Sunday, April 01, 2012

A Theresian

I’M a Theresian.

I don’t mean only that I studied at the St. Theresa’s College (STC) from kindergarten to high school. I lecture in STC’s college department since the 1990s.

All in all, I’ve spent more than half of my 46 years at STC. Yet the numbers alone don’t account for how “old” I am as a Theresian.

Like a lot of other Theresians, I believe: “once a Theresian, always a Theresian”.

The controversy surrounding the school’s barring of five high school students from attending graduation ceremonies over morality issues fills me with mixed emotions. More than anything, though, what I feel is sadness and resolve.

How do the five high school students feel about being a Theresian? Will they look back with gratitude at the way their teachers and the ICM sisters molded them? Will they feel a sense of mission to help other women according to the Theresian ideal of blending feminism, militancy and spirituality?

Will they even want to be known as Theresians?

As a mother and a teacher, I believe in not losing sight of the lesson while passing judgment, specially while punishing. In high school, my English teacher, Madam Rebecca Montaño, required us to read “The Use of Force”. In this short story, William Carlos Williams writes about the thin line separating righteousness and abuse in the struggle between a family physician and a young girl.

The child’s parents are unable to convince their child to open her mouth. The doctor is initially driven by concern about the diphtheria epidemic that has claimed the lives of other children.

Yet, when the child physically attacks him, something other than concern for her life drives the doctor to overpower the child and ram a spoon down her throat until she gags. He discovers her sore throat at the same time that he realizes:

"The damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy, one says to one's self at such times. Others must be protected against her. It is a social necessity. And all these things are true. But a blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing for muscular release are the operatives. One goes on to the end.”

By my senior year in high school, I chafed against the restrictions of STC. I purposely chose a course that wasn’t offered by the ICM sisters so I could convince my father to permit me to pursue college in another university. Even when I shifted to Mass Communication, I transferred to the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu even though STC is one of the pioneers, other than UP Cebu, offering this course in Cebu.

Yet, when I decided to teach full-time and later, to lecture on Journalism, I returned to my high school alma mater. I continue to lecture there despite run-ins with administrators and the balance required to juggle lecturing with a full-time teaching load at UP Cebu .

Why? I believe in what STC believes in.

More honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with my ICM mentors, now bosses. I am exasperated by their tendency to dwell on marginalia. I refuse to check the length of my students’ skirts, ban dangling earrings or bar late students from entering my class. I would like to see among the STC sisters more openness and flexibility to changes, such as technology, that have an impact on their mission to educate and empower young men and women.

Despite these abrasions, I believe in the code of morality all Theresians imbibe and are expected to live by, even outside the campus or beyond our studies.

What is moral? To be moral is to have a seamless conjunction between our public and private lives. One cannot be a philanthropist and not pay the minimum wage to one’s workers. One cannot be successful at one’s career and fail with one’s children and spouse.

To be moral is to help those who have less in life; to speak out against injustice; to respect the rights of others.

STC is not a haven exclusive to saints and angels. We count among us bigots, sinners, moralists, and, to be sure, “amoral moral” Theresians. Many of us have stumbled and will stumble.

Yet, I’ve learned that stumbling and falling flat on your face can have two reactions: you stay on the ground or you get up. A Theresian must choose to get up.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 1, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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