ONLY the finest wine is worthy of praise as it grows delectable with age – and this is how the students of the Univers ity of Santo Tomas revere their beloved school in the book Alma Mater, a compilation of poems collected and edited by Fr. Fidel Villaroel, O.P., UST’s assistant Archivist.

Alma Mater is one of the books released to commemorate the University’s quadricentennial year, with its goal of producing 400 books by 2011.

The poems are in Spanish, Filipino and English, a testament to the participation of the University in Philippine history.

The post-revolutionary period ushered in an emergence of Filipino poets using the Spanish language as the Third Centennial of the University closed in. As Villaroel phrased it, the poems of these era were “very Castillian, yet with a Filipino rhythm; so Oriental yet so classically Spanish and so exotic, yet so familiar.”

One of the Spanish poems included in the collection is “A la Joven Tomasina” (The Young Tomasina) by Jesus Maria Araneta is an ode to Thomasian women, declaring her “fascination with her innocence and beauty”. Nevertheless, she is still aware of her imperfections as “There is no rose without thorns” – a possible embodiment of the University itself.

The spread of English as a national language during the early 1900s came a tide of change. This prompted the poets to romanticize their experience in the University by mastering the language brought by American colonization. As Varsitarian publications adviser Joselito Zulueta writes in the prologue, most of the poems echo admiration on UST’s efforts in espousing Christian humanism to Philippine civilization.

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Great minds, visionary pens

Opening the English poems is “Just One Word” written by Angelita Fuentecilla as a dedication to her fellow 1925 Faculty of Pharmacy graduates. Following a regular rhyming meter, Fuentecilla expresses her ardor for the toils her batch mates have gone through, addressing them through metaphorical depictions of herself and paying homage in their own ways to the grandeur of the graduates’ victory.

Published in “The Thomasian,” Vicente P. Gallardo veers from the academic side of the University in his poem “In the Hospital”. Crafting an ironic picture of two opposite hospital beds, Gallardo undermines the complexity and difference between life and death.

“UST Campus: 7:00 PM” by Danny Y. Calsa describes the youth’s cynical perception of time despite the chaos and stress brought by “an obscure world/ pregnant of skyscraping, imparting looks/ bountiful of tomorrow’s to be’s.” “To the Varsitarian” by Raymundo P. Mariano is a fitting tribute to the University’s 80-year-old school publication. “In thy pages clear and boldly/ Right the wrong we witness coldly” truly encompasses the Varsitarian’s contribution to the field of campus journalism throughout its existence.

The Tagalog poems expressed the same mixed sentiments of woe and joy during graduation as the English poems have, as exemplified by “Sa Aming Paglisan” by Benigno Religiosos, Sr. Like all other fresh graduates, the author fears for the future and bemoans the parting with his long-time friends, but the education bestowed on him by the University stands as his guiding light towards victory. “Si Rizal sa Santo Tomas” by Jose Villa Panganiban, founder of The Varsitarian, addresses the national hero and UST’s most famous alumni, assuring him that his legacy will be passed on by future generations.

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Sa tuwing Pasko

The book closes with a compilation of literary prose written by Jullie Yap-Daza in The Varsitarian, all of which describes the passage of seasons in the eyes of different Thomasians.

Alma Mater may not be enough to express the sentiments of a thousand students who have graced its campus, but for those who have sealed their loyalty through the power of ink, the flame of pride cannot be easily extinguished. This will be true as UST trudges on, its walls unshaken by the ebb and flow of time – inciting the students to sing of its glory in the future.

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