Learning from retirees
Last Wednesday was our annual awards day at UP Diliman for retiring staff and faculty — more than a hundred of them.It was a time for me to remember a similar awards day some 20 years ago, limited to the faculty and staff of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. Dr. Cynthia Bautista was the dean at that time and I had just become department chair, attending this kind of awarding for the first time. As we prepared to start, she whispered to me, “These awards are so important for the awardees and their families.”Indeed it was. Many dressed up to attend, accompanied by their significant others. Some would go to receive their awards limping, clearly having suffered a stroke. Others showed up in a wheelchair. The most touching moments were the times when relatives received the award on behalf of someone who had died.
I carried those memories through my years as an administrator and as UP Diliman chancellor. I’ve seen the “parangal,” or tribute ceremony, evolve as we put in more heart to it. Especially for large institutions, we cannot just hand out retirement pay with a note that says “Thank you, goodbye.” Here are some tips from our experiences:
At the ceremonies, for each of the awardees, we flash two PowerPoint slides — the first showing the awardee’s current photo with one from their youth, and the other slide another collage of the awardee in good times with his or her family, close friends, even pets.
There’s always music, lots of it, including intermission numbers from the best singers and performers. There’s something about Filipino songs that better convey the message of a tribute, of saying: You are all important to us, and we love you for all you’ve done.
For several years now, we’ve had as emcee Dr. Marot Flores, a faculty member whose valiant triumph over cancer glows with her, always an inspiration to the audience.
I had additional thoughts this year as the awardees or their representatives went up the stage. The numbers of Gawad Paglilingkod recipients — those who have served more than 40 years, in many cases with UP as their lifelong employer—is on the rise, showing that work at UP does have its perks.We did have the ones forced into retirement because of illness. I had to go down the stage for two former employees who were now in wheelchairs.
Then there are the posthumous awards, and I would let their relatives take their time on the stage, sometimes holding their hands a bit longer to console them.
This year, there was one award for a staff member who had worked with us as a researcher for only a few years, and I just had to mention him in my closing remarks. I reminded the audience that working at UP was special, because we were serving the “iskolar ng bayan,” people’s scholars, and this made our workers special, too. Whether it’s 47 years or two years, those who serve in UP deserve our utmost thanks.
The ceremonies can become quite emotional, so I thought I’d close with a bit of humor during last week’s parangal. I arranged for Fyt, a Belgian Malinois, to join me on the stage. I introduced Fyt, explaining that he used to work as a bomb sniffer in the army but had to retire at the age of eight, equivalent to the human age of 56, the mandatory age of retirement for our soldiers and police.
Life after retirement is not easy for our service dogs. Their handlers can’t afford to adopt them because they are pedigreed and are expensive to maintain. It takes time to find people to adopt these dogs, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorders from serving in war-torn areas like Marawi.
Long story short, I arranged to take in Fyt — that was the name he had in the Army, which resonated with our varsity call “Fight, UP!” — to become an emotional support dog for UP Diliman. He reports for work daily, ready to be cuddled by faculty, students, and staff who need to de-stress. He still sniffs the bags of students. We learn from our retirees, including Fyt. Our human brain can work against us as we overthink life and complain about illnesses and boredom. But our brains, our geriatric brains, can also work for us. I’ve learned from our retirees, especially the ones who have served so long, Fyt included, that instead of looking for things we enjoy doing, we should learn to find joy in whatever we do, thus making life worth every moment.
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