Most of What I Need to Know in Life I Learned from U.P.

Just the other day, I read in the newspapers about the Department of Education's (Dep Ed) Thank You Teacher Campaign. Dep Ed Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro encouraged students to say thank you to their teachers in celebration of Teachers' Month this September 2011 and World Teachers' Day on October 5, 2011.

Upon reading this, I remembered a piece I had written way back in 2008 (U.P.'s centennial?) but never got to publish. Thus, I thought it would be a good time to share this piece as a tribute to all the teachers I have met or encountered.

Due to age, I remember my UP education most clearly. Grade school and high school are now a blur while pre-school (went to nursery and prep only), I hardly recall, save for a detail or two. Hopefully, though, till October 5, I will be able to remember bits and pieces of school life from these different eras and pay tribute to the individuals who gave of themselves wholly and completely to contribute to all that I know today. To think that probably in the past, we didn't appreciate them as much. As I usually say, everything becomes clearer in hindsight.

So here goes. To all those who went to U.P., may this bring back memories of your UP teachers. To all those students who aim to go to U.P. some day, go, go, go...

I am grateful to U.P three times over. While other individuals had the privilege of going to U.P. to get a good, solid education, I was lucky enough to do more than that. I went to U.P. to study, to earn money, and to marry. The title of the alma mater song then, U.P. Naming Mahal might as well be my understatement of a lifetime.

In U.P., I got more than I bargained for. I finished two degrees, started to build a professional career, and even met my husband as we both taught at the College of Business Administration during our younger years. To study, to earn money, and to marry – that can very well be the subject of a long story but since I need to confine this to 1,000-1,500 words, let me concentrate on the “to study” part.

I come from a family of U.P. graduates so I guess you can picture the pressure I felt when I took the entrance test at U.P. Besides having all the family members who came before me pass the UPCAT, it did not help that I learned that my fourth brother, who was born eight years ahead of me, only took the test at U.P after graduating from high school at the Ateneo. I remember asking him years ago, days before I took the UPCAT: “E, papano kung di ka pumasa?” “E hindi na ako mag-aaral” was his reply. Well, he got into Industrial Engineering. Gulp.

Luckily, I got accepted into U.P. so there was peace and quiet in the family. I must admit though that having come from an exclusive girls’ school, I was a bit disoriented with the environment in U.P. then. The sound of boys horsing around and being their usual noisy selves was something I was not used to. The bathrooms at AS were so old and not fragrant enough (and that’s putting it mildly) that I trained my bladder not to need to go to the toilet from morning till afternoon.

Despite the initial adjustment though, there was something about U.P. that charmed me once I had spent enough time there. Maybe it was the size or the total feel of the campus – so open and so free. Or maybe it’s the fact that I knew each student was bright, no matter where he or she came from. Or maybe it’s the life lessons that U.P. taught me through the people I encountered, especially my professors. At U.P., I learned, that it was not enough to know, you needed to set yourself apart and some of my professors, to whom I will forever be grateful, made such an impression on me, not necessarily because of their brilliance but because of their personality and unique character. From them, I learned valuable lessons which I remember to this very day and which help me go through each situation that life throws at me, years after I have left the university, whether as a student or teacher. What are these life lessons?

Use it or lose it. I remember Professor Miranda in my Microeconomics lecture class in the UP School of Economics auditorium. After a major exam where the whole class didn’t do too well, he remarked: “Yang mga utak ninyo, pag hindi ninyo ginamit yan, liliit yan!” We have all been given special skills and talents. They are ours to use and to nurture – not to waste. To whom much is given, much is expected.

Remember people. Remember your past. Remember what you learned in Grammar School. I remember Dr. Castro, my refined professor in Economic History. In his class, it wasn’t enough to know, you had to be grammatically correct. “When you write about history, always use the past tense.” As important as it is to always move forward, there is a lot to learn by looking at the lessons of the past. Significant people and events are worth remembering and true to his nature as a historian, at the end of each semester or class, he would hire a photographer to take our class picture and would give all of us copies. Never mind if we were no longer kids in elementary school. Now, if I could only remember where I put those photos…

Put yourself in another’s shoes. I remember Professor Reyes, my Speech Teacher. She taught us that there was a world outside our own. She gave us an assignment where we had to prepare a speech about someone from a “drastically different experiential world.” A student (who never had a body guard), for example, wrote a speech on “the body guard and the body guarded". I interviewed a blind person and made a speech from there. Through that exercise, I realized that we must always seek to discover how it is to be in another person’s shoes. Life is not always about us. It is more often that not, in fact, not about us. It is about others.

Remain undaunted. I remember Professor Dimaano, my Nat Sci 3 teacher. She insisted on continuing classes at the height of the protests which eventually led to Edsa 1. I remember going to classes in my yellow shirt and green over-alls (the color of the opposition to President Marcos then), wearing a button pin which read: “Sobra Na. Tama Na. Palitan Na.” While the other professors allowed their students to join the demonstrations and just choose whether to get a numerical grade or a pass or fail mark, Professor D. gave everybody (if my memory serves me right) a numerical grade. On her first day, she actually gave us this message in response to a classmate’s question about what happens when there are demonstrations: “Ako si Lynn Jumarang Dimaano, kahit ninyo ako harangan, di ako maaano.” That thought stuck to my mind and I try as much as possible, hard as it may be, to remain undaunted, no matter what obstacles come my way.

Experiment. Life is about second chances and dreams. I remember Professor Van Houten, she with the chocolate-sounding name. I took Psychology classes as electives and in her class, I was happy to learn by doing and not just by sitting around. We only reported for class a few times during the semester. Most of the time, we were doing assigned experiments which had us working with inkblots or keeping a dream journal. It was from her that I first learned that we dream nightly although sometimes, we just do not recall our dreams. She only gave us a few questions during an exam. If you didn’t know the answers, you could ask for a different set of exam questions but if you still didn’t know how to answer the second set of questions, that was that.

Life is about trying new things out and experimenting. It is about continuously having a dream or dreams to pursue. If life does not cooperate the first time, you can always look for a second chance.

Be creative and be proud to be a Filipino. I remember Professor Atienza, my Filipino teacher. She taught us that there was much learning to be done outside the classroom. We spent time watching plays, critiquing and discussing them. She made Filipino more interesting and Rizal more human. She made us enjoy and read Filipino poetry. We cringed as we read Rio Alma’s graphic Una at Huling Pasyon out loud in front of the class. She forced us to be creative. Instead of having a final written exam, we had to write either a short story or ten poems in Filipino. It was during her class when I first realized how talented Filipino writers, poets, and artists are and which is why, despite everything that happens in the country today, I can honestly say that I am happy and proud to be a Filipino.

We must create. It is not enough to be or to consume. We must make something out of what we have been given.

Such valuable life lessons – I remember them to this very day. What’s funny is I do not think these lessons were deliberately taught by my professors but the lessons stuck. It isn’t about me recalling what the BF in BF Skinner stands for (although I do remember) or how a particular economic theory works. It is about these professors having made a connection with a fellow human being like me and helping me realize that life is always interesting no matter what it may bring your way. For At U.P., just like in daily life, there is always an important lesson to be learned for as long as the student is ready.

[By Angelica Viloria | Sunday, September 4, 2011]


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