The University Graduation, and my first TV appearance in which I was given a different name



It's 3:25 pm, and I'm almost late for my graduation. I rush past sweating bodies clad in white (or shades thereof), past fiery eruptions of last-minute camera flashes, and past pointed ends of colorful umbrellas raised against the sun.





I make it just in time.

I see familiar faces, my classmates of four years, friends since 2004, and teachers whose company I've enjoyed. I wonder, "Will I be seeing them again after this?"



Next thing I know: I march forward, donning that piece of cloth called the sablay that only students who've suffered long and hard are fit to hold. I find my seat.



Under the assaulting afternoon sun, the program begins.



An orchestra plays in the background. Top University honchos walk to the stage. The flags are hoisted.



Someone speaks in perfect Filipino. Virgilio Almario, National Artist, is telling us to serve the nation. A moving speech. I agree with him on a lot of points.



Those graduating with honors are called one by one. We have to wait for hours for our turn to get our medals. The summa cum laudes, 18 of them, get the loudest cheers. That makes our batch the one to beat.

On my seat, my friends and I are having fun, savoring these last moments. Agz tells me she has yet to pack for her Boracay trip tomorrow. Coy fiddles with her iPod. Wegs takes nice pictures around. Melay entertains a long phone call. Joe cracks jokes about her chimerism (ask her for details—ang nerd talaga). I'm in the magna side of the crowd. I wonder if others do the same things.



While these are all happening, I ask myself why people make such a big deal of graduations. Parents would probably want to see their kids take that coveted diploma, a validation of years of hardwork in keeping them in school—which, by the way, is no joke. Maybe it's an apt conclusion to college life, ushering the new graduates to the life ahead. Maybe it's a good time to take great photos. Investing in memories, Wegs used to say.

Whatever the reasons may be, I wish two contrasting things: that we'd get this over with—the ceremonies, I mean—because it is so hot and my classmates' faces are melting, and that this will continue on for a long time.

The sun is setting when the dean from Science speed reads our names. One by one, we march forward. A former teacher recognizes me, says congratulations, and hands me my medal. I bow. That's pretty much it.





Finally, President Roman calls us to stand and declares us graduates. I get a spine-tingling sensation. Am I really hearing this?

Jeeben, an acquaintance who's graduating summa from Math, now speaks about the girl he likes. I muffle a scream because I know who he's talking about. His points are valid, his speech is witty, and I enjoy listening.



The ceremony ends with the singing of UP Naming Mahal. I wonder if many of us know it by heart, because, after all these years, I still have a hard time memorizing the second stanza. In the middle of this solemnity, militants rally out front—a familiar sight in UP graduations. I kind of expected it already.



We continue the revelry. I meet up with close friends, take our last grad pictures together, and wish each other well. I also wonder where my other friends are.

Suddenly: someone points a microphone at me. GMA-7 is interviewing me, asking me what I think about the rally. I say what I think, but I wonder if I'll ever make it past the video editing.



In fact, I do:



I'm a UP graduate now. It's something I don't particularly glory in because, as I look back at all these years–the exams I took, the experiments I did, the topics I reported on—I can clearly see the hand of the Lord at work. I couldn't have made it without Him.



. . . .

Visit my Multiply for more photos!

Timeline of the UP College of Science 2009 graduation—and what happened afterwards

5:30 am. I wake up and pray.

5:45 am. Shower-time.

6:00 am. Tatay says, "At least eat something." I swallow an ensaymada, to the point of choking.

6:30 am. I say, "We have to leave by seven. You don't want to come running there late."

6:45 am. Nanay says, "Don't forget to gargle with the mouthwash after brushing your teeth."

7:00 am. At the University Theater, we arrive—just in time.

8:00 am. The processional march. "I can't believe this is happening." People say I look good in my barong. Just the right size, I say, extra-small, the last of its kind when I bought it.

8:15 am. Dean Saloma says exactly the same message written on the programme.

8:30 am. Dr. Michael Tan, anthropologist and Inquirer columnist, delivers the keynote address: Science, Faith, and Religion. I like his voice, but I disagree with him on a lot of points. I'm still a fan, though.

9:00 am. Presentation of the candidates for graduation. If only they allowed the parents of students without honors to come to the stage, too, the ceremony would've been more memorable.

10:00 am. Realization: the College of Science graduation is the most boring I've ever been to. The crowd seems dead, despite the casual interruptions of soft applauses. Nothing like CAL or MassCom.

11:00 am. A 76-year-old man speaks in behalf of those with graduate degrees. He has nothing else to do, so he pursued a masters degree in math. Academic addiction, he calls it.

11:15 am. Scott Ong, the class valedictorian, challenges us to be different to make a difference.

12 noon. Lunch date with family.

3:00 pm. Just got news: the camera SD card got reformatted. All pictures taken that morning are officially nonexistent. I get depressed for a while but recover soon after praying. Be thankful for the things that matter, says my brother.

