We were about two to three thousand students at the time we were in college. I was there when the first batch of co-eds were admitted into then De la Salle College. There was much consternation about that: not everyone wanted the girls into the Taft Avenue campus but when Martial Law was declared in 1973, holding a referendum was suddenly outmoded.
Oh, that was really beside the point. There was no way the boys could have stopped the girls from coming into the campus. The first one hundred co-eds went through the eye of the needle --- which was another term for hell--- in the hands of the hostile boys who didn't want them there in the first place.
And what we all precisely recall is that they were made to use these ridiculous school uniforms made of ramie in ecru and white, so similar if not completely impersonating the daily wear of the ticket girls in Greenhills Theater.
But the co-eds survived quite happily ever after. Whether the boys liked it or not, they made themselves feel at home. At La Salle finally became a home when the girls settled in.
By 1977, the first batch of co-eds graduated from the bastion of the Christian Brothers. By then, the college had become a University. Together with the first group of young women to be called La Sallites (eventually becoming La Sallians), we were the graduating class to usher in the age of the university. It was not surprising that the valedictorian amongst all the summa cum laudes was a co-ed.
Thirty-eight years later, there are sixteen thousand students in De la Salle University.
When I came back after years of absence, I no longer recognized the campus.
Whereas once enormous trees surrounded the Marian Quadrangle, now there is a building. The legendary handball courts are gone. And there is this monolith of an edifice called the Yuchengco Building ... and the old Saint Athanasius Gym has been relegated to old photos and memories. Brother John Hall (where the Dramatics Guild used to hold its rehearsals) has become a canteen.
The campus has even crossed Taft Avenue as it slowly encroaches Saint Scholastica's College. There are buildings owned by the university expanding left, right, front and back of the original campus.
But despite what resembles a viral invasion, some familiar buildings are still there. Changes have taken place but thank God for the constants in life.
The original Saint La Salle Building facing Taft Avenue is too sacred to be demolished although has undergone so many facelifts that portions of the edifice have become unrecognizable.
The Saint Joseph Building where the Library is located still stands proud --- as those of my generation would recall the classrooms on the upper floors where most of Humanities and Commerce courses were taught. And what used to be the Engineering Building called Saint Benilde has now been called the Miguel to avoid confusion ... mainly because there is a College of Saint Benilde located a stone's throw away in Vito Cruz.
And there is no more football field. Instead, the centennial building is slowly rising on the precious patch of green where the traditional of football was immortalized by the La Sallians even before the Azkals became fashionable.
Along the hallways of the La Salle and Saint Joseph Buildings are framed photos of the graduates of the institution from the time of its inception until God-knows-when.
A co-teacher and co-graduate of mine, Cristy Rodriguez and I searched the framed graduation photos looking for the Class of 77. And there we were: I was right under the photograph of Dr. Eric Nubla of Makati Medical Center. I still had hair. And the memories came back like a flash, a deluge ... including all the faces that filled the graduating batch of more than thirty years ago. There is this sudden urge to find out, imagine or even pre-suppose what ever happened to all the characters who filled up your graduating batch.
Immediately after college I spent the next eight years of my life as a teacher in La Salle. I do not recall how I got convinced to enter the academe: I somewhat slid into it because of the faith and trust given to me by the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez.
I also recall how my father was somewhat taken aback when I told him that I was teaching courses in the then Languages and Literature Department of my Alma Mater.
My father did not protest but I knew deep in his heart that he was disappointed.
He had wanted me to pursue a career in law --- or something more lucrative as he would probably term it. Being a professor even in one of the most respected institutions in the country was not considered lucrative in the order of things considering that cultural and intellectual enrichment were not taxable by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. He knew that I loved to write --- and he could not go against that because I got that interest from him. He knew I loved to read ... and my father also realized that I got that from my mother.
So my father did not protest: he told me that it was my decision to be a teacher --- and just to make sure I had a good chance to have a better life with that chosen field. He was somewhat proud that I pursued my Masters Degree because once upon a time I thought my greatest dream was to have any hallway or even latrine in the University named after me.
My father was even happier when I started to write for television because what I earned in a single week writing a script for a drama anthology was equivalent to what I got as a monthly salary as a university lecturer. He said that I was, at least, doing something lucrative so that I can afford to stay as a professor.
