UP: A love letter

All I know of “UP Naming Mahal” is the first line. But for a few famous alumni, I couldn’t tell you which historic persons or celebrities went to the University of the Philippines, in what year, or what course they took. I have dismal knowledge of who served as university president or chancellor, who ran for University Student Council, who headed which department. All I can tell you is that, for me, UP is home.

My favorite street in all of UP, particularly the stretch in front of the College of Engineering

I suppose most people find themselves in college, figure out things about themselves or the world, meet friends for life. Some people might meet the love of their life, others might find their passion. Some might lose themselves, others might find purpose.

For me, UP was vindication and freedom.

I had barely graduated from high school, finishing in the bottom twenty in a class of over 350 girls. When I discovered that I had passed the entrance exam for UP, I was stunned, ecstatic, overjoyed. I’d suffered so much doubt about intelligence and academic performance. Getting accepted to UP reminded me that I had, well, something. Getting accepted to UP meant freedom from the strict Catholicism and the suffocating alienation I had endured in the girls’ school my parents chose for me. I felt that, in UP, everyone else would be as lost and confused as I was, and we would all be figuring things out and trying not to die.

It wouldn’t be UP if there weren’t some sort of protest somewhere.

It’s hard to sum up the things I loved about UP, but one of the most important is that I met people from all walks of life. Many of the people I met were living in Metro Manila and away from their families for the first time. They lived in dormitories on campus, or in boarding houses nearby. Many of them had come from public schools, and had been in the top of their class, won this or that award, and so on. Many were scholars. Many were shy about speaking Tagalog heavily accented with the intonations of the language they were more familiar with, some even preferring to speak in English because they felt it was less embarrassing. I met people who had come from private Catholic schools, people who had never had classmates of the opposite gender before, people who had been rather sheltered and were not familiar with life outside Metro Manila. I met other kids who had grown up in other countries, like me.

I loved meeting different people. Julie from engineering was my classmate in Comm II, and the semester after that, we both had morning classes in AS and PE at the gym immediately after. I would run from my morning class on the second (or was it the third?) floor, and wait for her to emerge from her class on the ground floor, and with her other two classmates, we would take her car to the gym, a few buildings away.

I can’t be sure if I’m remembering this right, but I think I met Liwa while waiting for the Ikot jeep. It had started raining, and I didn’t have an umbrella. She was beside me, and she opened her umbrella and pulled me under its protective cover.

I remember this guy from my Comm II class. I had a crush on him because, to me, he looked like Robert Sean Leonard, and he was quiet and shy.

There were lovely people in my freshman block. In that first semester, I always hung out with Grace and Melissa, and I remember the guy who tried hitting on us, one after the other. Another semester, I called Melissa every morning to wake her up, so she would make it in time for class.

In my freshman block I met the women whom I still dearly love: Loit, Liz, Len, Janet, Faye. At the start of every new semester, we would all copy each other’s schedules, so that if anybody needed anything, we knew where to find each other. One semester, we always bought lunch from the ladies who sold food from carts, and ate in the lobby of Kamia, where Janet was staying.

I remember having lunch at Philcoa once with some of our other blockmates, I forget whom, but I know Aurelio and Jana were there, possibly Hanah and Cuppkeyk too. We got on a jeep, and we all agreed that we wouldn’t pay the fare (Sorry manong driver! We were young and stupid!). Jana was so afraid of getting caught that she ended up paying for all of us.

I remember friends I made from other colleges.

Rodic’s! It lives!

Of course UP is more than just a collection of people from all walks of life. I remember all the curious, strange, wonderful teachers I met, and the unusual things I learned: Prof. Aureus, Marco Lagman, Ruth Pison, Caroline Hau, Joey Valenciano.

At the end of my first semester, my mother asked me what I had learned. I told her, learning doesn’t just happen within the four walls of the classroom, but out in Sunken Garden, on an Ikot jeep, while walking in the Shopping Center or while hanging out in your friend’s dorm. And I learned that you can’t trust that other people will get things done; the first person you should rely on is yourself.

That second one turned out to be a lifesaver, because as I went from class to class I saw that, well, some teachers don’t really care if you pass or fail. Some teachers are more concerned with making you see hard truths, about yourself, the country, the world. Some teachers are more concerned with showing you how wrong and ignorant you are. And still some teachers are genuinely interested in what you have to say, and others really want you to better yourself somehow.

UP was where I learned that it’s not enough to be smart. I mean, sure, we were all smart. But I learned that there were so many different ways to be smart, and there were so many different kinds of smart. I knew I could write, but I was kind of terrible if I had to write in Filipino. I was pretty awful at group work. I was surprised to find I was pretty good in some of my PE classes: swimming, basketball for women, weight training for women, and foreign folk dance.

UP was where I saw talent I’d never imagined, in poetry and song and dance and art, and where I learned that these were not meant for beauty and love and all that, but also to express anger, hatred, sorrow. UP was where I learned about the many different ways the world, people, history, society, can be cruel and unjust, the many different ways we oppress and objectify and silence, the many different ways we can honor and celebrate and remember.

UP was where I had my heart broken anew each day: Amor selling hair clips and scrunchies, and then Amor getting pregnant; the manong and his wife, who sold chicken balls at Faculty Center; the brother of a high school classmate who was killed in a fraternity hazing gone wrong; Waya singing at the UP Quill tambayan as Aldus accompanied her on the guitar; the beautiful girl I loved from a distance, whom I only saw at theater shows and always thought of as a nymph come to visit the mortals.

I think we all fell in love, in one way or another, in UP. For some, we fell in love with people, found our first kiss, felt a stirring in our loins. Others fell in love with ideas and ideals, while others still might have fallen in love with books and histories and causes. Perhaps some fell in love with a dream of what and where they hoped to be.

Beauty and rage and passion and protest

Every time I go to UP, all these memories come rushing back. Sometimes I turn a corner, walk down a street, and tears come. I remember things an ex-boyfriend said. I remember crises and catastrophes that seemed world-ending at the time. I remember friends and stories and moments.

I don’t want to tell my son to go to UP, and even if he does, I don’t expect he would have similar experiences. But I do hope he finds a place and a time and such a beautiful bunch of people to teach and enlighten him, to make him ache and cry, as UP did me.

UP, mahal.

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