(Speech delivered by Dr. Herman M. Lagon, ADI-SMCS High School Associate Principal, during the Teachers’ Day Celebration—Araw ng Parangal before his fellow administrators, faculty and staff, October 2 at Smallville 21, Iloilo City.)
Before I start, let me humbly ask you all one simple question that perhaps you have been asked before: Why are you still in Ateneo?
The question may be mundane to some yet it resonates the very essence why I have at least 15 different kinds of Get-Blued Ateneo shirts in my closet right now.
Yesterday I wore my newest Ateneo shirt that says “Simple is better—Pope Francis” during the Teachers Appreciation Day. That afternoon, the same tee became witness to one of the most fun-filled activities in my 15 years of stay here in school—the Laser Tag.
All of us, save two, were totally new to the game. We were grouped into 8 with 5 in each team. The objective is simple. Using a laser gun, shoot your opponents and avoid being shot at. Once you enter the fog-covered pitch black, acre-wide, maze-filled firing range, the sci-fi battle begins. What happened in the next 20 minutes of the Star Trek-like combat was ballistic. It was perfectly riotous. It was as if we were in the virtual world of Battlestrike, only that the combat simulation is highly realistic and physically-interactive. Each group, with members wearing helmet and body armor, had its own battle plan trying to get the best stronghold. Screams were heard here and there. There was swift crisscrossing of snipers and troopers from one camp to another. Infrared-emitting laser light rained everywhere, you wouldn’t even know who and what hit you. The automated gadget we wore chirped “never give up” when we got hit. Occasionally, it told us “good job” if we hit someone.
The Laser Tag battle apparently reflects my own Ateneo story.
15 years ago, when I was about 25 years old, I decided to do a paradigm shift—from journalist to physicist; from civil to social engineer, from sosyalistang aktibista to Atenistang aktibista. Just imagine the contrast: me in a barong and clean-cut hair now, to me 15 years back in a sando-short attire and sporting a long blond pigtail facing the legendary-visionary Fr. Manny Uy, then the school president, in my first-and-only formal job interview. It was just like entering the Laser Tag battle, knowing not what will happen next and having no clear idea about the gizmos and the battlefield that lie ahead.
What came after the interview was pure and simple Laser Tag saga. I had to learn the rudiments of teaching from ground zero. I was at my worst in my first year, like almost all of us here experienced. My lesson plans, modules, and assessment tools were also riddled with bullets of red marks. My post-observations were sniped with corrections from teaching strategies down to my getup. Even my idiosyncrasies that occasionally bordered on impertinence were hit—sometimes if not often—up to the point of earning me disciplinary endorsements.
It was never easy. I had to change my teaching perspective. One quip of Ma’am Au that I can still remember was: “Sir H, your students are not engineering majors nor military cadets!” Go figure the way I taught physics to my students then—“grueling,” “demanding,” and “petrifying” were never even close to it.
I had to understand a lot of things, including the meaning of being an Ignatian formator. I had to understand why we needed to time in and out, why we needed to wear barong and IDs in school, why we needed to pray and reflect in class, why we must slow down and wait for students to catch up with the lesson, why we needed to attend mass and pray the rosary, why we needed to collaborate with parents especially when their kids fail, why must we journey with students in “Road Trips” and club projects, why must we reach out and do outreach to others, why must we shift from teacher-centered to student-centered classroom activities, why must we go beyond academic grades and invest more in values formation, why must science complement with faith, why must we incessantly find God in all things.
I had to know who this bald and limping soldier was, who the “controversial” Jesuits were, what self-awareness, daily examen, non multa sed multum, Ignatian spirituality, “person for others,” AMDG, and Magis meant.
I needed to understand why I must keep a work-life balance, why I must attend retreats and prayer sessions, why I must animate the prayer for generosity, why I must support the Blue Spoon program, why I must take social justice and care to the environment personally, why I must take lesson planning and test-making seriously, why I must consistently follow procedures, why I have to be regularly observed in class, and why is Sir Primo not yet married [joke inserted].
Suffice to say, like playing the Laser Tag, my 15 years was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful battlefield, a combination of “you hits” and “hit yous.” It was never a perfect battle. But it was a battle of perfect imperfection. While being beautifully shot at, I learned how to handle the teaching gun well. Such sense of empowerment has elicited from me this great desire to form young people to be heroic Ignatian leaders again and again and again.
Two nights ago, our principal Ma’am Sarry, our school president Fr. Jhaw, and I had a chance to talk to a good number of alumni in different batches in a pre-Institutional Planning focus group discussion (FGD). After three hours of no-holds-barred conversation, we asked them the ultimate question: “Did Ateneo really form you and your batch mates to become Ignatian leaders in your own fields?” Lo and behold. Without hesitation, they all answered a resounding “Yes, of course!” Some even added “absolutely,” “it was just natural for us to lead, excel, and serve” and “the school has formed us very well.”
With that, let us all give ourselves a round of applause.
All these triumphs plus the memos and performance appraisals I received, the backbreaking responsibilities I embraced, the hundreds of brilliant students I mentored, and the scores of self-sacrificing teachers I collaborated with, have strengthened my resolve to answer my calling in Ateneo—in omnibus amare et servire Domino (to love and serve the Lord in all things).
The good intentioned guidance from my mentors—Ma’am Au (my second tough-loving mom), Ma’am Bing (my former subject area coordinator), Sir Primo (my best friend, at least as far as I’m concerned [joke inserted]), Ma’am Sarry (my sounding board and admin partner), Fr. Manny (my guru and second dad), Fr. Jhaw (my present gung-ho boss), and all the other Jesuit brothers—and my equally quirky, gifted, committed, outstanding, and upstanding Jesuit collaborators (dearest faculty and staff) from the past (this includes my batch mates like Fr. Christian Emmanuel “Ian” Gabinete, now parish priest at the Diocese of Paranaque, Ma’am Clotilde Galia, now senior public school teacher in Jaro National High School, and Engr. Ray Cajara, now financial analyst in Asian Development Bank) up to the present, have placed me in high spirits for 15 heartwarming years.
One of the strangest things that happened in the Laser Tag battle in Funatix-Plazuela yesterday was that everyone was just pumped up and excited to share crazy experiences after the pandemonic encounter. While sharing popcorn, we laughed at our mistakes. Young and old, we exchanged score sheets but went beyond the numbers. We compared strategies and hits with boisterous laughter. We even tapped each other shoulders, especially those whose scores were lowest. We nitpicked about our miscues, back pains and bruises, and yet we wanted to play another one more round, which the group did three times more (thanks to the High School Student Council who organized it). I felt not just Magis hovering around that small holding room that we were stationed, but that sense of community, that sense of awe and wonder, that sense of transcendence. I felt God telling me “worry not”—you are in the right place, you are in the right company, you are in the right cause, you are in the right path—daang matuwid [joke inserted].
Still wearing my “Simple is better” Ateneo shirt, I was asked by my retired-college-teacher Mom last night the same question she has bugged me with almost every semester.
Why are you still in Ateneo?
I thought it was a trick question or just a rhetorical one. And so, as an Atenean formator, I had to discern the question first, consider her context, and take time to chew on that big question.
Thinking about it while eating my KBL dinner and with the Laser Tag experience still fresh in my mind, I replied to my mom:
“Why am I still in Ateneo?
In Ateneo, my daughers, Psyche and Parvane, were formed very well.
In this same Jesuit institution, I have found my extended family—the Ateneo community, I have found my inner core—my God, I have found my passion—teaching, and I have found my mission—forming leaders who pursue excellence ignited by love and service.
And, so far, it all makes perfect sense.”
Thank you Ateneo./Magis