Posted by: theboyfromsmallville | June 15, 2007

Almost Alma Mater (Warning: Length overload)

There I was.

Sitting on the edge of  one of a pair of rectangular flower pots book-ending a wide stairway leading up to the central library.

It was late afternoon. The sky was overcast and the wind was spiked with a hint of watery coolness as it whizzed through a thick gathering of bamboo trees like invisible fingers combing through a cheerdancer’s pompom strips.

Except you knew, by the playful way the sun snuck a ray or two through a hole in the clouds, that rain was an empty boast on that particular afternoon.

Beside me, a white cat stretched lazily at the top steps. Below me was a marble-flavored pavement so narrow, it almost seemed like a footnote to the stairs. Patches of grass were growing from its cracks, a sign that the opening of school hadn’t ushered in the violent footsteps that will eventually snuff the life out of the budding greenery.

I sat there.

I should have sat there more than a decade ago, contemplating on cutting class perhaps or maybe waiting someone sneak out a xeroxed set of notes for me to take home and leaf through.

But in a snap-of-the-finger decision that broke hearts, fostered distrust and triggered a silent war, I headed westward to the eternally clogged streets of España, thereby sealing a portion of my fate irrevocably.

They say it is the choices we make that define the people we turn out to be.

I wonder. How much of that fateful summer day defines who I am now?

* * *

It was the summer of guess-what-year when I received a telegram notifying me that I had passed the entrance examination that made me eligible for enrolment to the University of the Philippines.

Naturally, the parents were ecstatic.

I wasn’t as thrilled.

Oh, I loved the school. I loved the idea of studying there. And it made me proud thinking that I would walk through its hallowed halls. Halls that still echoed with the footfalls of greatness.

This was, after all, the University of the Philippines: The stronghold of activism (a trait that appealed to someone who was part of the reason why an entire high school walked out of its final exam). The final bastion of free and elevated thought.

But to go to UP was to acknowledge the one thing I refused to: That my life, as I had known it then, would not be my own.

Yes, it was a rebel’s way of thinking. But who didn’t go through a phase when authority was the shapeless figure created so it can be contested, questioned and railed against?

Whether or not I went through that phase at the wrong time in my life, I will only know once the time comes to reflect on how I lived. I still consider myself a work in progress.

So I headed westward, carrying what the parents thought was the initial down payment for a semester in UP. Except that I was going to make payment at the cashier’s window in the main building of the University of Santo Tomas.

It isn’t difficult to deduce what kind of atmosphere filled our household in my first college semester. What was supposed to be an exciting year of learning turned out to be one of gloom and, worse, doubled expectations. You were good enough to make UP, I was told, therefore UST should be a cruise; a path to graduation littered with 1-flats or 1.somethings.

In my first semester at the Royal and Pontifical university, I flunked three subjects. The maximum allowable for me to continue my stay there.

I was proud. I finally owned my life.

* * *

What I made out of the life I claimed sovereignty over, like I said, I still cannot figure out at this point.

But the poet Lourd De Veyra—known better hereabouts as Radioactive Sago Project’s front man—and I usually had profound conversations during idle moments of insobriety (the genius stored in Lourd’s brain notwithstanding, he often spewed a lot more philosophical ideologies when his veins are alcohol-logged) centering on the question: How would have we turned out if we had gone to UP instead?

I cannot recall, for the life of me, how those conversations turned out.

But sitting in the steps of UP’s main library while a couple fumbled through their schedules hoping to find that special hour of free time that they could spend together during school days and watching other students stock-market their way through a web of bureaucracy just to complete a semester’s schedule made me ask the question again.

What if?

And what made me make the decision to pull the trigger, so to speak.

I remember that one thing that crossed my mind was that freedom wouldn’t come at such a steep price. My parents could afford to put me through four years of UST as much as they could have afforded UP’s state-subsidized fees.

And I remember that I was to find out two years into UST how off-tangent I was about that. That’s another mush-overloaded blog entry in itself and suffice it to say I had to perform sexual favors for professors BECAUSE IT WAS MUCH EASIER than passing a scholarship test.

But yes, really. What if?

* * *

This is not to say I regret making the decision. No. Far from it.

UST gave me what I needed to survive alone. I have always prided myself in being a loyal Thomasian, Raul Gonzales notwithstanding.

And while I still cannot judge how my decision to stay away from UP shaped me, I know that UST kept me from falling apart completely. It tempered my rebellion and pacified the inner demons that would have otherwise been reeled out by the air of activism that pervaded in that wide expanse of academic land in Quezon City.

Because while UST was lenient enough to encourage free thought, it drew fences around my rebellious nature, never mind if part of its methods was to ram theology in thick doses down your throat until you felt the need to gag and puke.

I am a Thomasian.

I am proud to be one.

With the UAAP wars coming, in fact, I will be one of the staunchest supporters of the team in black and gold.

* * *

It was close to sundown on that particular afternoon.

I was lying beside the free-thinker at the angled, tree-shaded edge of the Sunken Garden, supposedly the nerve center for social, not-so-academic activities in the State University. We were watching the reflection of the sun on the leaves turn from bright white to sleepy gold to weary pink. And the smell of wet crushed grass hovered all over us.

In one quiet moment, I gave in to a minute of introspection.

There I was. Broken. Healed. Scarred. Happy. Incomplete.

And I wondered, which of those qualities came about because one fateful summer day, instead of staying put, I decided to establish ownership of my life and head westward to chase a dream I haven’t quite caught up with yet.

(With the UP cum laude)



  1. It was late afternoon. The sky was overcast and the wind was spiked with a hint of watery coolness as it whizzed through a thick gathering of bamboo trees like invisible fingers combing through a cheerdancer’s pompom strips.

    Yun eh. Sana talaga nagturo ka sa UST. Baka naging prof ka pa namin. Hehe.

    I heart this entry! ♥

  2. hrmphf… “baka naging prof ka pa namin”
    di ako ganun katanda noh

    at pakshet, kung naging ganun, tas ngayon nagiinuman lang tayo, susumbatan niyo kaya ako sa mga magagawa ko senyong pagpapahirap?


  3. “It was the summer of guess-what-year when I received a telegram notifying me that I had passed the entrance examination that made me eligible for enrolment to the University of the Philippines.”

    Do you really want to hear our guesses? Hmmm… Siguro 19… ay huwag na lang para safe; no comment na lang para walang away. Hehehe… Sama… :)

  4. i really admire the way you write… the discipline and inspiration seem bottomless. And if the UP Cum Laude girl beside you is “your” girl… i guess, if you can’t be a UP Cum Laude, the next best thing is to get one. *applause*

  5. Law: Harmphf… hehehehe
    Ems: She’s no one else’s. Hehehehehe. Thanks for the compliments dude!

  6. this is *heart*!

    oo nga sana naging prof ka namin that would be soooo like cool, like hello! *rolls eyes* pero makakakanta ka pa kaya sa beach, while pretending to be ariel, ng “part of your world”? kasi pag hindi na … ang sad. :( hahaha kaya siguro okay na lang na hindi! yeheyeheyehey! :D

  7. tewe: malamang hindi. hehehehe. anuba? it’s like so nakakailang if i was like, your prof, y’know. *rolls eyes* :-)

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