at the time. “I don’t wish to change your generous nature,” this man continues in English, every word dropping heavier because of the thick Spanish accent. White haired, chubby-cheeked and with fat fingers and a thick palm with which he slapped you in the face—gently—as a greeting. He looked like a beardless Santa Claus. “But the next time you feel the need to share your homework,” he pauses for emphasis, “Please ask your classmates to at least rephrase it.”
The boys and I have come a long way from that lesson, and I am glad the conversation went that way. We were shaped, despite our nature, by values that can only be called proper. The wrongs and rights were never forced on us, it was left to us to decide which path to take. Very Jedi and Sith, really, as was the fashion in the day when the movie franchise first came out. Sacred Heart also fired my imagination with comic books, both the superhero kind (I was partial to Marvel, and my classmates made a quick buck renting out their comic books for a few pesos on break time) and the Rin Tin Tin adventure series in Father Bilbao’s office.
Tonight, the school celebrates its 60th year at the annual Grand Alumni Homecoming, hosted by Batch ‘90. These are the same boys I had scraped knees with from dakop dakop, the same ones who ogled Miss Abendan in music class: and were Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet to my Madonna in this period.
The same boys who also spearheaded an admirable lineup of year-long activities to celebrate 60: medical and optical missions in Barangay Lahug in February, adopting Budlaan Integrated School and distributing school supplies in May and June, a highly successful St. Ignatius Run in July. And yet the most reflective of who we are? The Juvenile Delinquents Reformation Program for Operation Second Chance, our main beneficiary. Delivering more than a glimmer of hope for the underaged charged with crimes against persons. The lost. The unlovable.
After all, weren’t we always known as Sacred Heart’s worst batch? Bads del Prado, you did well in calling our attention to the plight of these boys. The core group rallied true: Derek Dytian, Eric Ngo, Richard Ho and Michael Lim accomplished Herculean tasks above and beyond the call of duty. It is amazing what the most unassuming leader can accomplish by example, and manual labor! Very well done, Laurence Dino.
And even as I stand in front of 60 glorious batches of Sacred Heart School Ateneo de Cebu tonight (including a growing number of female graduates starting in 2002) in a sequined dress, vertiginous heels handcarried from the US by Ted Penabella (thank you, Chinky Aznar!), and blonde hair up to there, I am still at the core the very person this institution has molded me to be: A man for others.