By Marela Mijares-Flick SPCM HS'78
The author is an editor for the Orange County Register, a daily newspaper in Southern California. She moderates the SPCM HS'78 e-group and is actively involved in the Paulinian Global Foundation's Vigil House project. An edited version of this article was published in the Jan 2003 PAAM Newsletter celebrating this year's school homecoming.
Lights, camera... 2003 jubilarians including SPCM HS'78 ladies get ready for a grand group photo. For recaps of the 26 Jan 2003 grand alumnae homecoming, check out Sandra Suarez-Reyes' report. More photos: '78 Jubilarian party / program at the Fleur-de-lis.
Before they were business executives, doctors, teachers, lawyers, writers and politicians, they were high school girls in black-and-white checkered uniforms, peering out from behind the black, wrought-iron gates of a convent school tucked in an area of Manila that was not quite esteemed for its godly values. Not within sight, but less than a mile away, were the sleazy bars and adult moviehouses of Malate in the '70s. But whatever took place in the shadowy world beyond the school walls was of little or no consequence because that's where it stayed. Outside.
I spent all of my student life at St. Paul College of Manila, which, like a fortress, succeeded in shielding its occupants from lessons that didn't have to be learned. There was plenty to fill our time within the microcosm that was school. There were equations to be solved, themes to be written, art projects to be completed, cheers to be memorized, secrets to be shared, prayers to be said, frogs to be dissected and chickens to be beheaded, plucked and cooked.
And in between copying each other's study notes, discussing weekend plans, and finalizing backroom deals and project-swaps ("Okay, I'll write your book report if you finish sewing my blouse, and don't forget those darts Miss Carpio likes!), we had to contend with the less-than-sugary aspects of girlhood for the better part of our day ... the petty fights, the whispering, the snubs, the snippy comments about someone's shoes, and, worst of all, the copious tears over a cleverly crafted rumor that grew legs and sprang across the halls faster than fishballs can puff up and float in vat of boiling grease.
We all were either victims or perpetrators. There were no in-betweens. If one didn't stand up for some hapless classmate, one was guilty of silent complicity. Fr. James Reuter, bless his heart, must have patiently sat through thousands of teary confessions at the SPCM chapel throughout his decades-long tenure as pastor of a sometimes unruly flock.
At the sound of the morning-recess bell, the classroom doors were flung open, and not unlike caged birds, the girls appeared to fly out in all directions. Some headed toward the open area for volleyball. Others went off to one side, armed with hairbrushes, clips and combs, to experiment with each other's hair. Many just wanted to chat while strolling leisurely around the campus grounds.
I just always headed for the food vendors, and it was up to my friends to keep up with me when I was hungry. "Wait, wait! Ano ba!" Ita, Ana and Gia were always right behind me. Ita could run like a professional sprinter. She and I would chase each other around the bird cage for fun, and I would scream because she could be right behind me in five seconds. Ana walked at her usual brisk pace, not the least perturbed by the prospect of being left behind. She just shrugged and figured we'd all end up in the same place. I would eventually stop and wait because Gia would put her hands on her hips and glare.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear a gaggle of schoolgirls. Sometimes giggling. Sometimes singing. Not quite out of childhood, we would sit in little circles of three or four that line the corridors, playing Chinese Jacks with little pillows filled with mung beans.
Exhibition No. 1. See? It's all in the wrist.
Exhibition No. 2. Okay, I cheated a little, but nobody noticed.
Exhibition No. 3. Now, we're really getting serious. Check out my killer moves.
Exhibition No. 4. The Piano. Nobody talk. This is the Olympics of ... of ... oh crap, I messed up. That's okay, I'll beat them at the garter game at lunch break. Unless, of course, that pesky Carmina Ramos from batch '79 shows up. She could, bar none, out-jump, out-tumble and, generally, just out-garter anyone in school. All without breaking a sweat. Bruha.
