It was hardly the experience one easily forgets. A little over 700 students of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters graced the stage in a quadricentennial commencement exercise that was both heart-pumping and, after about the 300th student, droll and wearisome. I crassly twisted and twirled on my seat in a grand display of homo sapien impatience no amount of Valium could cure. It was nevertheless worth it.
Che and I waited and waited until it was Rachel’s time to walk up the stage, glancing every so often on the programme for people we may know. I recall my heart skipping a few beats as she walked toward the Vice Rector, and in the middle of all that pomp and ceremony, a moving picture-perfect reel of my daughter’s life as a student—from kindergarten to this graduation day—flashed in my head like a video rerun.
It reminded me of many happy moments and trying times, like that rainy night in August when Rachel had to wade across the flooded streets of España in a sort of coming-of-age rite than merely the avoidance of leptospirosis. Ah, there was also the day when she burst into her grandmother’s door with news that she made it into the Dean’s List.
What kept me and Che from skipping a beat as regards her tuition requirements was the selling of some stuff in the house with a bit of value, like three of artist Baldemor’s paintings, another huge painting, an antique mahogany writing table where I wrote some of my earlier stories, some jewelry and fine watches, an old laptop and electric typewriter, and painfully, several sets of favorite books.
The evening she came home in a cursing fit, with eyes all bulgy and red from weeping, stomping her feet as only a 20-year-old girl could do with little concern for either neighbors or the aging floor, I knew right then that the reason could not have been anything but a boy. I could only weep inside and watch her storm into her room with smoke trailing behind her (she smokes Marlboro Menthol Black).
But there was none so comically disquieting than the thought I am old.
I never gave my mother Sonia that distinct and much-coveted pleasure of seeing me graduate. Long had it been her dream to see me in a rented toga, all proud and gleaming under a ray of academic achievement. As an only child, what else could I offer in return for my parents’ generosity?
But no. I had to bungle it all up by being the perennial two-year-old in UST—hot-headed and without a darn care in the world. I was on my way to becoming a doctor of medicine then, perhaps with a future filled with either an unremitting provincial practice or, if luck would have it, a career in cardiovascular medicine, which will earn me in a month more than what I could probably spend in a year.
I barely made it into junior year in UST’s Faculty of Science (BS Psychology). By the end of that academic term, I received a note from the UST faculty that I should not be readmitted for what could only be described as behavioural anomalies. There were only five things I loved doing then: picking fights with frat men and takatak boys, attend my Neuroanatomy class drunk to my pores, and read Rilke, Garcia Marquez and de Balzac before attending anti-Marcos rallies at Recto.
Writing was of all things the most exhilarating. I spent hours along that curt pathway by the UST football field writing my poor excuses for verse in an attempt to beat Rainer Maria Rilke to the poetic punch. It was still “legal” to smoke then on campus, or smuggle a chilled can of San Miguel or Budweiser, hence the enjoyment of poetry and prose sans any administrative impediments.
That’s why seeing my daughter Rachel walk as a quadricentennial graduate of UST is nothing I deserve or will ever deserve. She’s a young generous soul with an equally generous view of life, and the last thing she would ever do is to give her father—the perennial two-year-old—the heartache of dreams left to rot. It is only now that I wish I had given the same to my mother, but it’s too late. I owe it all to my daughter Rachel who, at last, gave her grandmother the joy I could not give even if I tried.
And for that, anak, maraming salamat.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.