That refrain played in our hearts as hundreds of us trooped to venerated ground September 7 to cheer the font of our education. Twelve batches of graduates – from high school class of 1959 celebrating their diamond jubilee and the college class of 1962-64 their emerald anniversary, to all grade school, high school and college graduates of 1969 and the high school classes of the 1990s – reunited for the three-hour rites at the Alma Mater following Holy Mass and the unveiling of the Museum and Triple A Gallery.
Our College Class of 1974 arrived like a brilliant wave reflecting our sapphire milestone, internalizing our class motto “IaM Complete” as we flexed and stretched our sexagenarian limbs in a passionate dance performance to the tune of Chaka Kahn’s “I’m Every Woman.” But first we listened intently to words of wisdom from college president Dr. Rosario Lapuz, following inspirational remarks from alumnae association chair Maria Vilma Fabian and president Carla Villanueva Yaptinchay.
A high point of the event was the recognition of 11 graduates as Triple A awardees--Amazing Alumni Achievers--for personifying the school spirit. Five of them are from our College Class of 1974: two from the United States, two made their mark in Asia and Europe, everyone representing various disciplines and sectors. Some may have charted their future consciously heeding the school exhortation; some probably flowered a bit later, having gone out into the world in far from idyllic times.
PICTURE this: June -1970, a sunny morning beneath the blue skies of Loyola Heights in Quezon City.
About 200 young women garbed in green and white burst onto the bucolic Katipunan Road campus. Most are 16, from all over the Philippines, on the first day of freshman year at the college renowned for developing academic excellence, communication skills, and social responsibility.
Empowerment was yet to become the vision and the battle cry of the nascent women’s movement. We were there to learn, and indeed we were educated, in and out of the classroom.
Our country was on the verge of a seismic political shift that shook us all. Those of us who overcame challenges in and beyond the college gates through the requisite four years eventually earned our diplomas and strode out of the comfort zone armed with our Maryknoll values--whether we realized it or not-in 1974.
FAST forward 45 years later: We find that we do embody the ideals instilled in us by our Alma Mater, as some members of the MC74 Core Group, organizers of our Sapphire Jubilee Celebration, gratefully look back, sharing insights relatable around the world particularly at this point in time:
“Maryknoll teaches its students to be outspoken, to be non-conformist, to give back and stand for what you believe in,” recalls Business Administration major Susan de Leon-Syquia, who took a counseling course with the Jesuit project CEFAM Center for Family Ministries, which she says “helps in empowering yourself because you get to know yourself better, especially your strengths and vulnerabilities.” She stresses: “You cannot empower others if you are not empowered yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have.”
International Studies major Mawie Yan-Aglipay had set foot on campus extremely shy and marched away ready to perform duties later as president of the association of military wives tasked with raising scholarship funds for children of police officers.
“My college education helped me a lot to be successful in this project because it was in Maryknoll that I developed into a liberated thinker and was able to communicate better. I grew up introverted and didn’t want to mingle much. But in Maryknoll I came out of my shell,” she shares.
The gregarious and affable Menchu Genato-Henson began reaping awards even before graduating and becoming a Vice President of a San Miguel Corp. subsidiary. The Communication Arts major found time to commit to SAGIP Saklolo At Gabay Ng Ina At Pamilya, the flagship project of the Zonta Club of Muntinlupa and Environs. As president, she steered the club toward the Service Recognition Award before 1,600 delegates from over 60 countries at the 62nd Zonta International Convention in Florida.
“I was deeply inspired by Sr. Helen Graham’s lectures on the Theology of Liberation that influenced me greatly to give back,” she explains her motivation that earned her 2016 Amazing Alumnae Achiever award.
Business Administration major Edy Montecastro-Lim, who lost her parents early, supported herself through law school and became a corporate lawyer, said that at a tender age she “already exercised empowerment without being aware of the word.”
“My Maryknoll education made me more confident of the outcome of decisions I made. I was tough already. For no one said ‘follow this course’; I followed my own path. Everything was my own choice and to this time I believe that my education reinforced my confidence. Maryknoll taught me to carry myself well, to make me confident in whatever I do. I socialized better. ‘Hindi ako natakot sa mundo’(I didn’t fear the world).”
Two years in Maryknoll strengthened International Studies major and sustainable produce grower Caling Tanco-Young's Catholic faith, providing her a guide to motherhood.
“It took seven years for me to have children, so when I gave birth to my son and two daughters, I felt empowered. I can really take care of them and bring them up properly to be useful to society and do something good, respect elders, following the Catholic way of life.”
The spirit of sisterhood sparked the self-esteem of Communication Arts major Maria Nimfa Fallarme–Ronson, 2019 Triple A laureate.
“Finding someone who drew me out of my shell made the difference,” says the former Vice President of Sales for Asia of the Associated Press, the world’s largest news distribution service. “Actually I would even say the friendships that grew out of the French Cafe transformed me and continue to transform me as we are all still quite tight with each other. And though we had parted ways for decades, we somehow managed to resurrect that same spirit and caring for each other.”
Same for her fellow Communication Arts Major and Triple A awardee Millie Sta. Maria-Thomeczek, who recently retired as the highest ranking representative of the Philippine government in Germany. To reach the pinnacle of her career as Ambassador, the diplomat drew from her Maryknoll experience.
“On graduation day, Sister Miriam Thomas gave us a souvenir plaque which quoted Martin Luther King: 'In order to live creatively and meaningfully, our self-concern must be wedded to other-concern.’ That stuck in me; it just about integrated all the knowledge and skills and new attitudes I gained and introduced a new mindset. So off I faced the world, made mistakes and learned from them, pursued interests which bore fruit. To top it all, the friends I made from those years in Maryknoll have remained my closest friends to this day.”
Empowerment is a continuing process of recognizing our abilities and correcting our flaws, evolving into caring and assured human beings able to think critically and act responsibly. We make informed decisions and share resources to empower others.
Collectively and individually, we try to model empowerment in diverse ways, fulfilling the vision of the Sisters of Maryknoll--for the next generation of our schoolmates.
San Francisco Bay Area–based Cherie M. Querol Moreno, MC74 Communication Arts, earned a 2019 Homecoming Triple A award for advocating for Filipino American empowerment as a journalist and promoting safe environments as founder-executive director of ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She received her award in spirit.
More articles from Cherie Querol Moreno