6:30 pm. Dinner with family and close friends. The meal is delicious. Filipino food taken to the next level, Kuya John calls it. Tatay's prayer is sobering: this celebration is a reminder of God's goodness to our lives.

7:00 pm. Cheers and laughter.

9:00 pm. We leave the resto and head to the nearest videoke place.

11:00 pm. I begin writing this entry. Thank you, Lord. May Your name be praised.

22 on 22

I'm twenty-two, and people around me, including myself, still think I don't quite look the part.

This birthday's special—not in the sense that all birthdays are—but because, well, I'm turning 22 on the 22nd of April. Let me quote Jaylord's text to me: "Happy 22nd birthday on the 22nd minute of the 22nd day of April." That doesn't happen every day.

Twenty-two is neither old nor young. It is mature—rather, maturing. These years of life are crucial in forming the man I would become. Every time, I must evaluate myself if I'm pursuing the things that Christ pursues, if I remember God in all the things I do (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

It fills me with a sense of wonder at the examples of godly men in the Bible, especially of Paul, with his declaration that all things are rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). He invested his life for godly pursuits, suffered and was shamed for it, but he emerged joyful and victorious for the Lord. How I wish I could say the same things for myself!

I'd like to thank friends who greeted me by way of calls, texts, emails, and personal messages. Your messages really warmed my heart, and I thank the Lord for you!

For those who have clearly forgotten, I can't blame you: I'm probably worse at remembering birthdays. And I'm not mad, not at all—but you had better get ready to treat me when I see you.

Oh, I'm thinking of making weekly diptychs to commemorate my 22nd year on earth. I hope I have enough resources to pull that off.

Hypocrisy

I’m an avid follower of Austin Kleon’s newspaper blackout poems. I was amazed the first time I read them. I thought the idea was brilliant—extracting words in a news article, and forming what could otherwise be described as poetry.

Because April is the newspaper blackout poetry month, I tried making some poems myself. It’s hard at first, but pretty much like anything else, it takes practice.

This is how I did it:

  • Get a newspaper
  • Box the words
  • Shade the rest of the words (I use Pilot Broad Super Color Marker)
  • Scan the newspaper cutout
  • Edit in Photoshop: increase contrast to +45 and decrease brightness to –12.
Here, I used a news article from the Philippine Collegian, the official student publication in UP.

Hypocrisy

Try it out if you have nothing else to do.

The trees

I'll miss this place

I was in UP this morning to do stuff that soon-to-be graduates do: pay for the transcript of records, apply for clearance, and meet up with old friends.

Until now it has never dawned on me that I'll be leaving this place soon. Which is not to say that I won't ever come back. I think a part of me will always miss Diliman.

I'm taking up medicine this coming June at PGH, which means I'll have to contend with the infamous Manila pollution, the kind that sticks to your skin, only to be removed by a nightly cold shower. As I walked around the oval, all by myself, I realized how the wonderful the trees looked: ancient yet towering, you won't miss them.

If only UP Manila looked a lot like Diliman, I wouldn't feel so nostalgic. And so concerned for my pulmonary health.

Neil Gaiman's American God's: mythical creatures, yay!

Tropical autumn—or an approximation of it

I didn't understand my friends' fascination towards Neil Gaiman until I read American Gods.

The novel combines the essential elements of fact and fiction, reality and mythology, modernity and antiquity.

Here, Gaiman masterfully plays with words, creating a story that is both easy and difficult to grasp. Easy because good storytellers get their stories across. Difficult because the nature of the story is complex and exhilarating.

I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I could have because of my limited knowledge about Norse mythology. But while that may be helpful—the background, I mean—it is not a prerequisite in appreciating the story.

Neil Gaiman sounds like a common man telling a story to his friends, keeping his descriptions simple yet poignant. What has probably made Gaiman a hit is that he is able to combine—or intersperse—magic with typical fictional reality.

I also like how he includes otherwise miscellaneous details—like a man opening his fly and peeing on a tree trunk. They add a new dimension to the novel, creating a deep impression about a character, and helping the reader actually see what's happening.

I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to reading more of him.

Taken: Day Two and Three

Again, here's a barrage of photos.

Manong Ralph and Koji during the group dynamics. Group leaders weren't supposed to give verbal instructions during the drill, so their mouths were taped.
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We were all asked to remove our footwear for the activity.
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The drill was simple, really: all of us in the group (we were about 20, give or take) were to step on a blanket. We had to turn the blanket upside down while being on the blanket. We weren't allowed to step on the floor; otherwise, we'd have to repeat the process all over again.
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Kuya Lito exhorted us to examine ourselves whether we have indeed been taken by the Lord Jesus Christ, a wonderful way to end the retreat.

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From ESNA Building (where the ministry center is), we Amazing Raced to a house in Scout Gandia. The trek left us all breathless, but there was always the option of jumping into the pool at the end of the journey. I'm afraid I don't have photos for this, but I'll be posting a link as soon as somebody posts them in the web.

