Saturday, March 19, 2011
And so I wait until darkness reigns.
I stand in the middle of the front lobby. A couple of light bulbs are lit to brighten a few corners of the school. I can hear the soft ticking of the clock hung high up on the wall. The time is 10:30 p.m.
Few other sounds can be heard. There is the constant crack of a hammer from the building construction nearby, a locker door slamming at the gym two floors above, and there is the slightest rustle of the wind telling me that the ghosts are out to play tonight.
I turn to begin my weekly Friday night prowl about the dark corridors of the school. I slip through the green metal gate of the first corridor. I pass a door or two, pausing in front of the next classroom.
I can see my reflection in the glass pane as I look through it.
There are small chairs stacked on top of rectangular tables positioned neatly around the room. An array of colored squares makes an interesting pattern on the floor. Tacked on the bulletin board are artworks obviously created by tiny hands.
It is a kindergarten classroom. This is where the journey had begun for most, a long journey that was altogether too short.
I step as close to the door as is possible. My heartbeats must have somehow reached my ears, as they are the only things I can now hear. The ghosts are about to make their presence felt.
And in they come, filling the darkness of the classroom and corridor with a flash of light. I can see them—images that are faint, faded, fleeting.
But the ghosts that come aren’t the dreary, creepy figures that frighten. The ghosts that come don’t moan and groan, nor do they walk with clanking chains.
They come in quick flashes of color, of light, of smiles, of laughter.
I see children taking out their snacks for recess. I see a game of tag played on the old red flooring of the back lobby. I see a seven-year-old girl giving a letter to her best friend.
I see math trainees playing Ice/Water without being caught. I see grade-schoolers rehearsing for a play, reenacting Lapu-Lapu’s heroism.
I see freshmen cheering as they watched their first basketball game. I see students filming their versions of a movie about a wimpy kid.
They are the ghosts of the past.
But they are not my only companions.
The ghosts of the future are there to join me as well.
I see the seven-year-old girl now grown up, probably in her early twenties. She is standing beside the teacher’s table, writing on the board while talking about run-on sentences and dangling participles.
Teaching must be a difficult profession. She looks tired and her voice sounds hoarse. I guess that’s part of the trade. But I look in her eyes and I see the sparkle. That, too, is part of the trade, the part that makes everything worthwhile.
The teacher suddenly turns towards the door and sees me peering in. She smiles and I smile back.
Funny. The lady looks a lot like me.
I continue my trek round the school. At each classroom I stop at, there will be that sudden flash and the arrival of more ghosts.
Every scene is different yet every scene is familiar.
Whenever my Friday night stroll ends, I always find myself back at the front lobby, listening to the ticking of the clock once more.
I turn towards the Panda that looks over the school day after day, night after night.
He sees more ghosts than I do, I’m sure. You can tell from his eyes.
He’s proud of every ghost he sees because he’s proud of the people they’ve become.
I look back at the Panda, and I nod my thanks.
I turn to leave.
This may very well be the last of my nighttime strolls in school, at least for quite a while.
My parents and I are migrating to Canada in a few days. It’s a trial trip. We’ll be staying there from five days to five years, I don’t know.
In the meantime, I am packing the ghosts in my suitcase.
The ghosts of the past are my memories.
The ghosts of the future are my hopes.
They go wherever I go.
The ghosts of the past provide me with reasons for coming back.
The ghosts of the future give me the assurance that I will.
Five days, five weeks, five months, or five years, I will.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
I have to admit that there’s nothing quite like seeing a substantial grade and feeling a sense of fulfillment after spending one whole night studying, reviewing, and, more often than not, memorizing. Still, I can’t help stopping and thinking about what I have been doing for the past twelve years. Have I actually been learning in school? Or have I been just answering questions in tests, just filling in the blanks?
I always find myself getting stressed over a bad grade, ranting when I get a 99 for a careless mistake, and almost feeling depressed when I fail. Now that I think about it, why make a big fuss out of numbers? Why bother aiming for that elusive 100 and begging the teacher for “plus points” when one actually doesn’t learn anything?
