The last two weeks, we ran a module in the formation program we have with public school principals, supervisors and teachers that ended with a discussion of vision.
One of the materials we used cited the work of Benjamin Singer. The work identified key indicators of success for students. Singer’s research showed that the key differentiator was not IQ or socioeconomic status, as we would often think, but the vision one has of one’s future.
The story of PS 121, a public elementary school in Harlem, New York, was presented to illustrate this research finding. In the school, only 25 percent of graduates went on to high school and hardly anybody continued on to college. In 1981, Robert Lange, a self-made, wealthy graduate of the school in 1933, was the commencement speaker.
Before he started his talk, Lange realized the problem of the students, which was they had no hope whatsoever of going college. Consequently, high school was not something many of them aspired for. They were trapped with a strong sense of victimhood and powerlessness.
At that very instance, Lange changed his speech and told them that if any of them will strive to get into high school and graduate, he promised to provide scholarships for college. Putting it plainly, he gave them a glimmer of hope.
The result was 48 out of the 52 students in that batch went to high school. From the 48 who attended high school, 40 went on to college.
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” This could very well have been the question in the minds of the 52 students of PS 121 who sat listening to Mr. Lang. Yet, as the story goes, despite the questioning, they believed in the message and gave it a shot. So 48 out of 52, over 90 percent, believed.
The Gospel for the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, the story of the Annunciation of Our Lord, is often view from the Blessed Mother’s fiat. This time, let us focus on Gabriel; three messages from Gabriel announce the incarnation of Jesus, explain how Jesus is to become man, and guarantee the fulfillment.
Gabriel’s announcement of the Messiah’s birth was the fulfillment of the dream of the Jewish people. For generations this was the great hope and dream of a people—that the promised Messiah will come. It was also Gabriel who shed light on this seemingly incredulous proposition to Mary.
He explains how the promise is to be made possible, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then he completes his message with the guarantee of fulfillment of the promise: with God all things will be possible.
Christmas is a week away and we come to the final stretch of our preparations for the great feast. Can we be Gabriels to our people? Can we announce the message of hope to our people?
Can we make them believe again in the promise of a better life?
A few days before the impeachment of the Chief Justice happened, I was reflecting on how in my own life journey and in the journey of our people, major decisions and changes happened after Christmas.
In 1986, we had an entire nation participating with hope in the post-Christmas campaign for the snap elections, which culminated in the miracle of Edsa 1, the first ever People Power in the world.
Then in 2001 people again took the streets in late January. While many have mixed feelings about it now, we cannot deny that 2001 was very much a youth-inspired movement that was seeking some moral revolution.
In my own personal journey, it was after Christmas of 1997 that I accepted a change in assignment from high school principal to grade school headmaster and basic education director. Then, in Christmas 1999, I moved from high school and grade school work to fundraising and alumni work.
Christmas of 2004 was when I went through the final stage of my discernment to leave my work in the Ateneo—and my life as a Jesuit—to pursue what I thought and felt, and still think and feel to this day, is God’s mission for me.
As I reflect on these experiences, I ask if the change was made possible by hope. Hope that one is doing the right thing. Hope in the promise of better things will be fulfilled. Hope that one is not a victim and powerless, because one has renewed one’s relationship with Christ who is our light and life.
Will change happen after Christmas? We pray it does, but this time we pray the change will be in the lives of many: the millions of students in grade schools and high schools all over the country hoping for more and better classrooms, enough chairs, correct and sufficient textbooks, teachers; the many parents who left home hoping to provide the basic needs for their families; the millions who feel powerless and have practically given up hope that they are victims of the situation.
Christmas is a time of hope. Christmas is a time to believe in dreams again, in the promise that there is a better life and we can choose not to be powerless and not be victims because God is with us. We can choose to change our life.