Looking Back

Rizal in Ateneo in Rizal

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I remember that when I was a boy I saw Rizal’s rosary displayed in a glass case in the Ateneo. Donated to the university by Maria Rizal’s grandson, the late Fr. Jose Cruz who served as Ateneo president during the Martial Law years, it made an impression on me. I wonder if my choice of Rizal as a career developed from seeing that historical relic.

That rosary is on display again in the Ateneo de Manila University Rizal Library together with other relics, like the alcohol stove where he hid “Ultimo Adios,” the wicker table he used in Fort Santiago, Josephine Bracken’s slippers, a family tree Rizal drew himself, small bronze sculptures pulled from the originals that are no more.

You have often heard it said that you can take a boy out of the Ateneo but you can never take Ateneo out of a boy. That is the germ of “Rizal in Ateneo in Rizal.” Visitors to the exhibition are greeted by a bust of Rizal by National Artist Guillermo E. Tolentino placed on a pedestal to approximate Rizal’s height (5’2”) so you can literally size him up and compare your height with his.

The first of four rooms has artifacts that depict Rizal in Ateneo: pre-war postcards showing the Ateneo in Intramuros that we can compare with the Loyola and Rockwell campuses today. Rizal obtained his bachelor of arts degree in 1877 with the grade of Sobresaliente (Excellent) and got five first prize medals in philosophy, drawing, comportamiento(good behavior ), good boarder, and aplicacion (studiousness) as well as honorable mention in physics and chemistry.

What is not well known is that he graduated, again, in 1878 with a Certificate in Land Surveying and won medals for topography and agronomy. He passed the board exams and received his professional license as a land assessor in 1881.

Rizal wrote in his diary, “I had entered college still a boy, possessing only a limited knowledge of the Spanish language, my intelligence only moderately developed, and my emotions scarcely cultivated. By dint of study, of self-analysis, of aspiring to ever greater heights, and of countless corrections, I began to be transformed little by little, thanks to the beneficient influence of a zealous professor.” (Fr. Francisco de Paula Sanchez, SJ)

And again in May 1882 when Rizal sailed for Europe, he noted in his diary: “In the afternoon I said goodbye to the Jesuit Fathers, who gave me strong letters of recommendation to the Fathers in Barcelona. I owe a great deal to [the Jesuits] –almost, almost everything that I am.”

The second room is on Rizal’s two productive periods in Europe, first from 1882 to 1887 when he was a student, and then from 1888 to 1891. Aside from articles he contributed to La Solidaridad, I best remember him for three books: “Noli me tangere” (Berlin, 1887), his annotated edition of Antonio de Morga’s “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas” (Paris, 1890), and “El Filibusterismo” (Ghent, 1891) where he outlined his vision toward the formation of a sense of Filipino national community and identity.

In Europe he wrote: “If it were not for 1872, we would today, not have Plaridel nor Jaena nor Sanciangco; there would be none of the brave and active Filipino communities in Europe. In view of those injustices and cruelties [1872] while I was yet a boy, my imagination woke up, and I vowed to dedicate myself to avenge those victims some day. With this idea in mind, I have pursued my studies, and this can be seen in all my writings. May God give me the occasion, some day, to bring to pass what I have sworn to do?”

The third room is on Rizal in Dapitan, again in the care of the Jesuits, where he designed a relief map of Mindanao that still exists in the town plaza today. After winning the lottery, Rizal bought a beach-front property where he established his medical clinic and an informal school for boys. He wrote poetry, made clay sculptures, started but didn’t finish an English-Tagalog dictionary, and even wrote a treatise on the cure of people bewitched by mangkukulam.

The fourth room depicts Rizal’s end. Blown-up photos provide a backdrop to the relics of Rizal’s last hours, giving one a sense of being in his jail cell in Fort Santiago. When he made the famous walk on the morning of Dec. 30, 1896, witnesses claimed he looked calm, at times even smiling and chatting. When he sighted the spires of San Ignacio Church he asked, “Is that the Ateneo?” After the Jesuits who accompanied confirmed this, he added, “I spent seven years there.”

You exit where you came in, just as T. S. Eliot once wrote about traveling and reaching the place where you started and feeling as if you are knowing it for the first time. “Rizal in Ateneo in Rizal” is a small but wonderful exhibit. It is free and open to the public and will run till December. I am sure the personal effects loaned by the Rizal family will make an impression on young people who visit and I can only hope that some of them will be inspired enough to follow careers in history, literature or medicine and make this country better than what Rizal knew a century ago.

Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.

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