IT WAS not only a night of looking back and cherishing fond memories shared with colleagues and friends, but a homecoming in the truest sense of the word.

More than 200 of the Varsitarian’s former staff members—who all witnessed and chronicled the many twists, turns, and happenings that the University has gone through for the past century—gathered under canopies and starry skies at the Plaza Mayor for the Quadricentennial Valik Varsi last December 11, and finally returned to their alma mater’s embrace to celebrate as her much-anticipated 400th anniversary approaches.

The night filled with laughter and chatter saw the meeting of friends and colleagues who hadn’t seen each other for a long time. It was, as one ‘V’ alumnus put it, an evening when “the stars have descended”.

Prominent Varsitarian alumni such as National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera and pioneer women journalists Doris Trinidad-Gamalinda, Alice Colet-Villadolid, and Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy were also present.

The affair was hosted by poet and TV personality Lourd de Veyra and Manila Bulletin sports columnist Kristina Maralit, former ‘V’ Literary writer and Sports writer, respectively. The homecoming was dubbed a “special edition”—in line with the festivities for UST’s Quadricentennial. Unlike the other reunions which were held every five years, this was organized only two years after the publication’s 80th anniversary in 2008.

“Aside from the Varsitarian’s tendency to celebrate at the slightest excuse, it is only proper for the paper’s staff and alumni to give credit where credit is due,” said publications adviser Joselito Zulueta. “After all, we would not be one, big, happy ‘V’ family if not for the fact that we belong to the one, big, happy universe that is our beloved University of Santo Tomas.”

Give and take

As the hands on the clock atop the Main Building moved, recollections about the second family that is the Varsitarian poured forth, sending nostalgia up in the air.

Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Neal Cruz, who held the Literary editorship in the 1950s, thanked the Varsitarian for letting him flourish as a writer while giving him compensation, which helped him sail through his schooling.

“Without [the scholarship and stipend], I doubt if I could have finished college, so I’m very grateful to the ‘V’,” the Inquirer columnist said.

Representing the 70s, Sunday Inquirer Magazine executive editor Pennie Azarcon-Dela Cruz shared that one of her batchmates joined the ‘V’ because “there was an allowance and a scholarship that went with one byline and name in the staff box.”

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“[At that time], it ranged from five to 50 pesos per issue, for reporters and editors, respectively. It was a small fortune, but could buy lots of Tropical Hut hamburgers at four pesos each,” she said.

‘A certain oneness’

But the 1975 associate editor noted how the ‘V’ provided staff members with more than an allowance that came with every issue they managed to publish. She said that the publication was where they found their lifetime careers and where they were transformed from wide-eyed innocents to sensible, watchful citizens that saw the end of “the era of turbulence and torment”.

“While Martial Law restrictions and the [University] administration prevented us from out and out militancy, we found that it was still possible to push the envelope and to couch articles in seemingly innocuous turns but still brought home the message,” she shared.

Dela Cruz added that the ‘V’ was the place that showed them how deep, lasting friendships could develop while competing for excellence.

“We stayed and stayed because we found friends and lovers and established enduring relationships amid the clutter of typewriters,” she said. “Everyone felt a certain oneness—a bond with one another that fell short of an actual fraternity minus the training, the Greek letters, and initiation rites.”

Poet Vim Nadera proudly declared “Ang fraternity ko, Varsi,” and talked about the 80s—the decade that saw the peaceful revolution that toppled down a dictatorship. That was also the batch that coined the term “amihan”, referring to ‘V’ alumni.

The former editor in chief recalled that, during his time, there was the dark room, the antics that spelled a challenge to prove oneself, and the staff’s fondness for words that begin with the letter V.

Giving his recollection of the “golden years” that was the 1990s, cardiologist and UST Rehabilitation Sciences instructor Don Robespierre Reyes shared the staff’s experience during the 1995 World Youth Day, which was held in the University. Then Varsitarian editor in chief Karina Torralba, now a successful rheumatologist, was asked to deliver the address to the Pope on behalf of the Filipino youth at the UST Grandstand. But due to Torralba’s generosity, the speech was not her stand alone.