But again, that was beside the point. During our time, what was important was that you were doing something you really loved to do ... and not a job just to bring in money. We were young ... and there is a sense of invincibility that accompanies the folly of such an age.
Those years spent teaching and pursuing my graduate courses were some of the best in my life. I was in my early twenties --- and my students were about three to four years younger than me. It was easy to relate to them because they always felt it was something about us.
The pleasure and fulfillment in teaching and walking on the sacred halls of the university are indeed priceless. No one can fully grasp or appreciate this unless one also possesses this calling for, as I always said time and again, teaching is not a profession. It is a vocation. It is a commitment that is self-satisfying as well as an endless process of learning and unlearning, of discovering and reinventing.
In 1988 I had to give up my ties with La Salle.
There were many reasons behind that somewhat painful goodbye but then we do what we must do ... and even to this day, we brandish the courageous motto that we must move on. My departure from the academe was necessary. I remember one of the more senior officers of the school telling me, "Come back when you have accumulated enough resources to be able to afford to teach again." In more vulgar terms, what she meant was: return to the classroom when you are rich enough to afford a teacher's pay.
I also remember one of my co-teachers telling me, "Get out of here. Go into the world and make the most out of life. You cannot simply stay inside the campus and call this your world." I appreciated his concern. It was only after I left the sanctuary of the academe and looked back at what transpired through the years that I truly understood what he meant. He was not belittling the role of the teacher: he was telling me that I need more than a graduate degree to be an effective instructor of life. I need to learn about life by living it.
Maybe what the university did not understand was that there are times when you have to leave home in order to equip yourself with more experiences and greater wisdom.
Oh, life inside the four walls of the academe can be such an addictive comfort zone where books and theories, discussions and elaborations assume the form of life. But that is not life itself. That is not the life that the students will confront when they are handed their diplomas and introduced to the wilderness which is out there.
As a teacher, you must tell them about that. You cannot simply elaborate on theories. You must usher them into reality ... without forfeiting their capacity for idealism. Here is real life, Kids: now make it better.
Now that La Salle is celebrating its 100th birthday, I have returned to teaching.
Oh, yes, the more than two decades away from La Salle has taught me a lot --- maybe even far more than what theories, assumptions and presumptions can offer. Books are wonderful records and explorations --- but they are only stimuli and not life itself. That is why I have always believed that the best professors are those who transport their students from the lofty world of intellectual excitement to the harshness that is called reality.
But in between, the years have also been kind. Some of the most memorable moments in my life shall always be the times I bump into my students from the past. I remember one special occasion when I was invited to attend a pre-reunion gathering of the very first batch of students I ever taught in the university. I was surprised to see all of them --- some recognizable, some completely changed but all still very much a part of a life I considered enriched by memories and opportunities.
Of all the congratulations and updates I received from the students of my past, one remained most unforgettable. She approached me and said, "I never had a chance to thank you for opening my world to a love for reading. Now all my children love to read too ... and that is because you made me fall in love with books." I must have muttered something but I knew deep inside I was rewarded with a trophy far greater than any recognition for writing and directing or being one of Manila's most talkative persons. I was affirmed as a teacher.
What even surprises me is how far my students have gone. Like a proud father, I tell people that Cesar Purisima and Leila de Lima were my students in La Salle. So was Edu Manzano --- but that's a different story all together.
Today I have about twenty students in my Film Writing class.
They are of the age of the children of the first batch of students I taught. It somehow surprises me to realize that some of my students have not only become parents but grandparents as well. But that does not matter. Age is only an assigned digit. Passion is timeless. It knows no deadlines.
And as I return to La Salle, to a campus that has suddenly become unfamiliar because it has evolved, I realize that I am doing the only humble thing I can possibly do in my life. I have been blessed with purpose ... and it is payback time.
It is time to pay back all the professors who have shaped my life and gave it form and meaning: thank you, my dearest professors Brother Andrew Gonzalez, Cirilo Bautista, Carolina Garcia, Emerita Quito, Aurelio Calderon, Milagros Tanlayco, Marcelino Foronda, Ophelia Dimalanta ... and Doy del Mundo.
The cycle continues. And I thank God for making me a teacher.