A different class
I’ve listened to many speeches at commencement exercises, and I will say, with all confidence, that the best one I’ve ever heard was the valedictory delivered by Keith Andrew D. Kibanoff at the UP Integrated School (UPIS) last Tuesday. Keith was the only one to graduate with “pinakamataas na karangalan” (highest honors, like summa cum laude in college).
It was a speech that had the entire audience mesmerized, going through a roller-coaster of emotions, laughter and tears, as he recounted life in UPIS.
But this is jumping ahead of my intended story. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to write about one of the best perks of being in the University of the Philippines, one which was reinforced at that UPIS graduation. To explain what this perk is, I have to share a little story from the summer of 2014.
I had just moved into the UP Diliman campus at that time because of my appointment as chancellor and had enrolled my kids in UP’s swimming classes, a change from previous summers where they took lessons in private venues.
I will admit I was somewhat worried, with memories of UP’s pool from student days, and also remembering Sen. Pia Cayetano joking about how she had joined a triathlon that included swimming in the Mekong. Horrified friends had asked how she could swim in the Mekong, parts of which are heavily polluted. She had jokingly retorted: “But I swam in UP Diliman’s pool, so why not the Mekong?”
I did inspect the pool before I brought the kids in for their first class. It’s certainly not a 5-star hotel pool and has much wear and tear, but it’s in fairly good shape, and clean.
Anyway, on the first day of summer swimming classes an elderly man approached me and introduced himself as a retired security guard who had worked with UP for many years. He was there accompanying his grandson for swimming classes. He then gave me his take on various problems on campus and how to solve them.
I kept thinking, “Only in UP.” Only in UP, too, would you have a swimming class with faculty members’ children side by side with the children of staff. It’s a similar situation in my son’s taekwondo class, where his classmates extend to students from outside UP, including children of vendors, of bus drivers.
Going back to the retired security guard, I learned, as our conversation unfolded, that he is the father of one of my best students in graduate school, now a faculty member in UP Diliman and the chair of his department. Next month, he will join my administrative team as the director of an office.
We have many UP officials who will proudly talk about their lineage, not blue-blooded pedigrees but of grandparents who worked as janitors, guards, clerks. The children of these staff personnel were and still are given preference to enter UP’s elementary and high schools, through very competitive exams.
These are called “laboratory schools”—that is, attached to universities that offer education degree programs, with students doing their practicum in these schools. The lab schools are also allowed to use innovative curricula and teaching methods.
Many of the students grow up in UP’s campuses, where there is faculty and staff housing. These are the so-called “Batang UP,” among whom life friendships are formed, cutting across classes.
I’ve attended two of UPIS’ commencement exercises, congratulating fellow faculty, as well as staff, for their children’s graduation. I’m also always excited about some of these new graduates moving on to UP, where we continue with the mix of students from all economic classes. At the university level there is still an imbalance: too few students from public schools but we have them, including UPIS graduates.
UP’s generally egalitarian spirit is reflected in UPIS’ commencement exercises. No frills, no grand processional. The graduates wear a white… oh, my, I don’t know what to call this hybrid hospital gown-toga. (My biases are showing. I do feel we need a new design, simple but elegant.)
To add to the ambience during the last commencement, at one point the roof of the auditorium began to leak in one place. Right after conferring the students’ degrees I had to apologize to those present, urging them to think of the leak as a blessing from heaven and making a mental note to call maintenance.
The guest of honor was Dr. Andrea S. Valle from the Class of 1996. Her speech had no lofty rhetoric; instead, she gave very practical advice on being true to UP by staying on to serve the Philippines, picking up one’s garbage, planning one’s family.
We gave out medals to honor graduates, who went up the stage with their parents. The biggest number of medals went to Marco Alfredo J. Barrientos, a son of a security guard and a librarian.
Then the valedictory. Keith Kibanoff started out by talking about how we all stumble and how we need to learn to rise and move on. He was speaking, he explained, from experience, when way back during his kindergarten graduation exercises he stumbled on his oversized toga. (That made me thankful for UPIS’ toga, which is knee-length.)
I leaned forward, knowing it would be an interesting speech. He then talked about how his parents practically forced him to move to UPIS after grade school, which I learned was a private institution. His parents wanted him to experience life in the real world.
It’s tough getting into UPIS. If there’s an UPCAT (UP College Admission Test), UPIS has its KAT (Kindergarten Admission Test), where more than 1,000 applicants take competitive exams for 100 slots, of which 60 are allocated to children of UP personnel. No transferees are accepted until Grade 7 (high school) and there, it’s a few hundred competing for whatever slots might be opened because of UPIS students transferring out. This year we took in 15.
Keith was one of the “laterals” entering at Grade 7, but life was miserable for him in the first few weeks. He never used the word, but the principal whispered to me: He was bullied.
But Keith survived, and thrived. When he got to the “thank you” part of his speech, he became emotional, much more so when it was time to thank his classmates for the privilege of studying with them. He reminded them of their 11 years together, then, chuckling, of his four years with them. He had learned to love his classmates and as I looked at his classmates’ faces, I could tell he was well loved, too.
Keith kept using the phrase “ibang klase” in his speech: A different class. It’s a wonderful phrase that took special meanings that day. It could be the graduating class, a different cut. I talked with some parents, who confirmed that the members of “Kinse,” the Class of 2015, were particularly close to one another.
“Ibang klase” could also be an exclamation, a way of declaring how great the experience was of having been together, in the “real world” that is UPIS.
I am sure we will hear more of UPIS Class of 2015. In August Marco, an Oblation scholar, enters UP Diliman as a geology major, and Keith, a psychology major. I am certain we will hear not just of but from the students of this class, UP’s pride, a nation’s pride.
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