BARRING hyperbole, it was easily the grandest and most anticipated event in Philippine campus journalism. It couldn’t have been otherwise since many formidable names in media and other influential sectors gathered to toast the place and paper where it all started – The Varsitarian, the country’s oldest and most respected Catholic campus paper. The event, Valik-Varsi of the Diamond alumni Homecoming. The reason: Varsitarian’s 75th founding anniversary.

The whole Benavides Plaza going to the Arch of the Centuries (Plaza Intramuros of the University) was transformed into a magnificent sight last December 14 eve. Thousands of Christmas lights fill the trees and the lane. Huge stained-glass diamonds framed the stage as the impressive grandeur of the Main Building loomed in the background. Everything was going as planned: tables were set, the food was ready, gifts were waiting and of course, the “diamond batch” of the Varsitarian were all eager to celebrate the momentous event. The Benavides lane was lit with candles on both sides with the huge “V” ice sculpture completing the festive mood of the night.

But as the clock struck 6, rain started trickling down. The unexpected drizzle forced the event to go indoors – to right where it all started, the UST Main Building. While adjustments were being made, the incumbent editor in chief was quick to call for a cocktail session as amihans coming by batches started flocking to the canopy of the Main building. Philippine Daily Inquirer and former Varsitarian editor in chief Rina Jimenez-David was quoted saying, “We are meant to celebrate it here in the Main building where it all started.”

The spirit of friendship and camaraderie that had kept the Varsitarian family for decades filled the walls of the historic lobby as hundreds of alumni excitedly renewed friendship and memories. Although the program started two hours late, the enthusiasm and excitement of the crowd never abated.

Emceeing the program were Wendell Capili, former Witness writer of the Varsitarian and now associate dean of the UP College of Arts and Letters; Ramon “Bong” Osorio, president of Campaigns Advocacy and PR, Inc. and a professor at the Faculty of Arts and Letters; Peachy Yamsuan, managing editor of Family Today magazine and head of the media office of the Archdiocese of Manila; and Pennie Azarcon-dela Cruz, former editor in chief and now managing editor of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. The multi-awarded Salinggawi Dance Troupe opened the occasion with an upbeat dance number that delighted the guests.

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The opening message of the V’s present editor in chief, Marlon Castor, roused the already elated crowd:

“It is an honor, not only for me, but also for the current staff of the Varsitarian, that we have been placed in such a distinguished position to welcome you back where it all started, to the place where dreams were built and launched. This place is the Varsitarian.”

The highlight of the affair was an emotional tribute to Apolonio de Jesus, the oldest living Varsitarian alumnus. De Jesus, assistant business manager of the V’s pioneer batch of 1928, is also the father of Faculty of Arts and Letters Dean Armando de Jesus. In his speech, the 97-year-old amihan asked the younger generations not to forget the contributions of the alumni to the paper.

“I am proud to be a Thomasian, but I am more proud to be a Varsitarian staffer,” De Jesus declared, eliciting a standing ovation.

After the awarding, the guests recited the Varsitarian pledge. During dinner, the guests were entertained by an audio-visual presentation featuring the accomplishments of the Varsitarian and its famous alumni.

Innovations

Proving itself as a trendsetter among campus papers in the country, the V kicked off its diamond anniversary with its first ever Jose Villa Panganiban- Varsitarian Professorial Chair Lecture on Journalism last Nov. 21 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex auditorium. The lecture, given in honor of the founder and father of the V, was delivered by Fr. Rolando dela Rosa O.P. UST rector from 1991 to 1998 and the paper’s Witness editor in the 1970’s.

In his lecture, Fr. dela Rosa stressed the importance of having a tradition of excellence in campus journalism, as exemplified by the Varsitarian through the years. He also tackled the issue regarding the perceptions of critics that campus journalism is obsolete and irrelevant due to the fast-paced innovation in technology.

Legacy

The paper has indeed grown from its humble beginnings in 1928 into one of the country’s pillars of campus journalism; consistently hailed as the best student publication in the country by various award-giving bodies since the ‘50s, the Varsitarian continues to pursue excellence. Aside from an outstanding roster of alumni, it has also undertaken a number of pioneering projects both local and nationwide.

