JANUARY 19, 2008. The Mindanao Ballroom of the Sofitel Philippine Plaza served as a time capsule for the nearly 300 Varsitarian alumni who flocked to the hotel in order to relive their days of glory while toasting the past, the present, and the future of the Philippines’ foremost campus paper.
It was the night of Valik-Varsi 2008, the grand alumni homecoming to celebrate the 80th foundation anniversary of the Varsitarian.
The time travel started in the foyer, where an exhibit chronicled the publication’s history, from its humble beginnings to its consolidation, editorial innovations, struggles and triumphs.
Inside the ballroom, huge vases of calla lilies and orchids and constellations of chandeliers welcomed the alumni.
Despite the august and splendid setting, the hall was transformed into a casual set-up as the alumni, even if they were donned in formal wear, let loose their inhibitions and greeted one another rawdily like long-lost friends.
As the clock struck seven, the UST Singers opened the event with the Philippine National Anthem. Then Fr. Albert Alejo S.J., Filipino writer the Varsitarian, 1978-1979, led the doxology and ended it with Meme Na Mindanao, a music video documentary.
Emcees were Josephine “Pennie” Azarcon-dela Cruz, executive editor of the Sunday Inquirer Lifestyle Magazine; Jones Campos, vice-president for public relations of Globe Telecoms; and Peachy Yamsuan, head of the media office of the Archdiocese of Manila.
The internationally acclaimed UST Singers gave an impressive rendition of several songs, one of which, “At the End of the Day,” from the Schoenberg-Boublil musical based on Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” echoed the Varsitarian’s long, uninterrupted history as the country’s most dominant campus paper.
A special highlight was when the Varsitarian honored the memory of the late Felix Bautista, father to three former V editors in chief and the longest-serving V publications director. Accepting the award was his wife, Lourdes Syquia-Bautista, whose short message of thanks drew a standing ovation from those in the hall. (See related article)
Decade-representatives offered testimonials and remiscences.
Representing the 1950’s, Maria Luisa Zumel-Lopez impressed the audience with her sharp memory as she remembered the antics of her batchmates that cut them down to size without her meaning to.
“I learned that more than just catching up with deadlines, I was [already] with the best writers of the day,” she said of her Varsitarian stint.
Rita Gaddi’s account of the 1960’s told of how different UST life was then from now. “Back then, the boys walked separately from the girls,” she said, referring to the separate stairs for boys and girls at that time. “Except when you were writing for the Varsitarian.”
Rina Jimenez-David called the 1970’s as the “decade of frustrations.”
She said the V did much for press freedom by continuing to come out despite the authoritarian rule. She said the Varsitarian endowed her with idealism.
“What I know about journalism today, I learned in the Varsitarian,” she added.
Carmen Dulguime said the 1980’s were a period of “revolution,” especially noting the fondness of the staff for using the letter ‘V’ at the slightest excuse. She said there was a group of mischievous and fun-loving male staffers who called themselves the “Vad Voys.” When the annual sportsfest was instituted and teams were asked to pick a name based on graphic fonts, one team christened itself “Vodoni.”
She said the 1980’s staffers covered the crumbling days of the Marcos administration and the heady days of people power under Corazon Aquino.
“While the other youth enjoyed the ‘pastel colors of the bagets era,’ us in the Varsitarian were in the streets covering the news,” she said.
Then it was time to greet the birthday celebrator herself.
The emcees called to the stage some of the more prominent senior Varsitarian alumni— former senator Francisco Tatad, National Artist for Literature Francisco Sionil Jose, Arts and Letters journalism professor and former New York Times reporter Alice Colet-Villadolid, renowned journalist-editors Neal Cruz and Rosalinda de Leon—to lead the ceremonial slicing of the Varsitarian’s fancy multi-layered cake, adorned on the top with a big pearl, symbolizing the paper’s 80 years.
Seeing the rich mixture of different batches taking part in the ceremony, Yamsuan said, “The cake symbolizes our being a family, our sharing, our sticking up together for better or for worse—mainly for the better.”
As the emcees cued for the lights to fade out, the alumni were treated to a special documentary of the Varsitarian’s 80 years.
“It was called the newspaper of destiny—but when the Varsitarian was founded in 1928, it seemed like it was just destined to fail,” the documentary opened, as it detailed the struggles of the V across eight decades.
Edited by Treb Montreras, a former V art editor and now an award-winning music video director, the documentary was another trip back in time that depicted “the struggle and the glory” of the paper.
The documentary ended triumphantly: “The Varsitarian will continue to set the agenda not only for UST but for the entire country.” It was given a standing ovation by the packed hall.
Later, the alumni pledged their allegiance to the Varsitarian and to UST, as they heartily and proudly sang the UST Hymn.
But the night didn’t end there. Like eager young people, the alumni took photos of one another. And even as the night waned, the younger alumni took to the dance floor and danced till kingdom come.
Everyone, old and young, savored the dreamlike, romantic evening.
“The Varsitarian,” Tempo columnist Bella Angeles-Abangan said, “is a dream transformed into reality.”