Perhaps grades are like mirrors that reflect one’s diligence or even intelligence, but I don’t think they are enough to depict how much you’ve learned. A 100 can be the product of a night’s hard work, days of practice, the so-called chamba or luck for others, or the sheer genius of those lucky few. 80 plusses? Not enough for the overachievers but a true blessing for many. Meanwhile, a failing grade may seem like the end of the world for the grade-conscious, but now, I realize I should look at a failing grade as a lesson that will always make a mark on me. Failing should not be something that leads to despair and hopelessness but rather a stepping-stone to improvement. What’s wrong with getting a 60 plus when one can learn something from it? That failing grade can even push one to exert more effort and do better. At the end of the day, I think one learns more from mistakes than from accomplishments.
Yes, getting good grades and passing tests do give us a sense of fulfillment, but I believe that what’s more important is for the lessons we study to light a fire inside us, give us something to think about on our way home, and, even better, ignite our curiosity to learn more. Yes, getting good grades and passing quizzes are great, but seizing the perfect opportunity to acquire endless knowledge should be our reason for coming to school. That’s what school is for. That’s real education.
We squeal with delight upon knowing we get bonus points. We scramble and line up at the canteen to photocopy a test guide. Both are mere aids to pass tests. A student who receives a perfect score after memorizing words from a test guide has nothing to be proud of. A student who attains honors but cannot apply school-taught concepts in real life is hardly praiseworthy. We must look beyond test guides, beyond bonus points, beyond textbooks. We must not cease to remember that lessons are there not to be memorized and written blindly on an answer sheet. Again, getting good grades is nice. By simply memorizing words and hoping not to forget them when it’s time to take the test, however, we are ignoring the beauty that lies behind Chinese culture and history, the unique feeling of contentment we get from answering a tricky math question, and the wisdom we gain from reading stories with beautiful lessons.
Sometimes, we get so hung up on getting good grades and passing tests that we fail to see the beauty of knowledge and the real meaning of learning. As we get older, go through the stages of school, finish college, and get over those stressful grades, we must still have relentless passion for seeking knowledge and being curious about our world.
I think this is how we should look at tests and grades. Maybe it’s time to change our perspective and approach to getting an education. After all, a life spent learning is a life well-spent. Learning is better than studying. Listening and asking questions are better than plainly sitting in class and waiting for the bell to ring. Understanding is better than memorizing. Being inquisitive and imaginative are better than blindly saying yes to everything the teacher says. We now have a good reason to start looking at grades differently. So, the next time you get a hundred, ask yourself, “Did I actually learn something?” and make sure you really understood the lesson.
The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live. ~Mortimer Adler
Friday, February 25, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Kristel is currently involved in her family business.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Maxine is currently taking up Management Honors at the Atenedo de Manila University. She graduated from Uno High School in 2007.
Friday, February 18, 2011
I want to learn how to speak Bisaya.
This article won the Quintin Yuyitong Award for Best Feature Article in 2001. Camille Dionzon got her medical degree at the University of Santo Tomas and passed the medical board in 2010.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Sometimes I ask myself
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Not many people know what a Unean is.
If you have ever lived in Binondo or spent most of your primary years studying at one of the Chinese-Filipino schools dotting Metro Manila, then you just might have an idea of who Uneans are. If you’re still in the dark, then let me clarify by identifying Uneans as those students who conscientiously attend each class in that small high school on Alvarado Extension, Tondo, Manila. At least, that is what most non-Uneans believe.
In the Chinese-Filipino community, Uno High School has the reputation of having a tough curriculum. People almost always utter your name or the name of your school in hushed, reverent tones. If they try to speak nonchalantly, there still remains a certain inflection in their voices, giving the impression that either you have impressed them with your supposed mental prowess or you have baffled them for wanting to make your life harder by remaining in a school with a rigorous academic environment. Either way, whether you are seen as a well-rounded genius or a misunderstood youth, people expect you to be a trivia master or be extremely proficient in mathematics, English, and Chinese. Consequently, claiming or saying that you study or have studied at Uno has become a challenge to live up to.