The paper has produced the leading names in journalism and titans of Philippine literature. Its alumni who have earned prestigious niches in the media include Jose Burgos, Jullie Yap-Daza, Francisco Tatad, Teodoro Valencia, Felix Bautista, Jose Bautista, Antonio Siddayao, Jess Sison, Antonio Lopez, Rina Jimenez-David, Neal H. Cruz, Fred Marquez, Mario Hernando, Alfredo Saulo, Alice Colet-Villadolid, and Eugenio Duran-Apostol

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The paper has also produced National Artists such as F. Sionil Jose (Literature), Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana (Theater), and J. Elizalde Navarro (Visual Arts). Other writing alumni include Ramon Magsaysay laureate Bienvenido Lumbera, Paz Latorena, Wilfrido Nolledo, Celso Carunungan, Federico Licsi Espino, Rogelio Sicat, Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, Renato Madrid, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Norma Miraflor and Eric Gamalinda. Alumni who have distinguished themselves in the public and ecclesiastical services are the late Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson, former Vice-president Emmanuel Pelaez, the late Sorsogon governor Juan Frivaldo, former Senator Francisco Tatad, the late Manila Archbishop Artemio Casas, former UST Rectors Fr. Norberto Castillo, OP and Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, OP, and former Aquinas University rector Fr. Virgilio Ojoy, O.P.

The Varsitarian has taken on a number of extra-editorial campus activities. Its major projects include the Annual UST National Journalism Fellowship, which started in 1999; Gawad Ustetika, the most prestigious university-based literary competition in the country, which started in 1984; and Pautakan, the longest running inter-collegiate quiz competition in the country.

At the turn of the century, the Varsitarian envisioned a more solid presence in the Thomasian community. These are manifested through the newly-established Jose Villa Panganiban–Varsitarian Professorial Chair for Journalism and the planned establishment of the Varsitarian Foundation. The paper has also kept pace with technology. Aside from state-of-the-art facilities which are continuously being upgraded and enhanced, the Varsitarian also hosts its own website, (www.varsitarian.com) the most consistent and extensive online campus paper in the country that reaches thousands of Thomasians across the globe. It has also started to microfilm all its issues since 1928 in order to preserve the legacy of the paper for the succeeding generations.

V in microfilm

Since each and every issue of the Varsitarian is a time capsule in itself – containing vital pieces of history both local and national – past copies of the Varsitarian must be chronicled.

Unfortunately, paper is frayed over time, and databases can be destroyed by computer viruses, making the task of treasuring every issue difficult. This is where microfilming comes in. Through this method, all of the Varsitarian’s precious accounts are archived free from any damage.

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During the Valik-Varsi celebration, publications adviser Lito Zulueta called on all the alumni to support this V’s endeavour that wouldl benefit all future generations of the Thomasian community. The amihans responded generously through donations.

All previous issues of the Varsitarian since 1928 are already being microfilmed. The complete set of microfilmed issues will be finished next month and will be donated to the UST Central Library. Though microfilming is somehow expensive, the Varsitarian has embarked on the project if only to conserve for the next generation. The saga of UST and the Varsitarian.

“At this point, we have been receiving a number of requests to photocopy previous issues… makikita mo ‘yung relevance ng Varsi,” Marlon Castor said.

75 years: a turning point

After 75 years of campus publication, ceasing only during the Second World War, the Varsitarian has evolved into an institution arguably the country’s most prestigious campus paper.

The diamond year of the Varsitarian marks the paper’s re-invention. In this age of modern and easily accessible information, getting the students to read their school publication makes newspaper-making a tougher job. However, with the right combination of strategy, creativity, and excellence, the Varsitarian can make it happen.

The staff of the 75th year of the V made a lot of firsts. Aside from finally activating the professorial chair, which was established in 1999, the Varsitarian also ventured into publishing.

Last October 25, the Varsitarian launched its first two books entitled Heaven’s Kitchen and The Varsitarian Campus Press Stylebook. The firsst collected in one volume inspirationial column from the Witness section. Stylebook, on the other hand, is the first and only book on campus journalism in the country by a campus publication. It provides guidelines and rules for proper styles, usage and grammar of a typical campus publication.

No war or dictatorship was able to stop the Varsitarian from pursuing its mission to be the voice of the students and to strengthen the ties that bind Asia’s oldest university. The vision of the pioneer batch in 1928 can now be clearly seen 75 years after.

Today, as the Varsitarian celebrates its 75th year, it reaffirms its vow to serve as a paper of, by and for Thomasians. As editor Castor puts it, “As long as the students believe (in the paper) and as long as they want to be heard, there will always be the Varsitarian.”

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