“Di ka ba nagsasawang mag-aral? (Don’t you ever get tired of studying?),” asked an aunt during a family gathering. This was in 2004, after they learned that I’d be taking up Graduate studies in Sociology. I quite understood where she’s coming from because most guys my age in our neighborhood, at that point, are either abroad earning some green dough or are already on their way to fatherhood. I also suspected, though, that the question reeked of “burn-the-geeks-get-a-life” undertones so I just shrugged it. It has always been a question of priorities and it just so happened that I plan to take a different path. I say blame it on the Old Man.
The opportunity cost was high: I had to quit my job as a high school Mathematics and Technology and Home Economics teacher, my first full-time job after graduation and something I loved to do for two years, because the demands just wouldn’t allow me to do both. And how shall I finance my studies and at the same time contribute to the family’s resources? That’s also when I decided to go into freelance researching and writing. I say blame it on the Old Man.
Flash back to UP in 1997. Subject: Communication 2 – Writing. Teacher: Fr. Alfeo Nudas, SJ (+). The list of required readings was long. An oral final examination on Les Miserables, did I read it right? I contemplated on dropping out after the first day. It’s too much. Or so I thought.
Each meeting, as it turned out, was a fun journey into the minds of some of the world’s greatest writers. Fr. Nudas taught us techniques and tips on how to write good essays and critiqued with compassion the ones we wrote in every meeting. He also asked us to critique the ideas he puts forth in his columns in the now-defunct intelligent broadsheet, Today. He was always trying hard to sway us to his firm belief that UP’s mistaken in believing that Andres Bonifacio is greater than Jose Rizal and dared us to strike down Bonifacio’s monument in front of Vinzons’ Hall in exchange for a 1.00. And who could forget his Buy, Borrow, or Steal rule in acquiring books, all in the name of pursuit of knowledge. I was hooked after the 3rd meeting.
One particular discussion that shook my world (and from which I owe much of why I am who I am right now) was on his article entitled, “Trickle Down University.” If I could remember it correctly it was in that article that he challenged UP students on whether or not we know what our being “Iskolar ng Bayan” really means and what is expected of us when we graduate from the university. He questioned whether or not the money that funds our education trickles down to the poor in the form of service or any other way. This was in the light of the university’s clamor for greater state subsidy for state colleges and universities and the brain drain phenomenon which has been plaguing our country since the 70s. He asked us if we knew too well that the money that the government spends for our education in UP are from the taxes paid by every Filipino, even by the poorest of poor. His example shot me to the heart, “Whenever an Ifugao woman would buy shampoo from a store a portion of that money goes to the national treasury in the form of taxes, a part of which is being set aside for your education. She pays for your tuition yet she herself cannot send her children to school.” He then went on to tell us that this make us think twice about working abroad after we get our degrees. His voice was a bit tired but it was soaked with meaning.
One more thing: it was he who urged us every meeting to become Scholars in the purest sense of the word. He said that there’s little use in being part of the capitalist and consumerist society, we should be contributing to the knowledge pool of the world instead, at all cost. His example was also a classic: “There was once a man who decided to devote his life studying amphibians but he later on found out that it’s too big a subject. So, he chose to specialize in frogs instead. But he also learned that it was also a big subject to specialize in. So, he decided to study the frog’s eyes. But then again he discovered that the two eyes were too complicated for a lifetime study. Thus, he ended up as the world’s leading scholar in the left eye of frogs.”
We were the last class he handled in UP before he moved on to the Jesuit-run school, Xavier University, in Cagayan de Oro City. We never communicated ever since but I was told that he was happy when he learned of my short interlude in Jesuits’ Vocation Direction Program. Last I heard was that he joined our creator in 2005. It was brief but it was enough to fire me up for a lifetime, it gave me purpose.
I am not sure if I’m giving him a good tribute by writing about my short interaction with him and I’m not sure if he’s happy with the way I write. But what I really wanted to say to him was that I never left the Philippines despite having few good chances to do so. Moreover, though I’m still not an expert on anything at this point my thirst for learning still flows without let up and I am doing everything I could to share what I have inside.
I owe that to you, Old Man. Save me a seat when my time comes. I have a lot to tell you. : )