Mass Homily on the 98th Grand Alumni Homecoming 2010
St. Agnes Academy, Legazpi City
We Are Meant For Greater Things
Fr. Jessel Gerard M. Gonzales SJ
It is quite a challenge to speak to all of you who belong to different batches. My dad graduated in 1950, my mom graduated in 1954, and obviously, their world was different from mine. And to those who belong to the younger years like my youngest brother who finished high school in 1995, our gap is wider than what we think we actually have. Believe me, based on statistics and personal experience with the young, a year’s gap today is a mile away. So allow me speak about 1981 & 1985, our batch who sponsors the event today, hoping that talking about one tree, I speak to the whole forest.
Gertie Duran-Batocabe said to me yesterday, “I don’t regret coming to the reunion.”
And I answered, “Yes, me too.”
You see, we have come a long way, and we have returned. We are “volting in” like connecting the parts of Voltes V before a great battle. We’re back to reminisce; to remember as far as we can of the first day of school. Some as far as nursery; to many of us, as far as prep. To remember that we were literary forced to come to class. At a young age, we were so dependent on our parents and to relinquish that reliance, we have to cry our way to the classroom into the hands of those we feared: as that “German Shepherd” nun called Sr. Ottfrieda OSB and that feisty principal called Sr. Melanie Lumauig OSB (she’s with us today) and those teachers with a ready punishment for unruly students. We grew up fearing the principal’s office; the pruning center. But now, we look back and say, “No regrets” -- the very persons whom we feared have become the people we are so grateful for.
We have come a long way. From the time, Thaddeus Tuason and Beryl Benito graced the cover of the Junior Agnesian in Grade 1. Our first communion and confirmation at St. Gregory the Great Cathedral; we remember lining up singing, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” Mrs. Bejo’s ukelele piece of “Four Strong Winds” and our graduation song, “Happiness Is a Dawning Golden Day” in 1981.
We look back at the choral recitations like the “The Owl and the Pussycat.” We remember the endless SRAs (Self-Reading Activity) in our English classes; and we would compete for the color Gold. The in-school Spelling Bee with winners Mayette Silerio, Ginalyn Gadia and Beryl Benito among others I can’t remember (must be the onset of Alzeimer’s). We bring into memory the play, “The Terrible Task of the Twin Angels” with Pilar Garcia and Gertrudes Duran in the title roles; though we don’t know if they still have their wings today. With the rule, “Speak English in class” and the tenet “That in all things God may be glorified” we knew that honing our English, we would glorify God.
We look back at our field trips to Rocamonte, Tiwi Hot Springs and Mayon Resthouse where we picked wild strawberries. Or played Chinese garter and jackstone; shato and marbles, matchboxes and Tomica which we bought at Happy Mall at the old La Trinidad. We played Game and Watch, the beginning of video games. But it was then that scary stories about the off-limits Clausura of the Benedictine Sisters were perpetuated. Since it was off-limits, it carried a cloud of mystery, only to be unshrouded two days ago by former high school principal, Sr. Lydia Villegas OSB when she toured the girls to the private quarters of the sisters.
While some of us would pour our attention to Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins and Enid Blyton books at the library, some would spend time at the music department with Srs. Xaviera OSB and Scholastica OSB at the piano.
And we do have a claim to fame: we did hold boxing bouts at the back of the gym with none other than Fr. Ricky Bermas, parish priest of Lidong, Polangui, the farthest area of the Diocese of Legazpi; and Mr. Vittorio Roces, now in the electoral race, as boxing precursors of Manny Pacquiao. Manny made the sport famous; but the truth is, boxing had been an old interest in St. Agnes Academy, decades before Pacman became famous.
And why do we remember? Because we were meant for greater things.**
Second, we are “volting in” not just to remember, but to reflect on how far we have reached and to see if our perspectives changed. Just like St. Paul and Barnabas who moved from one country to another, some of us have moved away from Legazpi to far physical distances. The capital cities we used to memorize in Social Studies have been visited and, like dogs who pee around a tree, an area has been owned and conquered. Some have reached the height of their careers; with a list of achievements, or a wider scope of influence. Some have even posted the proof as photo albums in Facebook. And we ask ourselves: How far have our dreams taken us?