I was a Unean for nearly twelve years of my life. I can still remember my apprehension during the first day of school in kindergarten. There were so many new faces, I was extremely shy, and I missed my best friend, Tiffany, from my old school. A curly-haired girl named Stephanie asked me my name, and from that innocent question, we became inseparable for quite a number of years. I can still recall the excitement I would feel every time I would perform in a school program or when I became a cheerleader for the pep squad. I remember too the giddiness of experiencing puppy love and pining for my secret crushes. I won’t forget a lot of things — being constantly summoned to fall in a straight line, being reminded that running was prohibited in the playground, raising money and aiming to top the donations given the previous year for the annual Christmas fund drive, and being wary of the legendary surveillance cameras that stood guard in almost every nook and cranny of the school. Through all these, the challenge to maintain above-average grades was foremost in my mind.
You see, despite the eccentricities associated with being a Unean, I must admit that I wanted to be identified with those qualities. In my young mind, it was better to be regarded different than to be part of the herd. Among my relatives, my sister and I were the only ones sent to study at Uno. Even among the children of my parents’ friends, only a few of them had attempted to matriculate in Uno. My sister and I were not the same as everybody else, and for me, that was the absolute best! It didn’t matter that I had to spend longer hours poring over my books, that I was relatively inexperienced in taking school field trips, or that I almost had no social life outside my school friends and studies. I was determined to be one of the remarkable students that would be graduating from Uno High School.
Imagine my consternation when I reached college and truly realized that I wasn’t as special as I originally thought I was. There were hundreds, even thousands, of others who were better equipped than I was for the university academe. Not only were they smarter than I was, they had also gone on countless field trips, participated in several interscholastic activities, were part of numerous summer camps, and were way more adept in sports than I could ever be. Adding insult to injury, many students outside the Chinese-Filipino community had not even heard of Uno High School. As one fellow Unean would recount later on, a female college classmate had actually insisted that the “Uno” for Uno High School was an acronym for something! It was humbling and frustrating at the same time because it seemed like all the years and effort I put into being the “ideal” Unean was all for nothing.
I had to find a way to cope with college life fast, and fortunately, it wasn’t long before I was keeping up with my fellow geeks. I was far from the best, but at least, I could finally claim that I could hold my own in examinations and presentations. My dream of learning any kind of sports would remain elusive to me, but going to retreats, taking part in immersion programs, and attending alternative classes had at last become the norm for me.
At that time, I thought my innate perverseness triggered my coping mechanisms. However, it would be too presumptuous of me to fully take credit for surviving the unexpected outside the controlled environment of Uno. In hindsight, the time I spent studying at Uno had instilled some intangibles in me, aside from a good academic record. To go through each grade level without failing in Uno is certainly an accomplishment, but to actually thrive in the Unean curriculum means one must have some sort of self-discipline. The yearly fund drives held in school and the free medical services given by the alumni had made me more aware of and compassionate for the people less fortunate than I am. Of course, after spending twelve years believing that we had been strictly monitored through the school cameras, I can honestly say that I’m less inclined to go into mischief (although the urge remains) and tend to think first of how my actions would affect others.
It’s interesting to note that I only understood what being a Unean is after I had graduated from Uno. What I believed to be shortcomings of Uno High School were actually life lessons that have prompted me to constantly seek excellence in my life. I was too caught up in comparing the tangibles with colleagues from other schools that I failed to realize that my formative years were spent on learning how to become a better student and a better person. Self-discipline, compassion, altruism, having a healthy sense of right and wrong, awareness of our effects on the world and people in general — these are some of the most essential things one would need to lead a happy life, and I am proud to say that most Uneans, even if we are relatively few and unknown, are fully equipped with these to live the good life.
Not many people know who Uneans are, but the moment they get to know us, they will certainly never forget us.
When not immersed in books and caffeine, Jacq spends her time working as a French/Chinese translator for a multinational Swiss company (so that she can afford her books and strongly caffeinated coffee). In the rare moments that she's decaffeinated enough to be sane, she makes nearly impossible plans on how to travel the world on less than 200 dollars. She has finally forgiven herself for being a perennial dreamer, but she still can't make up her mind whether she prefers being a rock star or the first female UN Secretary-General.