Moonyeen Sabido, Daisy Laurente, and Vicky Venzuela cheering for the '78 intrams team.
As we got older, we slowly came to realize that there were more important goings-on outside of school. The '70s was a decade of heightened political turmoil in the Philippines, and young as we were, we had a vague sort of understanding that people were being rounded up and killed for their beliefs.
But before we could stare too long at the reality beyond our world, we were whisked away to contemplate more suitable concerns. And there were so many of them. Beyond school work and daily homework, there were after-school club meetings and activities, sports fests, song fests and the school paper. There were our friends and parties, our books and magazines, our Denman brushes and Happy Feet clogs, and our latest obsessions and annoyances.
'78 in '74 -- that's freshman volleybelle Sandra Suarez second from left.
In the midst of this endless flurry of distractions was a body of simple truths and uncompromising values that we, even as young girls, were made to understand. Academics were of utmost importance, but we were brought up to love God, and to live as honestly and honorably as possible.
Long before professional achievements, or the quiet fulfillment of simple lives led in dignity as mothers, wives, daughters, and women of strength and fortitude, there was both praise and admonition from strict but caring nuns and teachers. The lessons never seemed relevant, until years later.
For the longest time, every cheesecake I baked always cracked at the top, and I wanted desperately for Miss Aguila to tell me what I was doing wrong. I cried when I saw "Shindler's List," as the cruelties of the Nazi regime that Miss Paloma shared with us many years ago almost came to life on screen. After I read Ann Coulter's new book, "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right," I thought about Miss Galang's always-engaging dissertations on literature and politics. She was always decisive, without being militant. And how can anyone watch a musical without remembering our beloved Fr. Reuter?
L: SPCM HS Glee Club '78. R: Marla Cuevas and Marela Mijares. Aside from being a gifted literary writer, Marel is also a talented music composer -- her composition won in the Second Metro Pop Music Festival!
A few of our teachers have passed away, but their teachings live on. And, I have no doubt that each of them thought about us long after we graduated, and wondered where life has taken us.
Have we taught them well? Are they living the values they learned at school? Will they make us proud?
The legacy of the Class of '78 lies in our caring spirit. This is repeatedly made evident, especially in difficult moments, when many of us pull together in prayer and love for each other. We did it for classmates who were ill. For those who have lost loved ones. And recently, for those whose children were hurt or sick.
Our Little Sisters, the great batch of SPCM HS'78 -- Silver Jubilarians of 2003!
1st Row: Cynthia Correa, Ana Vistan, Cecile Correa, Evelyn Boringot, Jennifer Lee, Mrs. Pat Fortes, Cecile Fernandez, Cherry Agoncillo, Nina Gomez, Angel Mendoza, Ani Ignacio. 2nd row: Teresa Blanco, Marivic Besa (partly hidden),Clara Tankeh, Chippy Aguilar, Marites Marco, Leah Generoso, Lugie Lipumano, Anabel Cabrera, Yuyay Lantin, Lala Villanueva, Malet dela Riva. 3rd row: Jackie Ick, Michelle So, Marisa Silva, Connie Balita, Marites Cueto, Cecile Caeg, Zeny Patag, Sandy Ocampo, Pat Ante, Belay Acayan, Nancy Avendaño, Marikit Mariano. 4th row: Marizel Arambulo, Joji Santos, Sandra Suarez, Angie dela Cruz, Malene Cruz, Daisy Laurente, Menju Lazaro, Aning Menendez. Last row: Nani Sehwani, Noela Daleon and Ita Herranz. Nani and Ita hosted the 2003 Homecoming Program at the Fleur-de-lis.
For as Paulinians, we all share a lifetime bond. This bond of sisterhood that pulled us through painful episodes of our shared childhood is the same one that will carry us through the challenges we may face in the future. No matter what our calling or stature in life, we have chosen to live triumphantly. And for that, we should all be proud.
SPCM HS'78 Silver Jubilee Party!
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