When calendar shifts in Philippine universities and colleges was not yet a hype, Kuya and I would go home for sembreak on the same month. We are the culprits behind Ma and Pa’s weight gain in a span of two to three weeks; he would be the one cooking various viands, and I would bake cookies and cupcakes for dessert. Lots of hearty conversations and corny jokes have already been shared together with the food on the table, but choking on a piece of pork from the spareribs Kuya cooked for lunch upon hearing his decision is one of the memories that resonates.
I was sharing some college tales to my Mom that time when my brother disrupted our chikka moment. “After I graduate, I would not step foot on our high school and my college alma mater for a long, long time,” he swore.
He shook his head, which made the details of his face blurry for me, but I could still see the depth of his eyebags and numerous pimples—the so-called “proof” of college stress and hard work—so I did not ask what made him land on that decision. Because I get it.
In my every “what if” question, I always put in mind what one of my most favorite professors in Silliman said: “Sometimes, the more important question is not ‘Why?’, but ‘Why not’?” While packing for my first Hibalag visit as an alumni, I hate how I understand my brother’s sentiment back then, and how it still makes sense up to now. Because this means I could see myself planning to not visit Dumaguete, especially the beloved campus it contains, too. And it is unpopular for a Sillimanian to think this way. Falling in love with the university town is not a hard thing to do; its gentle charms would make one believe that Siquijor’s potions are not as powerful as its beauty that steals souls like mine. And honestly, where do I start in describing the campus by the sea that molds students holistically, making it worthy enough to return to?
National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose said in one of his columns for Philippine Star that the achievements of the past can either push forward or paralyze a person. Now working in a city known for its Filipino-Spanish heritage sites and dried mangoes and taking my masters in literature in a university built on a mountain (literally!), past-related memories and doubts do stagnate me sometimes, just like pausing in between folding clothes and placing these in a backpack.
Meant my stay, really lived the Sillimanian life, that kind of claim…yeah. I might not have fully made a mark in the campus, but I can truly say that “I was here.”Hence, I think that the alumni can feel the same pressure to give justice to whatever lessons, kindness, and love they picked up from great professors, classmates, and others I encountered in the four-year stay that are both the healthy and damaging kind. Maybe there is this fear of realizing that whatever these lessons are, these are difficult to apply in the real world. The self-doubt starts when you think you are not doing enough or not as free to be passionate like before. Because one can be idealistic and still stay alive in Silliman (not really, but at least one can say ‘somehow’).
Also, as a fresh graduate, the now 115-year-old university seems like the only place of happy. Probably that’s why one afternoon, I asked my MA classmate what are the kind of trees I can see in Taas Café, where we usually eat early dinner before literary theory class. And when she said “acacia,” it surprised me that I, someone who has been surrounded by more than three hundred of those, am still incapable of determining one upon its sight.
I left the city a day after graduation thinking I won’t be as happy as my college days, only to find out after a few months in another city that I could be happy. A strong shade acacia-like kind of happy? No. Highly different mountain-like of happy? Yes, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m loving this current happiness.It is a funny kind of owning the ‘now’, of shame and irony.
After three years, I finally asked my brother “Why not?” He replied thru a text message, saying that he would only go to his alma mater once he made a name for himself. Ah, well. I know an established name is not a requirement to visit the campus. What the Silliman spirit acknowledges are the continuous hardworking attitude in the office, outputs that are far from half-baked, any forms of genuine kindness and love we try to let other people encounter–anything that upholds excellence and integrity, which should always be in the present tense. Case closed; I finished packing.
To both alumni and future alumni, watch Liberal Arts. ~
*Andrea D. Lim is a mass communication graduate at Silliman University. She’s currently taking her masters in literature at University of San Carlos, Cebu City.