PARDON if this sounds like an advisory, a dressing-down, even iconoclastic or technical.  I would like to offer a toast to collegiate students and teachers of our dear alma mater to get up with beams of light from the Aquinas sun with renewed passion and vigor.  

Of all the saints, St. Thomas Aquinas is the most holy among the intelligent and the most intelligent among the holy according to our parish priest in Sto. Tomas, Batangas.

Let me ground you first with these originations, if you please.

First. With the delights of the Japanese dazzling sanitation, modern technology, and strong sense of discipline on a recent tour, my friend and a fellow Thomasian Marlon Antolin, a resident-architect of an international fast food chain, said the Philippines is hopeless in terms of the first and the last qualities mentioned. But wait, he hinted the advantages of the Filipinos to progress: intelligence, moral education and proficiency in English.

Second. During the 2008 Binibining Pilipinas pageant, the only contestant who made the grade in the final question-and-answer portion is Bb. Pilipinas-Universe Jennifer Barrientos, a graduate of the UST Institute of Tourism.

Armed with confidence and right English grammar, Ms. Barrientos reply, “In  a tight situation, she always does her best and stays calm…In troubled times, she turns to her family who knows her best than her friends do…  and coming from a Christian family, she values her relationship with God” won the day for her and for UST.

Later when asked by the 1967 Bb. Pilipinas-Universe Pilar Pilapil, “As a Binibini, how are you going to pursue your purpose?” she answered, “With my title, I believe I will be an effective instrument for evangelization. I plan to spread the word of God.”

Third.  On the 2nd CineVita film festival sponsored by the 81-year old Varsitarian, the keynote speaker Philippine Daily Inquirer top-columnist Nestor Torre said that he accepted the invites of the Cinevita because this is UST. That he noted how the participants were mesmerized by the brilliance of a neophyte whose entry brought tears to all of them in a scriptwriting contest he had underwritten not long ago.  That the magnificent work Magnifico by the Thomasian he’s referring to — Michico Yamamoto, later won eight awards in several international film circuits and that her current work Foster Parent is also honored locally and internationally.

An Atenean himself, Mr. Torre believes many Michicos abound in UST. With that, my 14 college students from a state university who were in the audience, admired in awe of Mr. Torre’s humility and Ms. Yamamoto’s exceptional artistry.

To add, my speech class also learned from our past visit at the UP Mass Communication department that Thomasians have invaed the Diliman territory, figuratively, that is. The Director of the UP Department of Languages Ramon Magsaysay awardee  and National artist Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, Palanca awardees UP Vice President Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo and topnotch poet Emmanuel Carmelo “Vim” Nadera amd a host of other resident writers and professors of UP are products of UST.  There are several Thomasians too in international schools.

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Fourth. Forgive this little conceit. When I taught at the US Navy-Central Texas College for seven years, my former American bosses John D. Springer and Von. R. Christiansen spoke of their high regard for the Thomasians’ excellent performance on the job. Aside from being better English speakers and writers, Thomasians can easily and readily adapt to both work and workers, they stated. Added to that, many foreigners know that four Philippine universities (UP, Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle and UST) are selected among the 500 best universities on Earth by international accreditations.

Fifth. This one is very common but not a pleasant sight in the campuses today. Many times during the celebration of the mass at the UST playground, I have seen students unmindful of its grace. Time and again, many of them are also gross and rowdy in some formal trainings and programs.  

 Sixth. Let’s see any number of youths at leisure today. When I chance upon their idle talks, my mouth would drop open when they freely discuss premarital sex, abortion and live-in arrangements aside from working the phones and endless conversations. I was mortified as they put up with those wrong-headed etiquette standards and lose their sense of right and wrong in the process. This prompted me to speak through my pen and lecture a little.

As a teacher, I always see that good conduct, discipline, respect, and love of God are a classroom agenda aside from the training to speak and write in correct English. On faith, many students think that every teacher must excel in teaching while the community expects teachers to do miracles and model students to be good, disciplined, civil and slick in character, and best of all, well-trained in their careers.

With such high expectations for teachers, I feel sorry that teachers are still enthralled with the idea of explanation for its own sake; that they are quite plugged in with lectures and parroted instructions instead of beefing up on-the-job trainings; and that English teachers failed to produce better English writers and speakers.

