Lessons from Two Weeks Ago

A week has already passed since I came of age. Taking into account the leap days, I’ve officially lived 7,677 days here on Earth. Rewinding more, two weeks have already passed since the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. And exactly during that day, a certain activity happened in Ateneo after which my Facebook live feed was flooded with rants and cuss words.

Being enrolled in a double-degree program, I was in a sense expected to attend the annual Pabaon, a supposed-to-be two-part final formation activity for graduating Ateneans. Despite sleeping in the first wave of talks, I enjoyed my two Pabaons last year. They were times when my Senioritis viruses were highly active, and this contagious disease was something graduating students were not really ashamed of (in fact, some are proud of it). It was a time of remembering the good old times, strengthening established bonds and ties, and looking at the future with a big, wide smile. It was a time to appreciate one’s self and neighbor. It was a time to open everyone’s mind to the happy-sad reality of graduation (that is, granted one does not slack of and finishes his thesis or whatever requirements s/he has on time).

This wonderful two-part activity is, as the words say it, happens every semester. The Unang Pabaon happens usually during late June while the Huling Pabaon happens during the first week of March. Both last for four hours. Both are usually held at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater. And for us from SOSE, our fellow graduating students from JG-SOM join us.

While some of my batchmates have no interest in engaging themselves to another haul of this activity, I was different from them. That’s why I was very disappointed when I learned that the Unang Pabaon this year was cancelled, no thanks to the swine flu scare. It’s true that the Seniors I will be graduating with this semester are not my batchmates, their group has touched and changed my life in many ways. So, my hopes went up a bit when I heard that aPabaon will be held on December 8.

I knew things were weird when the Pabaon was for two hours only, instead of four. I knew things were weird when only one school was doing the Pabaon, instead of the usual two. I knew something was weird when the event was held in Leong Hall Auditorium instead of the Henry Lee Irwin Theater. I knew things were weird when the attendance sheet was released after the activity, instead of before. And these thoughts swimming in my brain cells were confirmed when the emcee said:


And then what happened happened.

There was me saying “what the hell, are you serious?” at the back of my mind. But then again, in my sleep-deprived state, I just did not bother. I was locked inside the hall after all. However, let me just briefly air that I am disappointed that the Unang Pabaon I was highly expecting did not transpire. Okay that’s it. What other people said (and blogged in a lengthy entry) about this activity is another topic. After all, this blog is not about the quote-unquote Pabaon or something to bash it.

A video was shown during the introduction, where a taong-grasa can be seen subconsciously trotting down the streets, scaring people neatly dressed. It was something which touched me the most and reminded me of my childhood dream/ambition.

While most of them may laugh or look down at his sorry state, the truth is he was once a summa cum laude who graduated from a prestigious university abroad. He may even have two doctorate or masteral titles. However, it was some years after his young glory that he came face-to-face with the true horrors of life. He shelled out all he has to support his middle-aged yellow-toothed brother who can’t even finish high school. But as he was doing this, God and Satan did another “Job experiment” and made his company bankrupt. His wife couldn’t take all the shame and she ran off with their children. Being used to all the comforts of life, his mind cracked. He was back to being a four-year-old, practically innocent-looking and unknowing that garbages are dirty. He sees a pile of trash with flies swarming around and thought they were toys. He picked them up and collected everything he saw within a twenty meter radius. In his excitement, he even forgot to how take a bath.

Allow me to mention here that as a child, I really fancy detective stories. Sherlock Holmes and Shinichi Kudo (Conan Edogawa) were (the correct verb is actually are, I still find them epic) my childhood superheroes. It’s really fun to see these cool people use their wits and the advances of science to trump the greatest evils of society.

And do I still need to say that ever since I was young I am interested in the sciences? Mommy would be angry at me every time I ask her why oil and water won’t mix or why paper turns brown when burned.

At one point in my childhood, I was reading this cool case (not Holmes or Kudo) where a criminal medical doctor used some mind-changing drugs for his evil deeds. Apparently, he was seeking for revenge, but since he has a respected name, he does not want to be exposed. So what he does instead is to have some of his patients try his “secret drug.” Little did the patients know that what this drug does is anything but to heal them of their sickness. The fake medicine instead changes the electric flow of their neurons to a specific rate, causing them to totally change into another personality – an evil one. Thus, this mad doctor is able to form an army of assassins in just a single dose. He is able to do his wicked acts after the drug has completely erased the memories of the patient and transformed him from human to inhuman. (The flaw is, the patients are still sick and they eventually expire after getting a single job done, resulting to the doctor running out of the drug’s supply and him being eventually arrested.)

(No, this is not Dr. Henry Jekyll.)

And at that moment THAT drug ignited a light bulb in my very young mind. What if, instead of for the bad, I can use this for something beneficial. I remembered that prior to reading that story, I was watching (from the windows of our car) a taong grasa helplessly walking down the intensely hot road. He was in a total mess. At that instant, I imagined him instead wearing a long-sleeves polo, a neck tie, a pair of slacks, and a coat. I imagined his hair tidy and well-combed. I imagined him standing in front of a group of people, looking very professional and very smart.

I began to think, what if there was a drug that alters the electronic brain waves of taong grasas in the world and transform them into professionals (something they whom they actually were from the start)? Then instead of being pathetic by collecting garbages and sleeping in dirty streets, they would be well-fed, walking in high-rise buildings, and enjoying an air-conditioned room while formulating strategies for his very own company.

That drug may be non-existent but then, what if I can invent it? That was the crazy dream floating in my head then. That dream I brought along with me up to secondary school, to the time I had to choose a course in my ACET application form…

BS CHEMISTRY/BS MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING… The perfect course which will make me realize that crazy dream.

Five years from that, I have sat two Pabaons and other formation activities already. I have chosen different paths in my research career – polymer synthesis and alternative energy systems to be specific. But then again, every time I see a taong grasa helplessly approaching the corner of a dirty wall by the streetwalk, my heart beats with compassion while my mind excretes its nerdy scientific juices. The image of the drug I wish to discover resurfaces in my mind again. In a sense, it is what continues to drive me to pursue further studies and research in this course I have learned to love.

Hopefully, one day my dream will be realized. It may not be me, but at least someone else. It may be yet another student, who fifty years from now, will be bored and sleepy duringPabaon spebeches.


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