Earlier today, Paolo, Nicole and I (Kid followed) visited the Ateneo de Manila Grade School fair, an annual fiesta in honor of the Holy Guardian Angels. The last time I went to the grade school fair was when I myself was a grade schooler. That was roughly 8 years ago. The experience earlier was a mixed emotional experience. I’m now ending my 16 years of education in the Ateneo de Manila, and a visit to where it all began can’t simply a stoic and dull event. Nostalgia hits you right when you enter the gates and see the statue of the Holy Family.
Days spent in an all-boys elementary school for eight years (Prep-Grade 7) were days of many firsts. It was also a time of discovering the world, both its beautiful and ugly side. There were the bullies, but there were also those friends you’d share baon with. There were the simply joys of playing with marbles on the dusty ground, and also those scary exams. We had SRA and penmanship exams. Unlike in other schools, we had Art and Music rooms as well as two Carpentry shops. Indeed, grade school years in the Ateneo were filled with many, many colorful experiences.
But an event, which students from Prep to Grade 7 look forward to year in and year out was the annual Fair. It was the school-wide fiesta in honor of the Holy Guardian Angels, whom grade school kids are taught to emulate and always seek help from. We were told to always befriend our angels, and whenever we visited the chapel, we were even told to always keep a considerable distance from each other so that our “angels” would have space to sit in between students.
The grade school fair, as I would recall it, would begin officially on a Wednesday. After regular classes, all the students would gather around the school’s premises and sit in the corridors (usually not in front of their own rooms) waiting for the procession of angels, statues, sacristans and Jesuits pass by. The angels were usually “cute”, fair-skinned sometimes outright mestizo or tisoy boys dressed in white robes and sporting large wings and halos. They would be followed by the statues of the Guardian Angel, our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and also San Ignacio. I had memories of these processions being really long and tiring with students becoming restless. The Rosary was recited throughout the procession with the help of the PA system. The highest point of the procession is when it enters the Chapel of the Holy Guardian Angels.
Here, the Grade 7 students, who have been rehearsing the Latin “Salve Regina” hymn weeks before under their music teachers, will intone the song in plainchant. The chapel would then be flooded by angels, white flowers, and the statues.
The following day, the first day of the Fair, all students gather at the covered courts for the Mass in honor of the Holy Guardian Angels. The Mass concludes with the “all-time” favorite joyous hymn “The Angels of the Lord”, to which students clap following the melody. Students love to sing this song because they know that upon reaching the final line “…happy is the man that trusts in Him!” they know the Fair was already opened. Until I was grade 5, right after the Mass, students would immediately run for the exits and enjoy the Fair immediately.
When I was in grade 6 though, they began a new practice wherein the grade 7 students launch the fair on a more festive and let’s say, organized way. The grade 7 students dance in unison in front of the former grade 4 building for the entire school to see. By the end of their dance, only then can the students disband and linger around the school’s campus.
During the fair, blaring music would be heard, as well as the occasional “Please catch all students wearing red PE shirts with class number 15” or some other requests for the “jailing” of particular students through the “sound” booth. I can’t recall how that booth was called. There were a variety of rides but during my time the most popular ones were the “Caterpillar”, the “Moon Shuttle (?)” and the occasional Horror Train located in front of the flagpole. Everybody looked forward to Tokyo Tokyo and their Ebi Tempura as well Pizza Hut, a break from our humble Pizza Royale. Students would buy many different things, from hair colored sprays, to cotton candy and also faux silver rings and washable ink, which they mischievously spilled at each other to the horror of unknowing yayas.
On Saturday, the fair ends with the family salu-salo where students and their families gather in their classrooms to share food, stories and play games. There would be much food, merriment and joy in the grade school campus during these three days honoring the Holy Guardian Angels.
An alumnus like me, however, returns to the grade school with bittersweet feelings. One, I feel a sense of loss and longing for the old grade school, and to those very years of innocent and simple joys. Our old classrooms especially those in the Prep, Grade 2, Grade 3 and Grade 4 areas have either been replaced or totally destroyed. The circular pergola where we bought our Pizza Royale, Mojos with Chicken Wings as well as our goto with chicharon (and if one was lucky, with some chunks of beef) is nowhere in sight. The old large patches of grass which offered cool respite have almost all been covered with those ubiquitous Ateneo red bricks. The grade 3 wing is now an Ali Mall-looking building. As compared to the days when we had to carry our strollers as we ascended the buildings, students now simply pulled their bags up asphalt ramps.
What also saddened me was the chapel. Although it’s now a bit prettier, I still long for the old chapel with the big, scary, sad-looking Crucified Jesus that has been with the school since its Intramuros days. I didn’t see it earlier. Likewise, the statue of Saint Gonzaga was also no longer visible. They replaced these with nice happy looking stained glass windows. Luckily, the sanctuary had been spared, with its beautiful Art Deco motif retained.
Made in honor of the Guardian Angels, the quaint chapel pinched my insides quite strongly when I went earlier. Although I was with Paolo and Nic, I had deep running memories and thoughts in my mind when we approached the sanctuary. I remember the days when I served there, the countless morning Masses I heard there. I remember how it was in that chapel where my Faith was begun and strengthened.
But more than anything, it was the idea of growing up that really preoccupied my reflections. For 8 years, students celebrated the angels and their power on our lives. But by high school, and now in college, how have I celebrated the angels? Do I still even believe in them? I am faced with the dilemma of forgetfulness: if I promised myself then that I would turn out a good Catholic, then why did and continually do things contrary to my grade school promises?
These are questions posed to all of us. How have we fared in our lives? Have we become better, more responsible, more prayerful persons? Or have we truly left the path to holiness? What has happened to our devotions, our pious devotions, our hymns?
Such was the question posed by my visit earlier: WHAT HAPPENED?
Why have we become so lustful, so vulgar, so wasteful? Why have we forgotten 8 years of learning so easily?
Perhaps, through life, we would continue to ask the question, “What happened?”
It will depend though, upon the end of our lives, if we regret or smile on what really happened.
Indeed, the grade school Fair, along with everything else, is and will always be hecho ayer.