I dare say, why can’t teachers simply provide the tune and let the students do the singing? Isn’t it much better if students put learning into practice? I believe that giving away things is liberating.  The more you give, the more you feel better, so instead of being steeped in their subject matter, college and university professors should have a big picture of all the resources available on campus and how they can benefit students. Try it. Nothing is too much trouble and rewards will soon follow.

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In the main, when teaching is just a safe exercise to transmit learning to students, it would likely produce graduates who are ill-equipped either in their fields of studies or in spoken and written English. Giving it all the considerations it’s due, I would recoil at the sight when any Thomasian graduates fail to defend an opinion in English unlike what Jennifer Bariientos did in a national contest, pass any job-search interview and get a better-paying job, or enter the Diliman or international preserve.

 Why do Filipinos look down and snicker on Filipinos whose English isn’t good? Not really. In fact, the Philippines has been noted as the fourth largest speaking nation in the world and I guess, I’ll be darned to say it is just a dubious claim numerically. And what will the world-over expect right after knowing that any Filipino students have 8-10 years training in English to earn a college degree? You bet your life, I’ll cringe at the awkwardness of college graduates who grouch not learning the English language in spite of having information overload within a luxury of time.

True enough, they have only themselves to blame because they are the ones insensitive. There they are – wallowing idly and whiling away time. They are finding themselves in thick conversations — gripe sessions, gossips and love affairs. They are allowing unhurried time for — wondering, pondering, doodling and daydreaming and yes, they do not work the expected independent college research. I would suggest it’s time for them to switch their conversations channel and weed out low priority tasks. 

It is just like reminding them that it is wrong to eat with more salt because it is “a sin” against health, that is. That everything now is sagging or deteriorating – ethics, values, education or even prices of commodities especially rice. According to Ron Hall, even banana is sagging (yes, even the price of banana cue is high enough these days). Seriously…That staying away from laziness, lust and disobedience will keep the youth from the moral-slip ups of today’s generation. That being better students and persons put them on strong footing. That with a rich store of knowledge and good moral values, they’ve got sound bases for choosing a better goal and building a happier life in the future. Incompetence does not what Thomasian student make.  Cheers to the studious and jeers to the oblivious!

In large measure, I have proven that it is the youth’s inability to determine what is right and wrong which causes the decline of their values and ethics. College students are greatly mixed-up to think that they are old enough to be guided. Perhaps, they haven’t coded and stored to memory Article XV Sec. 8(4) of the Constitution that states “It is any institution’s obligation to inculcate love of country, teach the duties of citizenship and develop moral character, personal discipline and scientific, technological efficiency.” It is so telling here that the institutions are the teachers themselves and the obligations are theirs to spell out to the students. 

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On our own, we must cope the best we can to learn the UST mission which “affirms and avows its commitment to the cause of Truth, ad to impart and promote within its community knowledge of the arts and sciences, both sacred and civil, for the purpose of contributing its share in the formation of progressive and humane society and a responsible citizenry dedicated to the service of God, the country and the whole world.” We should bring civility back and the casual sllickness of the Thomasian character in us.

We should move further along to carry on with UST’s tradition of excellence that history speaks highly of.  In the first place, we choose to study, work, or teach at UST.  We should work hard and spell the difference being true-blooded Thomasians.  Aren’t we proud that UST at 400 is still atop and continues to serve and educate the best of us? 

On the whole, we, students and teachers must all at once listen to the most righteous and most intelligent educator – St. Thomas Aquinas – and follow his prescriptions for sound living. We have to know who we are, where we are, where we are going, and if we will ever get there.

Let the Aquinas sun dawn on us in our every day quest for proper education. Let us give a little downtime for ourselves but more to the greater service of God and for our fellowmen in need. Most of all, let us be thankful for the greatest contribution of St. Thomas Aquinas to the world: he has proven through his scholarly writings the existence of God.

Let us be united to serve as true Thomasians.

*The author is a Speech & Debate, Literature and Technical Writing professor and the Chair of the Faculty Development Program and the Students Disciplinary Board at PUP Sto. Tomas and La Consolacion College in Batangas. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas and Central Texas College USA . He has contributed to the Inquirer Libre,TEMPO, Liwayway  and other magazines and national dailies.

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