IT’S not just rain that’s making this overcast Saturday pregnant with possibilities.
I’m staying home, purposely avoiding the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (Edsa) today.
This weekend, thousands of high school seniors take the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (Upcat). A jeepney ride away from Edsa is UP Diliman, one of the largest campuses in the UP system that may take the lion’s share of the estimated 60,000 that take the Upcat every year.
This afternoon till early evening, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will also hold its “Prayer Power Rally Against the RH Bill” at the Edsa shrine. Red shirts will be worn to symbolize the blood of the innocent, infants and women the CBCP says will be sacrificed in the abortions “encouraged” or “condoned” by the RH Bill.
Weeks in advance, high school students roamed the Diliman campus to find their testing venues and improve their chance of being on time for Upcat. Yesterday, despite gusty winds and drenching rain, the visitors still did their tour of duty, standing out among the Diliman regulars. It may have been the school uniforms and the campus maps. Trailing after a group of boys that was checking out the colleges of Mass Communication and Music, I think it’s the excitement that yips in the surface cool of teen murmur.
That was a bittersweet moment. More than three decades ago, I also sat down for the Upcat, all choked up with the fear of possibly leaving my high school alma mater and the excitement of expecting a more liberal life in college. When my older son took and passed the Upcat more than three years ago, I felt the same anticipation and pride when he passed—as well as the pang when my son finally decided on another course and a private university.
An alumnus of a private high school, my son felt that the state university could not guarantee state-of-the-art facilities and training that the private sector provides. An alumna and a teacher of UP, I kept my peace and respected his choice.
It felt odd and still feels odd now: stepping back and making room for a person who’s coming into his own. I used to buy his Read-Aloud books and later, the references and rare novel; now he’s making choices that would never have occurred to me when I was 18 turning 35.
But if I learned something from the Upcat my son and I took, it’s that education frees a person to make choices. The Upcat is just an exam; UP, one of many destinations. But to be able to weigh possibilities, to use reason in narrowing the field and singling out superior options, to chart a path that takes you from this point of your existence to that point of your aspiration—this is choice. This is power.
With wage-earner parents, that’s probably all our sons will get from us.
It’s more than what some get. Crossing an Edsa underpass one evening after class, I ran into a young man. The dark and the plastic bag half-covering his face made it hard to guess his age. The bag, smeared with rugby on the inside, inflated and deflated with his frenzied breathing.
In the underbellies of the MRT stretching along Edsa are many other children and youths whose future ends in a bag stuffed into their face. In Quezon Avenue is a little girl who skips up and down the skywalk, singing “pangitpangitpangit”. I’ve never seen her with her parents or a pair of slippers.
Last year, more than 70,000 took the Upcat. Only about 1/8 passed. Those who didn’t make it still have a choice. Parents of the Upcat takers—as well as those wearing red shirts for the Edsa shrine rally this afternoon, I dare say—know how much it takes to give one’s children a choice.
In deciding whether our children face a lifetime or a wasteland of choices, we must choose.
(firstname.lastname@example.org, mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131)
*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 5, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday