by Robby Tantingco
I love my alma mater, St. Louis University, dearly and with all the affection and nostalgia that an alumnus holds for the school that nurtured him, but there’s another school in my life that has my equal devotion.
Still, despite serving Holy Angel University for 23 long years—practically all the best working years of my life—I have no right to call myself an HAU alumnus. When you’ve worked that long for a certain school, cared for it and grown old with it, you sometimes begin to feel like an alumnus yourself, until you go home and see another diploma hanging on your wall.
This week, as Holy Angel University opens its Diamond Jubilee Year, I would like to cheer the thousands upon thousands of HAU alumni out there, those who carry their alumni card proudly and those who take it for granted, those who know how lucky they are and those who don’t realize it. As an administrator, I can only join in the celebration as a worker in the background, but the party belongs to all the students, past and present, who can claim that their lives have been molded and their destinies shaped by this great institution.
St. Louis University and Holy Angel University are actually alike in many ways: both are the biggest in their respective regions, both charge relatively low tuition fees, both aren’t contented with just being big—they risk their enrolments by upgrading their academic standards. As a result, both SLU and HAU are now recognized as the most prestigious universities in their areas, being the only private schools north of Manila with most of their programs given Level III accredited status by PAASCU.
Many schools in the country find it difficult to balance low tuition fees (to attract students) with high salaries (to attract faculty and administrators). Some schools sacrifice one for the other, and as a result, they become big but poor quality, or they get good quality but small population. SLU and HAU are successful in both.
But it is no secret to the community that Holy Angel has struggled with this in the past. The social unrest after World War II, followed by the ravages of the Marcos dictatorship, followed by the eruption of Pinatubo, followed by the relentless lahar devastation, wreaked havoc on the school. Faculty and students alternately and sometimes simultaneously held strikes and boycotts. I remember seeing Vice President Noli de Castro, then still a TV newscaster, walking in to interview administrators and student leaders during one particularly nasty boycott, and I remember wondering how a campus issue would interest him and the rest of the nation.
Well, with 15,000 students and nearly 1000 employees, multiplied by the number of their families and friends and the people in their respective neighborhoods, plus the thousands of alumni again multiplied by the number of their relatives and acquaintances—indeed, anything that happens on campus has the potential of becoming the topic of conversation in practically every household in the region.
I can even go farther and say that with all the government officials, businessmen, educators, civic leaders, artists, etc. as well as ordinary citizens acquiring their values and their education from HAU, not to mention the thousands whose present and future livelihoods directly depend on the school—the University’s ups and downs actually help shape the destiny of the whole region.
When I first joined the school in 1985 as an employee, the new President, S. Josefina Nepomuceno, OSB was just beginning to undertake the sweeping reforms that would ultimately take it to where it is today. She is a member of the great Juan D. Nepomuceno branch of the Nepomuceno family tree, the same branch that built the electric plant, the ice plant, the shopping complex, the premier subdivision, and of course, Holy Angel University.
The founding of the school is credited to Don Juan and the parish priest at the time, Fr. Pedro P. Santos, but two other people played equally crucial roles in the story. Don Juan’s eldest son, Javier, who convinced his father to open a new school after he and his classmates had decided not to reenroll in their old school (they didn’t like some school policies), and Ricardo Flores, a teacher at Javier’s old school who had also quit along with other teachers (same reason). Flores, in fact, had already returned to his hometown in Laguna and started a new job with the government when Don Juan and Javier wrote and convinced him to return to Angeles. His role cannot be underestimated because it was really the laymen like him and Don Juan who managed the initial years of the school, which prompted historian Dr. Luciano Santiago to call Holy Angel “the country’s first Catholic school run by laypersons.”
On Saturday, March 8, Angelites all over the world will join the Holy Angel University community, in person or in spirit, in opening the school’s Diamond Jubilee Year. I know many in your own family, in your company and in your neighborhood are graduates of HAU, and they probably don’t think much of their alma mater.
Well, tell them about this billionaire software developer from Silicon Valley who has a Holy Angel diploma in his room, or this alumnus who helped build the Ayala empire, or the Dean of the Ateneo School of Law, or the former Secretary of Trade and Industry, or those Catholic bishops, Benedictine abbots, Olympic athlete, Miss International, US state legislator, Grammy Award winner, and even the patriots who founded Kabataang Makabayan and the New People’s Army—all of them started at Holy Angel, they got their education there, they are proud of it, and they are grateful for it.
I don’t have a Holy Angel diploma at home, only an ID card that says I work there. All of you who have an HAU diploma, cherish it like a diamond. Make sure to dust it off this week, or if it’s tucked away in some cabinet, take it out, have it framed and hang it on your wall, and on Saturday, March 8, join all the alumni, wherever they are, in cheering Holy Angel University for all the great and wonderful things it has done to you, to this region, and to the world.