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Message to my Beloved Classmates
at the Ateneo de Manila High School

From Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Utrecht, The Netherlands
December 3, 2006

My dear classmates,

Warmest greetings of solidarity to all of you on the occasion of the golden jubilee of Class 1956! I congratulate you for having survived half a century since graduation from high school and more importantly for your accomplishments in your chosen professions, in your family life, in your service to country and people and in living up to your faith, conviction or ideals. We remember and honor those who have departed.

May I extend my greetings of solidarity to your families and to the surviving relatives of Junie Kalaw, who is the class honoree this year for his outstanding work as an environmentalist and for his related excellent qualities. I have many vivid memories of Junie. He was our beadle par excellence. He would usually shout me down whenever I made noise while the teacher was away. But he never squealed on any of his mischievous classmates, including me.

While I was underground against the Marcos regime in 1969, I crossed his path in a God-forsaken airport and he immediately saw through my disguise. We had a good laugh and chatted mainly about his flying skills. I trusted him so much that when I was under military detention from 1977-1986 I sent to him a request to fly me out after escaping from prison. But my message never reached him. I met him twice when he came to the Netherlands in the 1990s and we talked much about his work in Haribon.

In the last 50 years, I have been so preoccupied with my chosen line of work that I have not been able to pay attention to all the previous class reunions. It is high time for me to reconnect with you and to reaffirm my fraternal relations with you. I am proud to have studied at the Ateneo de Manila high school and to have belonged to First Year Section G under Fr. Victoriano, S.J. in 1952-53 and to the Second Year Section C under Fr. Lingad, S.J. in 1953-54. These were the honor sections at the time.

I am deeply pleased that you continue to regard me as your classmate, despite the fact that I transferred to San Juan de Letran on my third year. I was a recipient of the second honors certificate up to the end of the second year. But I had to leave the Ateneo on honorable dismissal (with option to return upon reaching college) for incurring too many absences (more than 30 school days) without any valid reason and for engaging in a mutually agreed fist fight with a student from another section.

To study at the Ateneo was a matter of family pride. My father and uncles were products of Jesuit education. My father was fond of praising Jose Rizal and Claro Mayo Recto as excellent alumni of the Ateneo. He made fun of relatives who could very well afford to pay for the high tuition fees but could not pass the entrance examination at the Ateneo. My three elder brothers, Ramon, Antonio and Francisco preceded me at the Ateneo and my youngest brother Roque followed me.

My archbishop uncle encouraged me to become a priest and enter the minor seminary in Vigan because he was impressed that I had been a conscientious sacristan. But he was happy to let me go and recommend me to the Jesuits after I told him that I wished to get married someday. He liked to monitor my studies and personal conduct and, like my parents, was disappointed when I had to leave the Ateneo.

At any rate, I learned much from the Ateneo. The Jesuits are known for their ratio studiorum. I received a well-rounded kind of education, which included such subjects as English, Latin, history, mathematics and religion. And I developed the methods and skills of learning through outlining and understanding the subject matter, memorization, speech drills, argumentation, parsing sentences, paraphrasing literary passages, composing original pieces and solving problems in mathematics and geometry. I enjoyed translating from Latin to English and watching the dramatic way Mr. Pagsanghan taught English. I was elated when I became a reporter of the Hi-Lites under Fr. Galdon, S.J. as the moderator.

To balance my intellectual development, I had plenty of physical exercise by playing basketball after class hours on most days of the week at the covered courts. Somehow religion impressed me with the requirement of good works to reinforce one's faith. My awareness of the poor and exploited was sharpened and my social conscience was stirred when I participated every year in the Christmas package drive and when I joined a number of times in the campaign to sell the newspaper of the Federation of Free Workers. After all, my namesake and patron saint was St. Joseph, carpenter and acclaimed worker. My mother always reminded me to pray to him before examinations.

As far as I can remember, I was able to attend only two dance parties of the class. I could dance the slow drag. But whenever I did, some classmates would shift the music to boogie-woogie which I did not know how to dance. Subsequently, I stopped going to the dance parties. Some classmates would play many other practical jokes on me. Sometimes these made me laugh and at other times these irritated me. But we had class solidarity. Nobody squealed on anyone whenever the teacher suppressed our little rebellions.

I am tempted to mention my mates in mischief. But I won't. I can only name the very funny guys like Monet Ong and Ruben Bonoan. At the same time, I remember the very serious guys like Mandy Labayen, Roly Quintos and Dory Katigbak. I wish that I could mention more names and have more categories by which to classify them. But there is time and space constraint now. In high school, it seemed like we had all the time to chat, interact and know each other. I believe that we were all regular guys. No one was too weird or too wild.

But I admit that I was more naughty than most of you. Thus, I was punished more times than anyone. I had jogging sessions of writing prayers (Our Father or Hail Mary) hundreds of times or multiplying five digits to the 20th power. I also experienced once the excruciating duck walk introduced by Fr. Quinn who was the prefect of discipline. Everytime I fell, I was required to do one additional round of the duck walk. I was subjected to the rigors of this punishment because he overheard me talking in Tagalog, which was banned, except in the Tagalog class of Mr. Deveza.

On my first year, I absented myself from class only when I was sick. But on my second year, I learned to play truant, going to the movies and whiling away my time at the USIS library. For one reason or another, I started to dislike the routine of attending classes. But how did I manage to get relatively good grades? I knew the guys who were good at note-taking, like Roly Quintos and Tody Ilano. I borrowed their notes after I played hookey. Of course, I could have done better by doing the assignments promptly, going to class and listening to the teachers.

We have come a long way from our high school days. We have lived our lives well and used our knowledge and skills for the good of others and for causes far greater than our puny self-interest. We are probably either retired or about to retire from our professional, bureaucratic or entrepreneurial work. As Gil Yuzon puts it, we are about to enter the "departure area". But I think that there is still plenty of time for us to accomplish more on the basis of our accumulated experience, maturity and developed skills. In my case, I will continue to work for the realization of national independence, democracy, social justice, all-round development and peace in the interest of our people and country. ###

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