Editor’s Note: The author is an Industrial Engineering graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Class 1992. She studies at the School of the Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She is the proud daughter of doctors Pete and Adoracion Alava of San Pablo City. This is her thanksgiving letter to them.
To dearest Dad and Mom,
Going back to school more than 20 years after graduating from university is one of the most exciting and, undoubtedly, challenging adventures of my life. It requires enormous reading, focused comprehension, analytic writing.
To balance all these with housework, cooking and raising my children, I follow a strict routine: waking up early; reading on my train and bus rides; library period for at least 30 minutes before the first lecture class begins; serious note-taking in class; and evening revisions.
I’ve read five books before the course began, and read at least one book per day to prepare for lectures. I also make time to build technical skills in academic writing; this means learning software applications to access publications I can reference for my research paper, or to merge images and text, or to footnote and write bibliography.
As I finished a mathematics and science course from university, it was necessary to shift my paradigms in order to take a postgraduate course in humanities. There are no formulas and theorems in social sciences; essay- writing requires a wealth of information, and a quiet mind that can remember facts and separate them from opinion, make logical links and offer sound argumentation in order to form a conclusion.
I am studying at the School of Oriental and African Arts, called SOAS, at the University of London. This institution is recognized as the world’s best for Asian art history. It has produced the best curators for museums, art galleries and auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
This is normally completed in two-and-a-half years; I aim to earn my diploma in one year.
Our lecturers are erudite scholars. They include curators of big museums like the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Rubin Museum in New York; book authors who are invited from all over the world to speak; published scholars of history, art and architecture from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia (NY) and the like.
Some of them are flown in to conduct lectures; many give presentations and inspire me on what I could become if I can integrate scholarly knowledge with effective communication skills.
It is a distinguished pleasure to be a student of this veritable institution; there are only 21 of us.
I need two things to complete this course: discipline and teachability. The Alava training equips me with both, and this is why I write you this letter. Thank you once again, Daddy, for enrolling us in sports, music, art, dance and speech classes when we were young … for requiring me to learn five new words a day. Thank you, Mommy, for editing my essays and book reports, for practicing each speech for declamation innumerable times, for nurturing the passion to read and be informed, to write and be understood.
Dad and Mom, thank you for instituting regular study periods after our early dinners and for encouraging us to have ample sleep. Thank you for stressing the importance of a beautiful mind and a strong body over a beautiful face or shapely body.
Thank you for giving constructive feedback … so I could work on my shortcomings instead of blaming circumstance or other people when I fail. Thank you for giving me a slew of responsibilities … to identify my priorities, manage my time and not compromise on my life objectives.
Thank you for being frugal; this taught me to identify substance from fluff. If I were to sum: Thank you for teaching me to be teachable. I wake up each day wanting to learn something
new. I take criticism and investigate specific ways I can improve. Instead of blaming circumstance or people when a problem arises, I focus on a solution.
I am exhilarated to borrow a book from the library, and I look forward to engaging in analytic discussions with classmates and even my children, so I may check my understanding of new concepts. Recently, I got a Merit for my first essay, and this came as a pleasant surprise because I have not done academic writing since high school.
The other day, Dad, you mentioned about speech being the ability most important to man. I beg to differ. Equally important are the skills to listen attentively and to think logically; otherwise, what comes out of one’s mouth is just noise and is therefore meaningless. I am able to cope with the rigors of life because you and Mom taught me just as well to listen and take feedback and suggestions, and to read and study purposefully so my mind can conjure rational thoughts. Thank you for molding me to pay attention.
As I am a parent, too, I imagine the depth and breadth of your love. I feel how it is to put the interest of my children before my own, to attend to their needs even when I am tired or ill or weak in spirit. I know how to give without expecting anything in return.
Kahlil Gibran wrote: “Love threshes you until you are naked. It sifts to free you from your husks. It grinds you to your whiteness. It kneads you until you are pliant. Then he sends you to his sacred fire, so that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.”
Such is Alava training—relentless, focused, intense. I think of you fondly each day I go school, with each book I read, with each day I can wake up to become a better person. This passion for life is your legacy, Daddy and Mommy, and both of you are in every breath I take.
I love you immeasurably.
29 November 2014