50 years back

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 7, 2015 –

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An attempted class “jump” in our 60s. “Batang-bata pa kami.”

The buildup to it was just right.

We, members of the committee, met five times before May 31, 2015 which was the 50th anniversary of our class graduation from the Ateneo De Manila Grade school. We were in charge of planning how to celebrate the important day which included fundraising, choosing the venue, the food and preparing the program for the evening.

It was amazing how things materialized from mere wishing and imagination. The funds, giveaways, prizes were contributed by classmates. We chose and approved a good caterer after a free meal-tasting lunch. The Ateneo Grade School office made everything easy for us regarding the venue. It was therefore easy for the team organizing everything to deliver more than what was expected.

There we were at 3 p.m. last May 31 at the Singson Hall. A few classmates showed up early to join the first event, which was the laying of the wreath on the St Ignatius Statue outside the grade school. There were a little over a dozen of us. Our classmate Pastor Gus Lising led the Prayer of St. Ignatius that most of us grew up with:

“Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will.”

We always felt good saying it then, and even now as senior citizens. It is a prayer etched upon every Atenean’s heart that started his education in this campus in Loyola Heights.

The next event was a tour around the grade school campus. Many things had changed in 50 years. There were more classrooms and sections now. The location of the library had been transferred. There were more areas for formal sports. But the layout was still recognizable enough. The flagpole, rock garden and canteen were still in the same locations.

I remember enjoying the campus as a very young man. But here we were, 50 years later, walking its corridors once again. It was like a mini time machine: touring the grounds and passing by our old classrooms from Grade 1 to Grade 7 brought back many memories.

It’s amazing how, not too long ago, we would buy yo-yos, trumpo, petugo, tarat, texts and so many other goods from vendors selling them through a wired fence near the pergola. It was a real childhood, without all the electronic gadgetry that makes young people today quite sedentary compared to us then. I wondered at how much we could run and play then in the many open spaces under the sun without suffering heat stroke.

My classmates laughed when I pointed out how the sins we used to confess every month had gradually changed from Grade 3 to Grade 5 as hormones kicked in.

We then heard Mass at the chapel of our youth officiated by Fr. Frankie Mabanta, another classmate. This was the chapel where we received our first communion and where we spent many hours attending Mass, praying, listening to religious talks, etc. The carved ascending angels at the altar still entertained me for the same reason then as I gazed at the top two angels resting their heads on the wooden beam. Did they bump their heads? I chuckled at the distraction.

We then proceeded to the dining tables where old classmates joked, laughed, and caught up with one another’s lives. It was mind-boggling to realize that we were all senior citizens now, looking back 50 years, yet how, in many ways, we were still all the same. The old nicknames endured.

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It was memorable and delightful to see Mrs. Valentina A. Bonifacio, and Mr. Mariano R. Singson, two of our former teachers, still present. It was even more heartwarming that they remembered each and every one of us.

We watched the videos our classmate Aris Africa put together to honor our class, the education and formation we went through, our former teachers, and our dear departed classmates. There was a feeling of nostalgia, fondness and appreciation, but also shock at how many in our class had already passed away.

Fr. Arevalo SJ, who gave the commencement speech when we graduated 50 years ago, was our esteemed speaker for the evening. He asked us to pray that more young people enter the Jesuits to continue the proud tradition of Jesuit education everywhere.

Recognition trophies were given to classmates who had made substantial contributions in the fields of health, spiritual care, entertainment, communication and social work.

To contribute to our class fund, I auctioned some photo pieces I had exhibited in the past. I felt good that my classmates appreciated them and bought them all. Band music led by our class doctor and weekend rocker Eddie Boy Rodriguez and his wife followed until the wee hours.

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The magic of living long enough to be able to glance back at one’s early years is a gift. This 50th reunion was such. It made us feel thankful for the fortune of being born in our designated time and place and circumstances. I am not sure if I can say it was fate. Maybe it is sheer stroke of luck that we were all thrown into this class together. We will never know.

Maybe the point is not to know but to live in surprise, delight, appreciation and gratitude for how things have turned out for us so far.

And hopefully, there will be more happy gatherings and reunions ahead as we move closer to our last quarter of our lives into forever.