UPDATE (April 17): More photos here and here. (HT: Koji and Kuya Moncie)

Taken: Day One

The gospel was presented through a skit—the one we practiced the other day—that was meant to illustrate that the fleeting pleasures of this life are nothing compared to the surpassing joy of knowing Christ.

The message was further reinforced by a talk by Adam Hussey, a 24-year-old short term missionary to the Philippines. He zeroed in on Philippians 3.

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There were small group discussions in between, and a Q-and-A with Adam. Kuya Lito did a great job asking the right questions, ensuring the smooth transition from topic to topic. Praise the Lord, Kuya!

The Biblical exhortations before the singing ministered to us greatly.

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This one's a random shot of Kito's badge whose message is a constant reminder to make Christ our all.

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Taken

Taken. The word could mean a lot of things, really:

  • “to be kidnapped” or “to be under an authority that is not your own”
  • “to be so enamored by the characteristics of one person.”
That’s the theme of this year’s youth retreat in Higher Rock, derived from Philippians 3: 7-9.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Here Paul tells the believers that, despite his strict adherence to the Jewish law and tradition, his impeccable background and bloodline, he finds them all rubbish—the original Greek word here meaning “dung”—compared to the surpassing knowledge of knowing Christ.

Christians have been taken by Jesus Christ. They were ransomed from eternal punishment and brought into His marvelous light. They live, not according to the flesh, but under the His rule. They are astounded, amazed, and drawn to His glory, so much so that they strive to do all to honor and praise Him.

Have you been taken?

* * *

I had the privilege of performing in a Gospel skit, along with Koji, Joan, and Hya. My brother and Frances helped in the script, and Janna did the directing. Here are some photos during practice.

I like how the light appears in this photo.

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Jason and Koji.
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Janna, finishing her sketches of our blocking.
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Hya, digging deep into the character she'd be playing.
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* * *

There was an evangelistic concert by the newly-formed church choir that night. Entitled "He Loves Us So," this was to be their debut performance. What a blessing it has been.

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Pastor Bob gave his closing remarks for the night. Oh, that the people who attended came to know the Lord in a personal way.
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Overall, it was an eventful day.

I plan to cover the on-going youth retreat we have. Yesterday was Day One, but I'll be posting updates very soon.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner: "For you, a thousand times over"

I had a hard time reading Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. For a first novel, Hosseini wrote something so extraordinarily personal, masterfully illustrating humanity—its yearnings and joys.

The story is told by Amir, once a young boy from a rich district in Kabul and the son of a famous, powerful man. He had a best friend, Hassan, whose character is a stark contrast to his: the son of a Hazara servant, born with a facial defect, and poor.

Kite flying was the sport they were actively involved in. Everyone in the community eagerly waited for that one day during winter time when kids would fly their kites. The person with the last kite still standing at the end of the day would win and would be treated with respect and awe.

Hassan was Amir's faithful assistant. Just about the time when Amir trampled the last kite remaining other than his own (because to be the last kite standing, one had to put all the other kites down), Hassan exalted in their victory, which was his as much as it was Amir's.

The title is derived from one particular scene in which Hassan ran to retrieve Amir's kite after it had fallen. Whoever caught the winner's kite would be a great honor in itself, too.

But, despite Hassan's loyalty (which extended far deeply than the singular kite episode), the twelve-year old Amir betrayed him—indirectly, but betrayal nonetheless. This is the turning point upon which the entire story revolves. It was an unthinkable act that Amir would regret for the rest of his life.

Years later, Amir, having moved to the United States because of the political turmoil in native Afghanistan, would get a call from an old friend, telling him, "There's a way to be good again." The Kite Runner, then, is a story of how man journeys to redeem himself from the bad things he once did.

To illustrate loyal and selfless friendship, Hosseni writes about betrayal and selfishness. To tell something about courage, he paints a portrait of cowardice. The use of contrasts in the entire book drives home his point, deepening the characters in the novel.

Although the book ends with a note of hope, it is not hopeful. After all, man can only do so much to redeem himself. One cannot cleanse the conscience by covering the bad deeds with a thousand good ones. It doesn't work that way. Apart from God, our attempts at saving ourselves are as futile as chasing after the wind.

A countdown of lasts



I was on my way to the exam room when I found myself humming Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Emotions surged within me as I pondered on the song's lyrics, especially this line:

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Just when was it when I first walked into my first class in UP? And here I was, I thought, armed with my notes I hardly read the night before, about to take my last exam in undergrad.

The past few days have been trying. The physical, mental, and emotional assaults of thesis work have taken their toll on me. Sleepless, tired, and drained, I had no idea when all of these would end—or if they ever would.

Thankfully . . . they are. This morning I submitted my bound manuscript. After it was signed for approval, I pored over it time and again, savoring the fruits of hard labor.

I loitered in the lobby, waiting for familiar faces to come up, and as I felt my tummy cry out in hunger, I walked out of Albert Hall with the overwhelming feeling that cannot be summed up in words.

I'm finally graduating.