“She tried to solicit the comments and opinions of all the ‘V’,” the former editor in chief said. “What she said before the Pope and the whole wide world was the stand of the ‘V’ staff.”

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But the staff’s oneness did not stand without conflicts that saw temporary breakage of friendships, Reyes added. The doctor noted that it wasn’t because staff members hated each other, but because they chose to stand with their beliefs.

“As time passes, we become better persons and then we regain the friendship that we once lost,” he said. “It’s all because of the Varsitarian.”

Legacy and tribute

For Cruz and former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad, the ‘V’ and UST are responsible for producing journalists who continually live by values that shield them from the “evils” in the field.

“I’ve come to believe that there is something in the air we breathe here that makes UST journalists more resistant to the evil outside,” said Tatad, a two-time Literary editor of the 1960s.

Cruz acknowledged the publication’s contributions in rearing Thomasian journalists who dominate the media.

Tatad also said that he felt so proud after seeing copies of the Varsitarian, which has stayed “better written and better edited, and therefore more readable than other pretentious papers in the market.”

“I guess one can only hope that our young journalists on campus will retain their integrity and their spirit once they step out of the campus and join the crowd outside, where it is quite unpredictable,” he said.

National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose addressed the younger generation of the ‘V’ family and reminded them of the legacy that they carry as part of the University and its official student publication.

“The country’s best writers were reared in this University,” he said. “That means you have a legacy which proves that we Filipinos are a very talented and heroic people.”

The former Varsitarian editor in chief, who represented the staff of the 1940s, also challenged them by saying that he expects them to go beyond what the seniors have done while carrying the canons of virtue and excellence.

“In trying to outdo us, you must remember that this University has created a community of people who, in spite of a very limited number, have contributed so much to the formation of this nation and this nation’s cultural heritage and consciousness,” he said. “Don’t forget that your loyalty is not only to this University but also to the community that is much much larger than what this University offers us.”

Then and now

One of the highlights of the evening was the balagtasan staged by former ‘V’ staff members Nadera and Michael Coroza together with renowned Filipino poet Teo Antonio. The three poets tackled the differences of the old and the new University through rhymes, teasing, and adlibs.

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Antonio, a product of the former College of Architecture and Fine Arts (now split into Fine Arts and Design and Architecture), stood by the old UST, stating the glory which he said the present University is slowly losing.

He scrutinized the University’s educational system and used the requirement for academic titles in his argument.

But Coroza, who sided with the new UST, countered that degrees are but formalities that do not exactly define a Thomasian teacher’s ability to impart knowledge to the new breed.

“Mga guro dito’y pawang masisipag na magturo, sa buhay man o akademiya’y nasanay sa pagkukuro. Paramihan ba ng MA o Ph.D. ang batayan?” he argued, saying that there are MA and Ph.D. holders who are not good educators.

Then, mentioning the names of successful UST alumni, such as former presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Manuel Quezon and former senator Claro M. Recto, Antonio said that the old UST left a lasting mark on the country that the present generation would not be able to surpass.

“Kaya ngayo’y laging windang ang patakbo ng gobyerno, sapagkat ang mga lider ay hindi na Tomasino,” he added.

He pushed through with his argument by reciting the long list of Thomasian alumni—including National Artists and former Varsitarian staff members Sionil-Jose, Bienvenido Lumbera, and J. Elizalde Navarro—who have contributed so much to the nation’s culture, literature, and arts.

Coroza was quick to answer with names of the current generation’s artists and writers like Nadera, De Veyra, and poet-prodigy Angelo Suarez, who are making their own marks in the nation’s culture.

“Alam naming [mga] Tomasino ang kasaysayang sa balikat nami’y isang hamong nakaatang,” he added. “Sa paratang mo, katalo, lubos akong tumututol. Ang UST ay palaging mangunguna sa pagsulong!”

To greet the “birthday celebrant”, the publication’s alumni and current staff members all rose to sing “Happy Birthday” with the accompaniment of the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO), and everyone blew the candles on individual cupcakes specially-made for the occasion.

The Varsitarian’s celebration for the University’s Quadricentennial ended with a 400-second fireworks display that burst as MSO played “Ode to Joy”. The event was also graced by inspirational singer and UST alumna Jamie Rivera.


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