A UP education-A A +A
Wrapped in Grey
Friday, September 6, 2013
IT WAS a question from a high school mentor, an alumnus of the Ateneo, which brought me to reflect upon the meaning of a UP education many years ago.
I was a young undergrad then and, at that time, drunk in the heady mixture of existentialist dread ala Dostoyevsky and the radical promise of Marxism in the State University, when this mentor pointed out a legitimate question. It caused me to deeply reflect then and twenty years later, I am still formulating the beginnings of a response.
He said he had always been confused about the purpose of a UP education. For them, it was clear that they were molded to be men and women for others which guided the pedagogical practice of the Ateneo across all its programs in different constituent campuses. And I just learned that it had since been 40 years when Fr. Arruppe, S.J. delivered his historic speech that inspired the Jesuit community to respond to the challenges of the times. But their State U neighbors in Diliman did not seem to have a clear idea of what kind of graduates they want to produce, he observed.
As an undergrad and proud UP student, the initial reaction was to resist his logic and play into the meaningless rivalry between which side of Katipunan road you belonged to. But upon considering the totality of university life in the Diliman campus, I realized that there was some truth to what he said.
I am not familiar with the batting average of our Katipunan neighbors in this regard, but UP has been able to produce at least one dictator, and a long list of pork barrel-fed senators, congressmen, and politicians. I once sat beside someone in class, a scion of a political clan who had since become a senator. I was also college acquaintances with a personality implicated in one of those government-owned corporations used to funnel pork barrel funds to the pocket of politicians.
You see, UP produces the best and brightest indeed but maybe it is also correct to say that many of these are the best and brightest crooks who have occupied positions of power for personal gain.
The impression that UP is the hotbed of activism is not really an accurate depiction of how it is in the state institution. There are activists here, that is for sure, but across the decades, I have also since learned and observed that only a portion of the studentry actually engages in the noble and critical task of nation-building from the margins. As a University, and in keeping with the colonial roots of its establishment, it still fulfills its social function as a training ground for the managerial and elite class.
As an undergraduate dabbling in activism, it was a source of constant disillusionment when fellow students ignore the burning issues of the day and instead engage in forms of academic careerism just to get the grade. So while the discourse of nationalism had always been kept alive in the premier State University by the persistent few, it was never dominant and popular at least from the 90s onward.
Instead, the more accurate picture of UP is to consider it the training ground of future technocrats and bureaucrats. This was my impression even as a student and I understand these may provide basis for the doubts people have about the moral fiber of the graduates of the State University as my high school teacher pointed out.
I have since left the portals of UP and embarked on a life outside its green and beautiful campus. I have met quite a few UP graduates in the course of my professional life as an academic and researcher which changed my impression of my alma mater and they are not senators, congressmen, or politicians. Many of them are teachers just like me, scientists, government employees, OFWs, even a taxi driver, while others are in middle-management white collar occupations that do not provide for much monetary reward. And in our conversations, I realize we shared an interesting commonality.
Though we may have left the University many years ago, the institution still plays an important role in our lives. In our life choices, we have always considered in what ways our excellent training and education can be of service to the people. For while our Katipunan neighbors abide by the challenge of being men and women for others, we from the State U identify ourselves as scholars of the people and have sought to live up to this ideal in whatever field we find ourselves in.
This silent army of UP graduates persists in undertaking their humble tasks with little or no regard for accolades and at times even endure below poverty wages. This life mission is not something that we are made to swallow by some appeal to a higher authority but begins with a simple revelation in our freshman year when we are told that our education is paid for by the Filipino people.
The conviction to serve is further embraced in the Arts and Social Sciences classes we took when faculty from these service courses outline the painful realities of our nation.
But the principle of being an "Iskolar ng Bayan" actually takes root when we leave the University and confront these contradictions first-hand and realize the difficult and arduous tasks required and the sacrifices that this mission entails.
I may have cringed in my commencement exercises when faculty and some fellow graduates raised their fists during the singing of the UP Hymn. But decades later, and all the while, trying to live up to the ideals of my alma mater, I have come to an understanding of the value of an education funded by the people and the "UP Naming Mahal" comes to mind. I realize that the poignant message of that song actually encapsulates the true meaning of a UP education. "Humayo't, itanghal. Giting at Tapang. Mabuhay ang Pag-asa ng Bayan!"
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 06, 2013.