Saturday, July 01, 2017


THE CALL time to assemble prior to marching was ignored by Batch 2017. That could be predicted.

What could not be foretold were the thoughts that wandered as I dutifully stood at the imaginary head of the imaginary queue, followed by the first student to lead (still imaginary), in alphabetical order, the graduating class of “iskolar ng bayan”.

What awaits these young people beyond the march that was about to start (imaginary again), after the moment the university would pronounce them as graduates and alumni?

The question darted and ducked as I gave up all appearances of duty to pose for photos with these gilded young people, familiar enough as my students these past years, but strange and daunting, too, with a way of gazing back and talking about the future that their former selves could never pull off in the nail-biting days before the official list of graduates was released.

Then I spotted on the ground, beside someone’s fallen hankie, yellow-green blossoms that resemble, had these still been aloft our heads, clusters of sea stars drifting in an unseen current.

Unlike the iconic sunflowers that have been biologically engineered to bloom in time for graduation at the Diliman campus, the ilang-ilang tree in the Lahug campus goes generally ignored.

Some of us remember that the tree was already there when we were undergraduates. We ignored it, too, preferring the nearby “tambis” tree, prolific and easy enough to climb for its juicy fruits in summer.

Then a former janitor made a morning rite of picking the fallen ilang-ilang and placing a blossom on each desk in the faculty room. A male colleague joked that it was so “awkward” to receive flowers from another man.

I remember giving him the look. “Then can I have yours,” I said and scooped the brown gnarled litter from his desk to mine. It was unnecessary as the perfume of one ilang-ilang blossom can permeate a whole room, let alone a tiny brain.

Even now, when it is increasingly a challenge to stoop for the blossoms the wind has shaken free from the branches, I gather ilang-ilang to take back to my desk, press between pages, or bring to meetings.

Unlike flamboyant orchids, the ilang-ilang blossom is found more often on the ground, never as corsages. Its journey from air to ground is short and fraught.

When still green, the blossoms blend with the carabao grass carpeting the ground. Trodden, ran over, crushed, perhaps merely being severed from the tree starts the quick descent from yellow to brown, the inevitable decay.

Seneca wrote, “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars”. As the ilang-ilang tree drizzled earthbound stars over yet another batch of graduates, I thought the reverse is also true.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 2, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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