Unsolicited advice to UP aspirants
The UPCAT weekend has ended, leaving aspirants traumatized, or hopeful, or both; it has filled with nostalgia many of those who went to the University of the Philippines or hoped to, but were meant to find purpose and meaning elsewhere. Social media runneth over with UPCAT stories — of parents waiting anxiously while their children took the test, of examinees falling asleep in the middle, of what food they ate and lucky underwear they wore. Stories of passing and failing; stories, for many, which began their journey at the state university.
I didn’t quite have the same college experience that films such as “Alone/Together,” capitalizing as they might on the nostalgia of the “UP experience,” might show. I reluctantly ended up in what’s known as the health sciences campus, the oldest and (we say this fondly) the most defensive, UP Manila. We had no academic oval and virtually no campus to speak of, with buildings scattered in different corners of Padre Faura and Pedro Gil and the Philippine General Hospital compound. Where one might have found romance in the greenery of UP Diliman or in the rolling paths of UP Los Baños, it was hard to find romance in a school that was a stone’s throw away from Manila’s red light district, where we breathed the foul air of Taft Avenue traffic, and where white uniforms were victims of mud, smoke and periodic flooding. Envious as we might have been of other campuses, we liked to think that we still made it to UP. Like those in most other campuses, we were often told that much was expected of us because we were the so-called cream of the crop. It’s a joke that everyone has heard before — that there are only two universities in the Philippines: UP and others.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve since wandered outside of UP’s walls and away from smug propaganda; maybe it’s the fact that excellence in other universities has more media coverage now than in my childhood; maybe it’s because, for whatever reason, UP no longer has a near-monopoly of the top spots of the nation’s board exams, if indeed it ever had this. The “UP and others” joke loses its appeal, as does the romanticized idea of UP as the quintessential college experience.
What we thought of as pillars of our education — excellence, public service, social justice — now all seem like mere catchphrases, in the light of scandal and disappointment in the the university’s products. From recent memory, think: group chats of UP fratmen calling women names and sharing compromising photos; the image of Irene Marcos at a production of the Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas. UP is not sacred. If anything, it remains a microcosm of society, with its members capable of both profound good and profound evil. Its supposed educated young are just as capable as any of misogyny and bigotry. As recent events show, we are also capable of a hypocritical “performative goodness,” a cultural boycott of hounding and “canceling” those misogynists and bigots. We produce good, solid, educated leaders, but also produce the very worst kind of intelligent, calculating, corrupt statesmen. We produce good public servants and lazy ones. We produce both the passionate and the apathetic.
Clearly, UP is not homogeneous. It takes all kinds to make a university. For those who have made it past this weekend’s hurdle, my limited, unsolicited advice is simple: don’t romanticize the university, lest one be prone to complacency; don’t rest on your laurels or belittle the achievements of other universities; don’t buy into the thinking that it’s UP or nothing; and realize that what makes UP, even more than its staff and its professors, are the mettle, passion and moral compass of its students. The expectation shouldn’t be that UP ought to make or break you, but that your actions and choices can make or break a university which is held to a certain standard of freedom of expression, justice-seeking and political awareness. UP is only as good as the students it produces, and to respond to the needs of an ailing nation, you’ll have to be very good students indeed.
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