It was the first time I heard of it.
“What exactly is an Alternative Ball?” I asked my granddaughter Rory, who had called—she was graduating from high school at Assumption College.
“Instead of the usual graduation ball, our batch is giving a fun day in our school for poor children from a resettlement area in Laguna.”
“Really, you’re forgoing the formal dance, the gowns, the dates and all?” I asked, incredulous but secretly proud, not only of her batch’s good heart but also of its good sense—it would mean tremendous savings for the parents.
Still, I thought I should try to console her in case any sense of regret accompanied the altruism. I reminded her that she had her own junior ball last year and told her that at the St. Theresa’s of my time, we had neither a high school junior-senior prom nor a college graduation ball, unlike almost everyone else, and that a little excursion out of town was our own Alternative Ball.
Out of the kindness of their Belgian hearts, the St. Theresa’s nuns let us boogie with one another to music going full-blast on the transistor radio. For my generation, the boogie was an ultimate expression of freedom, with each of us doing her trademark shuffle to kick away the frustrations and repressions of our time. The boogie was our own harmless fix.
And I guess it did its magic at our odd ball, because I remember it banishing, at least for the moment, our broken dreams of a graduation dance that would have had us coming in our lovely frocks with our proper dates. I further remember catching sight of some of the nuns themselves having their own ball, frolicking about—bicycling, playing ball and tag.
I thought Rory’s Assumption did our own St. Theresa’s one better, and felt even more embarrassed to learn that it was her and her batchmates’ own idea.
“We voted and the alternative won, 70 to 30,” Rory said, adding that this might well be the first time a graduating class had gone for an alternative ball.
Credit goes naturally to Assumption, too, for letting its graduating batch decide for itself. We ourselves had been denied any say; indeed, we had had to fight for such little personal choices as what cut of gowns to wear. We did win that one battle. Or were we only tricked into winning a battle that didn’t count at all in the war, getting to wear what we liked—unseen under our togas?
“By the way, why did you call me, Rory?” I remembered to ask.
“Well, Mamita, I thought you might be able to help us raise some money. We need to hire seven jeepneys to transport the children from Cabuyao, Laguna, to our school and back. We’ve already found a sponsor to take care of feeding them. Mom thought perhaps you could split the cost of one jeepney with her.”
Rory, of course, had me at hello. She’s the grandchild any grandmother could wish for: bright, diligent, responsible, outstanding in just about everything including what ought to be the least important matter—looks. Besides, she hadn’t really missed out on graduation balls, having already gone to De La Salle’s, Xavier’s and the Ateneo’s. She, in fact, confessed to feeling grateful: without a graduation ball to attend, she is spared having to ask a boy to be her escort.
The alternative ball went from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. A hundred and fifty children arrived with some of their parents at Assumption College and were welcomed by Rory’s batchmates, who would be their big sisters—ates—for the day, taking charge of them as they went around, surveying the teaching centers and making their choice for quick classes in singing and dancing, arts and crafts, storytelling, music, photography, and sports. There certainly were enough ates to go around—some children even had two.
A balloon sculptor was a hit, demonstrating how he could make animals and other figures out of a single balloon. The children took his sculptures home. Some rain fell, forcing the cancellation of some numbers made for the outdoors. All the same, everyone came away fulfilled.
Sharing one’s joy and resources with those who have less in life on one’s graduation is surely an auspicious way to leave one’s childhood and step into young adulthood. It definitely reflects a mature sensitivity, one, I imagine, inspired by their parents and nurtured by Assumption.
Or were they just as surprised as Mamita?