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Assumption’s new president out to build more women leaders

ASSUMPTION College’s (AC) new captain is looking forward to the arrival of “a new Axial Age” that would pave the way for bigger roles for women leaders.

Dr. Carmen Lourdes “Pinky’ Valdes, a former nun, is AC’s ninth president and the first lay leader to steer the nearly 60-year-old education institution known for producing alumnae who blaze trails in government service, the arts and business.
In her investiture ceremony Wednesday, Valdes talked of a “storm surge of spiritual energy” where women would play a pivotal role that would require them to “become mystics that see the world with different eyes.”

Valdes quoted German philosopher Karl Jaspers, who once described an Axial Age that occurred between the eighth and third centuries B.C. when innovative ways of thinking pervaded simultaneously in non-connected areas throughout Asia and Europe.

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“There was a storm surge of spiritual energy that burst upon the Earth—Buddha, Lao Tze, Socrates, the Upanishads, and it ended with Jesus Christ. I would like to extend it all the way to the birth of Mohammed,” said Valdes, who holds a doctorate in Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union of the University of California in Berkeley.

“We are a new era, not because we are digital. It’s just a tool,” she told guests at her oath-taking.

“We have to be mystics. Not somebody who levitates off the ground, but someone who sees the world with different eyes. Pope Francis is a mystic because he sees the world very, very differently.”

Student competition

One issue that has “been bugging” Valdes for years, she confessed, is how educators encourage competition among students and use its ancient standards as barometers for success and achievement.

“Competitiveness brings out jealousy, criticism, judgment. That has to go,” she observed.

“We have to create other kinds of recognition. I don’t know how you make an award for who is the wisest,” Valdes stressed.

The AC president noted that her batch at AC produced not only four summa cum laude and 15 magna cum laude graduates. “What’s beautiful about my class is not that they’re bright, but that they’re wise,” she noted.

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Valdes recalled an incident where a parent complained about seeing “the same 10 girls” always getting the awards for being the brightest in their batch. “The world rewards intelligence, but we have to come up with something more.”

Valdes belongs to a brood of nine—eight daughters and a son. All eight girls of Chino Valdez, a Chinese mestizo and Ruby Baugh, a British-Visayan, studied at AC. (The only son graduated from De La Salle University.)

Valdes entered the Religious of the Assumption in Ravenhill in Philadelphia when she was 19.
She returned to AC where she took an active part in educating students. She was known to all as Mother Jude Mary. She became principal of the high school department in 1976.

Valdes later left the religious order and embarked on a career in the private sector where she worked for BanCom Development Corp.’s Sixto Roxas, Alice Reyes of Ballet Philippines, Ayala International’s Don Enrique Zobel and Makati Commercial Center’s Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala.

She later flew back to California to finish her doctorate in Spirituality before returning to AC in 2007, where she became dean of the Marie Eugenie School of Innovative Learning.
Valdes is known in the AC community as creative director of Marie Eugenie Theater of the Assumption (METTA). She has also produced three original CDs of religious and inspirational songs.

No radical changes

In an exclusive interview, Valdes said she does not plan to introduce radical changes in AC’s basic thrust and principles. “We are here for transformative education to build woman leaders in society.”

She mentions Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, Inquirer chair Marixi Prieto, Inquirer president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez and SM Investment Corp. vice president Tessie Sy-Coson among the school’s outstanding alumnae.

Valdes pointed out that AC alumnae typically “find themselves becoming the leader wherever they find themselves…the raison d’ etre of whatever is happening.”

This is why, for example, the alumnae not only gathered financial resources to help the victims of super-typhoon Yolanda with emergency food supplies. They also gave carpentry tools to the Negrense Foundation for Change via the Joseph Project, so that those who lost their equipment during the floods would have new ones to restart their lives.
One project she is excited about is the five-story Center for Women Leaders that would soon begin construction inside the San Lorenzo campus in Makati City.

It is a building to be donated by Sy-Coson to be “a venue for meetings, art and photography exhibits and executive counseling rooms for business people, families and individuals to help them continue to develop spiritually.”
Valdes recalled that when she and Sy-Coson sat together to discuss the donation, she asked the alumna what she envisioned, and Sy-Coson’s exact words were: “I want a Center for Women Leaders.”

“Wow! That means it’s time! If you think it and I think it and somebody else thinks it, it’s time,” Valdes said.

The AC president knows a thing or two about ideas being ahead of their time. When she returned from the US in 2007, she proposed that the high school program introduce four “streams” that would allow students to choose which field to specialize in.

Students of the incoming seventh grade batch were made to choose a stream they wanted to pursue. While the girls loved it, the school realized that the teachers were not adequately trained to handle the change.

“When you go into streams, you have to change the whole curriculum, the way it’s approached. I always wanted to go into customized learning but you need to have people do it with you. So they shut it down after one year,” she said.

Same idea

Half a decade later, Congress approved a new K+12 curriculum for public and private schools to bolster Filipino graduates’ competitiveness in the global professional market. “One of the teachers came to me to point out this was exactly my idea.”

But women taking center stage now is just the right timing, she stressed.

“Rainer Maria Wilke said, ‘We have to be bees of the invisible.’ What does that mean? The mystic goes out and gets the nectar of the essence of everything, takes it to the height of its soul. And from there pours forth honey,” she told guests at her investiture.

Valdes also mentioned Antoine de Saint Exupery’s Little Prince who was told by the Fox that “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“Maybe this student is not the brightest, not the prettiest, but you know what, she’s got wisdom. And when we get the essence of what the person is, take it to your heart and to your soul. That’s the hive, and from there comes the honey. And what is the honey? It is compassion, forgiveness and finally, love,” she concluded.

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