Saturday, June 14, 2008

Finding My Way Again...And Again

(For 100 Kwentong Peyups on the occasion of the University of the Philippines' Centennial Celebration. Submit your own UP story in 1,500 words or less to ;)

Right after taking the U.P. College Admission Test (UPCAT) in 1990, I made a pact with myself: If I were to fail the exam, I would take it as a sign that I was not meant to pursue higher formal education. And that, instead, I was to happily be on my way to learning from the only place that, to me, could rival U.P. on the excitement scale—the “real” (a.k.a. “working”) world.

It may have seemed like a radical decision for a high school student, but for me, it only seemed natural, given the feelings I had nurtured towards U.P. for years.

The university had first taken hold of my imagination early in my adolescent years when I saw old pictures of my mom as a young, pretty U.P. student in the 1960’s. She was in teensy miniskirts that reached up to her butt, a cheeky grin on her face, hamming it up with friends and looking like she was having the time of her life. I became very curious about the school that gave me a completely different picture of my otherwise proper, ladylike, conventional mother—the French-speaking, American Field Scholar student activist who made Molotov bombs and was chased down University Avenue by the Metrocom. Like a person’s first great love, the university seemed to have brought out the bold, fearless, astig aspect of my mom, and I wanted to believe that, as soon as I shed my plaid Catholic high school uniform for the college outfit of my choice, it would coax the same brilliant traits from me.

For this reason, U.P. held an intensely romantic, almost mythical aura for me. I decided it was The One. (And I think this marked my first ever all-or-nothing bet.) I wasn’t going to play safe by applying to other schools. And I certainly wasn’t going to settle.

It was an attitude that allowed me to apply to the university without a sense of desperation or fear of rejection. So even before the letter of acceptance from U.P. arrived in the mail, I had already decided there was no way I could lose. No wonder I entered the university with a kind of swaggering confidence and an abiding belief that nothing in the world could go wrong for me. I felt invincible and this feeling liberated me to do the first few bold, courageous/crazy things I’ve ever done.

I joined the U.P. Mountaineers almost as a test of how far I could handle the notoriously rigorous application process (five-, ten-, fifteen-kilometer runs under time pressure; a battery of written and practical exams; climbs of escalating difficulty). I was inducted that summer at the summit of Mindoro’s Mt. Halcon, otherwise known as the “Macho Mountain”, and felt like I grew balls.

(What I had to do to secure my parents’ blessing for that induction climb was another character-building battle altogether.)

I joined the women’s football team even as I knew nothing about the sport except that the players sometimes got to do a really fun thing like sliding in the mud. I attended my first and only rally ever--in support of a total log ban. I faced down a professor—my first time to stand up to an authority figure who was not one of my parents. I survived a sexual assault by a stranger as I walked from my freshman dorm to the Arts and Sciences building early one morning. Instead of being cowed and avoiding that path after the incident (which, to my mind, would have been a victory for the attacker), I continued to take the same route to class but now holding an uncapped Pilot pen and seriously looking forward to stabbing the next pervert who came near me.

In U.P., I knew exactly who I was. And who I was in that school was someone I really liked and respected.

It seems fitting then that later on, as a wage-earner assailed by self-doubt and annoying existential questions (“Is this what my life is about?” “What do I really, really want?”), I would find reprieve in the place that first showed me my possibilities. When the otherwise manageable undercurrent of indecision, confusion and fear would swell into a great wave, carrying me and then slamming me down on the shores of some desert island, I would be left no other choice but to try to regain my bearings. During these times, I would pick myself up from my island of misery, skip work and make my pilgrimage to U.P., as though to get in touch once again with the bold, uncompromising, spirited girl that I seemed to have left there. And always, during the course of my short visit, the school would remind me of who I am.

It doesn’t matter what I’d do in U.P.; I could be joining the late Sunday afternoon crowd brisk walking, jogging, biking or skateboarding around the Academic Oval; sharing a slice of Devil’s Food Cake with an equally “lost and confused” U.P. alum friend or sibling (three younger sibs were undergrads at UP, one took her Master's) at Chocolate Kiss CafĂ©; catching another wild stage performance by my never-say-die friend and iconic campus figure Romeo Lee; or just planting myself on one of the benches scattered around the campus like the village grouch, scowling at the carefree students who walked by and relishing my cynical old-timer mode as I mutter disdainfully, “Bagets.” The answers may not come to me at that point, but the memories of my four fabulous years in U.P. would crowd around me like old, solid cheerleading friends recalling the moments in my college years where I was most proud of myself. And then the crippling doubts and fears would be replaced by an unshakeable confidence that, as that unofficial U.P. Humanities professor Bob Marley sagely sang, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” Relax lang, the vibe around me seemed to say. Aabot din tayo diyan. You already know you got it in you to make it.

And I would always trust that feeling. The strange, almost drug-induced powerful feeling that never once failed me the past eighteen years since I first felt it.

Everything was gonna be alright.


Kai said...

hey tweet.

loved this entry. i can sooooo relate :)

Tweet Sering said...

thank you ;). of course, you're from UP...;)

Cecille said...

Go La Salle! -- hehe... joke lang...

Tweet Sering said...

Jatis ra...;)