My university stages a special academic convocation before St. Ignatius Day. It was seen by myself and by many others, back, as a mentor of mine would say, when I was young and full of hope, as a necessary break, albeit a short one, on one day of the school year. For the Ateneo de Manila University, this event is of such importance as it highlights, in a significant way, what the University values. It is a pity that few undergraduate students attend, like myself in a former life.
This year, I decided to attend it. The convocation was held on a somewhat rainy/sunny/overcast afternoon in the Henry Lee Irwin Theater, and one whole block of seats were filled by people in academic dress. While I made a mental note to make sure that, if I have a hood made, it should be a real hood, not a cape, I was astonished by what some of the awardees achieved. The Ateneo de Manila website will, in the coming days, tell us more about who were honored, but I can cite a few examples.
One awardee was a doctor who declined offers to work in the US to serve rural communities in the Cordilleras, a place which in coming years will become closer to me than I once thought. Another was a principal who turned his elementary school around, from being a decrepit cellar dweller to a high achieving school with decent classrooms (thanks of course to the city government). Of course, I was entertained by the Philippine Educational Theater Association, who received this year’s Tanglaw ng Lahi Award, and who accepted it by presenting a scene from their next child-oriented play.
One alumnus I know wonders why students were not being made to attend this. Well, I would understand why people would not want to go—it really is a short and necessary break. But there is something profoundly formative about these rituals, and subversive too. It teaches us that, at heart, the University still tries to teach that there is something beyond what the supposedly “secularized” world can offer. More precisely, that something intrudes into the world, appropriates it, and transforms it. The world can sometimes try, with some success, to appropriate what that something is, but it will ultimately fail.
I have been reading a book about Ignatian humanism, by a lay professor at St. Louis University, Ronald Modras. What he has to say is interesting and useful, for one who takes the Ignatian tradition for granted. What I have said above, in my last paragraph, echoes a particular sentence in a foundational Ignatian document, the Spiritual Exercises. I might as well tell you that you can find two versions of the First Prinicple and Foundation, from which the sentence is taken, here and here. Both are contemporary inclusive language versions, with the latter being a little more loose with the original in its wording.