Some sailed great emotional oceans; and they have been gashed by the fiercest waves and storms of life. What was once played “Four Strong Winds” have become the image of emotional struggles. And just as Paul and Barnabas came strengthen the spirit of their disciples when they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, we return to find strength in each other.
And still many of us have sought the elusive “happiness that’s like the dawning of a golden day.” We have dived into the deepest depths of life, grappled with questions of meaning, direction and peace of mind. We have experienced the greatest pains in our personal life, family and relationships. And in our woundedness, we have returned to see for ourselves if the friends we have left behind years ago, will continue to accompany us in the last half of our lives. So that mustering the greatest courage, we ask the question again and again: how far are we willing to suffer for the ones we love?
And why do we reflect on how far we have reached, either by distance, height or depth? Because we were meant for greater things.
Finally, we are “volting in” to know what is forever. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that what is permanent is change. But here we are, disproving him: There are things that are constant. And why do we want to know what is permanent? Because what is eternal is what makes us great.
*Girls, remember high school? Sr. Lydia Villegas OSB, who is here with us, has introduced the value of austerity and simplicity. The girls remember that there was no prom. Sr. Lydia was ahead of her time when she introduced recycling. They remember that they used the other side of a coupon bond for another project. They remember that they were sent to immersions to make them realize the plight of the poor.
But why? Because our high school years were economically and politically turbulent. It was the time of typhoons. It was the time when Ninoy Aquino was murdered, and there was political unrest. When Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cindy Lauper, Tears for Fears, Boy George, and the first Bagets movie hit the airwaves and the cinemas, they made teenage rebeliousness cool. It was a time when everything was changing. In the midst of personal, social and national instability, we were trained to discern which values are non-negotiable. When we are stripped of the amenities in life, we hold on to what is the most important.
When we remember the past, we look back because we’ve changed. And the past have made us who we are today. But the little boys and the little girls who once inhabited this campus retained one specific thing that is important for the future: Until today, we continue to nourish our friendships.
Go from one batch to the other: literally, from one table to the other (since every batch had a table), they have stories to tell. Siisay pa man ang magpa-tinarabangan kundi kita na magkakaklase? (Who will help us but our classmates). I have seen this with my mom. My mother finds it easy to ask help from her classmates in high school.
I’ve seen it in my batch. In Manila, when we need to talk about our problems or need company, we bare our souls to our batchmates who have accompanied us through the years. In Legazpi, who do you think are the friends of our children? Of course, the children of our classmates. Spread in different states in America, classmates would call each other and find time to even organize mini-reunions.
In this regard, we also have a claim to fame: Hugh Riva had a great crush on Mayette Silerio in Grade 3 and that love, despite the ups and downs of relationships, have stood the sands of time. They are now husband and wife; and their children graduated where else, but St. Agnes Academy!
Furthermore, in his deathbed, Fermin Quinzon, who died from cancer, affirmed this to us who visited him: The greatest friendships he cherished are those from us.
From earth to eternity, nothing can separate us from our love for each other and from the love of Christ.
Our reunion today gives flesh to what Jesus exhorted us in the Gospel: to love one another. It is only when we love that people know that we are His disciples. Nothing binds relationships, but memory. What makes us different from other batches are our stories. And these stories, brought together, form one collective memory which we share today. And in addition, nothing strengthens individuals in a relationship but affection. In this gathering, we show how much we care.
Today, we just proved that the Lord was right. What matters is what is forever. And just as Voltes V becomes what it is only when the parts are together, we too can face the fiercest battle when united in love.
And this is the reason why we don’t regret coming home. Today, we just affirmed that at the end of our lives, what is most important is not how far we have gone, but how deep we have loved.
The greatest saints and heroes are those who have loved much. And in our younger years, St. Agnes taught us that what makes us great is the extent we are willing to give for the ones we truly love.
So that, when it is our time to bid the world goodbye, we can say: That in all things, God may be glorified.
*To those who are reading this but are not Agnesians: St. Agnes Academy grade school has been co-educational. High school was exclusive for girls, until 1982. Thus, my dad and I spent our elementary years in St. Agnes. Dad graduated in 1950, I graduated in 1981. My two brothers, Jayson and Jesse, continued their secondary education in St. Agnes. Jayson graduated in 1990; Jesse in 1995.
**St. Stanislaus Kostka SJ’s famous words: I was meant for greater things.