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Roots and Wings

These ‘women for others’ held up half the sky


We were college students in very interesting times—sophomores the year Ninoy Aquino was murdered, and restless seniors when we took to the streets during Edsa.

This year, the Ateneo de Manila University marks 40 years of coeducation, and the 40th anniversary of the address of esteemed Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe. In it, he first talked about men and women for others.

When people ask me what sets an Ateneo education apart from the rest, I always tell them it was my Philosophy and Theology classes that I remember most.

It was at the Ateneo where I first fell in love and experienced my first major heartbreak. As I sat in Dr. Manny Dy’s Philo 102 class, studying the permutations of the phenomenology of love, the readings helped steer me through what was perhaps my rockiest semester in college.

In my senior year, it was the exposure I gained at San Lazaro Hospital and the Philippine General Hospital. In 1985, those two hospitals were dark and gloomy. At SLH, babies shared cribs with no mattresses, and the PGH stairwells had cat poop.

I have Fr. Asandas Balchand and his Theology of Liberation class to thank for igniting in me a lifetime passion to help improve the lives of Filipino patients.

The concept of social sin was embedded so deeply in our psyche that we would feel guilty whenever we indulged ourselves in what was then considered a luxury on a college student’s allowance—Sugarhouse Cafe’s apple pie slathered with whipped cream. Two or three of us would share it for the princely sum of P150.

I asked several batchmates what they remembered most from our time as coeds at the Ateneo. It was heartening to note how similar our replies were.


Make a difference

Sister Melong Gaite, a nun who is vice principal of a private school in Guam, says, “The Jesuit charism to be ‘men and women for others’ has remained in me and kept me focused in my desire to make a difference in the lives of others, especially the poor, sick and uneducated.”

Sister Melong remembers her years with the Ateneo Glee Club and her Theo of Liberation classes under Fr. Asandas Balchand. “These two experiences changed the trajectory of my life… I will never forget the countless times we sang or were asked to sing ‘Bayan Ko’ in concerts, masses and rallies as we fought for freedom and justice for our nation.”

Criselda Yu, a bank executive, says, “I would say Ateneo’s Philosophy and Theology classes were strong influences in my life. ‘Men for others’ is a very strong and powerful guiding principle through these years, both personally and professionally. So is our Theology’s ‘social sin.’ When faced with tempting excesses in life, I go against them, guided by this principle, which I’m glad was inculcated in me in my years at the Ateneo.”


Way of life

Michelle Perez Gemperle is an artist and homemaker in Sydney. “Ateneo was not just an education, but a way of life. It was (and is) a community that encouraged growth of the individual while providing collective support… After Ateneo, the journey toward growth continues in all aspects of our lives…

“What stands out for me are the happy memories of fun, innocence and idealism… We learned so much but also had great fun and formed lifelong bonds with friends that we treasure to this day.”

Patricia Denise Lopez, one of two female summa cum laudes from our 1986 batch, now lives and works in Los Angeles. “Ateneo shaped me in so many ways—intellectually, artistically, physically, spiritually and morally. I am grateful that I got a world-class liberal arts education that prepared me to compete on more than equal terms with male counterparts.

“I have happy memories of making friends from diverse groups and walks of life. I enjoyed hanging out on campus and Katipunan, rehearsing for shows and concerts, participating in various clubs, practicing and competing in sports and building bonds with both male and female Ateneans—and of course, marching on Edsa and participating in People Power.”

Vina Francisco returned to Manila after living and working in New York for 25 years. “On hindsight, what stands out for me today is that, as young girls at the Ateneo, we were just as visible, vocal and vibrant as the boys. I felt we were equal and never felt there was a gender bias. Imagine my surprise, upon joining the corporate world, and learning that this was, in fact, not true everywhere. The confidence I gained as a young girl at the Ateneo certainly propelled my confidence and self-esteem as a woman.”


Neither rich nor famous

Fleurdeliza Tobias Cuyco is a medical doctor and teacher in Los Angeles. “Today, I have a biology degree and an M.D. tucked under my belt, but thanks to the Ateneo, I am neither rich nor famous. In my own little way, I have chosen to be a woman for others. For the last 10 years, I have chosen to be an instructor and later dean of a private school in Los Angeles. Every day, I challenge my students to be the best that they can be, no matter their gender, their age, their socioeconomic background or the color of their skin.”

Isabel Pefianco Martin is a college professor who was once chair of the Ateneo’s English department. “Several schools in the country, like the Ateneo, are committed to the development of excellence and leadership in the professions. But to me, only the Ateneo promotes spirituality in action—of developing a studentry that is both contemplative and active.

“My two years as a catechist of the Ateneo Catechetical Instruction League stands out. What motivated us as catechists was our motto, “Ite et Docete” (Go forth and teach), something that I still do today. Of course, mass action during the 1986 Edsa Revolution is also unforgettable. Imagine—no final exams in the last semester of our college years!”

Today, I continue to be inspired by the lessons my lay teachers and the Jesuit fathers taught me. Prayer was a huge part of those college years, as it continues to this day.

One of my favorites is attributed to Father Arrupe, entitled “Fall In Love”—“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

Women graduates of the Ateneo are invited to come home for a celebration, “40 Years, Half the Sky: Celebrating Coeducation at the Ateneo,” on Sept. 7, 4 to 7:30 p.m., Rizal Library, Ateneo de Manila University. For inquiries, call Liza Maramag of the University Development Office at 4266001 loc. 4081 or e-mail her at amaramag@ateneo.edu.

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Tags: Ateneo , Ateneo de Manila University , Ateneo education , Edsa , Jesuits , Ninoy Aquino , Relationships , Sunday Lifestyle

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