Jose Rizal: My Ateneo Hero
Despite colonial efforts to limit education for Filipinos, Rizal pursued and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ateneo Municipal de Manila in Intramuros. At school, he exhibited natural intelligence, and the Jesuits further honed his intellectual capability to organize, discern and critically think. So he started to ask questions and see things differently than other people of his time.
Rizal’s passion for education was relentless, and he took up Medicine at the University of Santo Tomas. He went abroad and continued his studies in Universidad Central de Madrid, earning the degree of Licentiate in Medicine. He also attended the University of Paris and later on earned a second doctorate at the University of Heidelburg. He educated himself some more and proved that Filipinos could debate, argue, compete with the best and most importantly, that we could assert ourselves. Rizal became the first of our people to break the walls in his mind; walls, which were built to psychologically bludgeon the Filipinos’ consciousness. He realized that even if we were colonized by foreign nations, we can refuse to be bound by them and can achieve far beyond what we think we can reach, if only we have the vision and the will to achieve it. His values dared with a concept that the Filipino will one day be free especially through the perseverance and determination of young people like him to saw the future and chased after it.
The road, he knew, would not always be easy. Initially using the pen name Laong Laan, Rizal later overcame his own fears and put his own name down to Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo. This was a valiant effort to awaken the Filipinos to boldly fight for their freedom and liberty. In the face persecution and death, Rizal came home to face and accept his fate, knowing that by his sacrifice, the Filipino would awaken and aspire for a nation that is independent and free.
I grew up as an Atenean trying to emulate Rizal’s short but meaningful life as an ideal which shows that we must break the walls in our minds, regain confidence in our capabilities, and become courageous about the future as he did.
Like Rizal, I learned to conquer apathy and indifference by initiating change. I grew up in a city and community that was faced with many challenges. Together with the people of Olongapo, we made fear our friend, and faced these challenges head on. Our efforts as a united people, rising above our own limitations and seeing what we could become, just as Rizal would have hoped, have seen us through the most difficult times of our history. In the 1980s Olongapo became a model city for peace and order, governance, and public services. After the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and the withdrawal of the U.S. Navy in 1992, a community of volunteers transformed Subic into a modern Freeport, making it the nation’s showcase for progress and development. Rallying the entire nation to scream Wow Philippines saw our country overcome overwhelming odds in the last decade. And in the Philippine Red Cross, an organization fueled by the energy and dedication of thousands of volunteers, we have able faced the tumultuous disasters of the new millennium.
For me, Rizal unlocked us from the bondage of the mind and soul. In death, he consecrated his blood in Bagumbayan (what today is known as the Rizal Park in Manila) as with Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora and before them Rajah Sulayman. It was not a mere coincidence but a symbol of what he wanted for the Filipinos -- a new Philippines, a Bagumbayan – the new country. Bagumbayan is not a place. It is an attitude. It is time we become horizon-chasers once again like the Ateneo eagle. We have to change ourselves, reinvent ourselves, and we must not cease from hoping. It is time we break our walls and say, we can do it. We have the power to shape our future and determine the destiny of our country.
Bagumbayan is Rizal’s dream of a new nation, and I continue to aspire to fulfill Rizal’s Bagumbayan, not as a place or a circumstance, but an attitude crying to break free. We need to change from being a transactional country to a transformational people, guided by a common vision – grounded in steadfast values and responsive to the call of lofty and worthwhile causes through volunteerism so that we can emerge as a nation no longer of victims, but a victorious nation, defined in its identity, united in its goals and passionate in its freedom and pride.
I thank my parents, the real heroes in my life, who did not finish college but through perseverance and hard work, were able to send me to the Ateneo, inculcating the right values and work ethic in my formative years. My father chose to become Filipino and dared that one day Olongapo would be free from American rule like the rest of the country. Heroism encompasses not one singular act, but the collective acts of bold decisions that involve much effort and self sacrifice to achieve lofty ideals for mankind.