The Extraordinary Prepians
UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES PREPARATORY HIGH SCHOOL
By Mabini “EQ” Pablo
(Delivered during the UP Prep Grand Alumni and Faculty Reunion Diamond Jubilee at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Metro Manila on 18 February 2014)
Good evening fellow Prepians, ladies and gentlemen.
Tonight I have been given the privilege of speaking to you on behalf of the Legacy Committee. The UP Prep legacy can only be discerned by revisiting the UP Prep story, and the UP Prep story has not one, but hundreds of threads. After all, from 1954 to 1975, there were 1540 students who went to UP Prep. But there has not been a rigorous scientific study that has tracked all UP Prep alumni to see what has become of us, no database that accumulates our whereabouts and our accomplishments with precision.
Thankfully, there was a solution. It turns out that there are ways to capture an emerging picture of UP Prep’s legacy. In 2004, UP Prep celebrated its Golden Jubilee, and 70 Prepians received awards for outstanding accomplishments in their fields. In preparation for the Diamond Jubilee, UP Prepians were again invited to submit profiles of alumni who they felt embodied the UP Prep ideals. We received 80. The snapshots we have of the lives of these 150 individuals collectively paint a remarkable picture. True, the picture is incomplete: there are 1,390 other equally remarkable lives that have yet to find their way into our current UP Prep story line. But the 150 stories that we do have seem to be a sound beginning to understanding the legacy of UP Prep.
Let me share with you some of the remarkable stories about this sample of 150 Prepians. From this pool alone, we found a number of things.
FIRST: Eighty per cent obtained Bachelor’s degrees from UP, fulfilling the objective of UP Prep as a feeder school of the University of the Philippines system.
SECOND: These 150 alumni collectively earned 121 advanced degrees, 31 per cent of these conferred by UP and 69 per cent conferred by other universities, usually abroad. Many were recipients of grants and scholarships, proof of UP Prep alumni’s outstanding scholastic records. Many of these held not one, but multiple Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees. Sometimes, Prepians hopped from one field to another, and had the audacity to excel in both.
THIRD: All 150 alumni we profiled were in positions of responsibility and authority. Approximately 75 per cent were in the private sector. Of these, 55 per cent were either owners of their own businesses or, in the case of licensed professions, mostly doctors and lawyers with their own practices. The other 45 per cent were high-ranking executives holding positions as CEOs, Presidents, and Managers. The rest were involved in the government sector.
FOURTH: We also know that UP Prep emphasized Science and Math. It comes as no surprise, then, that the largest percentage of alumni (more than 25%) went into the field of medicine, and excelled. Another 14% went into science and technology—The cutting edge of it at that.
A FINAL POINT, one that is equally important, is that Prepians still succeeded outside the fields of science: 14% in business; 12% in the civil service, 10% in social and political activism, 7% in education, 6% in media and communication, 6% in arts and architecture, 4% in law; there is even 1% in sports.
What can I say? By anyone’s standards, this is a very impressive list of accomplishments.
A grudging outsider may ask the question: can you really discern the UP Prep legacy only by looking at a handful of people? Our response would be, yes, because the pattern is generalizable. If you read through the write-ups about each class you will see the same pattern year after year: Prepians going through high school, going into university, usually UP, going on to graduate school, usually abroad (and on a scholarship), then embarking on a career, usually in medicine, engineering, business, education, government service, law, and excelling in it—You name it, every batch has it.
All right then, the grudging outsider might concede. So that is the legacy of UP Prep. Excellence in diverse fields, leading to positions of leadership.
Some will say yes. Who would dare to say no? After all, there is so much evidence to support this claim. Statistics don’t even begin to show the excellence of our fellow alumni. Consider the following: There is the poet, painter, and songwriter who was also a columnist, stage actor, director, and producer who gained international fame as an inspirational writer and speaker. Then there is the world class violinist who received two full scholarships at Julliard, the renowned School of Music in New York.
The medical pioneer who performed the first bone marrow transplant, and peripheral blood stem cell transplant in the Philippines was a Prepian, as was the chemical engineer who helped establish the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering. The current Dean of the UERM College of Medicine, a three termer, who is also a national and international accreditor of medical schools is a Prepian. The Chief of Ocular Pathology at the UP National Institutes of Health was a UP Prep Valedictorian. The first female Summa Cum Laude graduate of the UP College of Statistics was a Prepian.
I could go on all night talking about this, and if no one stops me, I will. The current president of the country’s premiere hospital is also a Prepian; as is a female UP Prep graduate who was a research fellow at Harvard and the youngest recipient of a diplomate from the Philippine Heart Association. Another Prepian is the geologist with a successful international career, who discovered the largest offshore oil field in China’s history. And of course, still another Prepian went on to serve as Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology for three presidential administrations.
We also have Prepians who served as Cabinet Secretaries of the Departments of Energy, Health, and Social Welfare and Development; as Presidential Spokesperson; as Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries; as heads of government agencies; as Ambassadors. We also have Prepians who served as high ranking officers of the AFP, including one who was Vice Chief of Staff.
There’s more. In the field of Law, there is a Justice of the Supreme Court, an Executive Judge of a Regional Trial Court who was the recipient of a Judicial Excellence Award, and a former Deputy Executive Secretary. A Prepian is the holder of a world record in rifle-shooting who also served on the Philippine Sports Commission.
So in a way, perhaps one can argue, yes, that seems to be the UP Prep legacy. Excellence, naturally followed by leadership.
But I think it is a disservice to UP Prep if we end the story there. Yes, there are many stories of professional excellence and leadership, of technical accomplishments and of titles earned, and organizational achievements lauded. Yes, they are important. Yes, they are commendable. Yes, they are part of the UP Prep legacy.
But that is not the only kind of story that has emerged from UP Prep. This should not surprise us. UP Prep has, as an institution, and UP Prepians have, as a group, always been too rich to be limited to only one definition of excellence, too spirited to be confined into a single mold.
Prepians do not shrewdly eye the world’s standards of success and work hard to surpass them, although we can, and we have. No. Prepians march to their own drummer and set their own standards. Prepians create their own standards of excellence, and then work hard to surpass them. Even if this standard means no titles. No acclaim. No financial reward.
It is easy, following the world’s standards, to overlook the stories of Prepians who have have courageously deviated from mainstream definitions of excellence. Let us not make that mistake. The Prepian next to you may have led a life that has taken on a completely different shape from the pattern that I have just described. It does not matter. I do not doubt for a moment that the life of the Prepian next to you has been extraordinary, and the life of the Prepian next to you just as clearly bears the mark of UP Prep.
There are Prepians who have made choices at great personal risks to themselves. Three Prepians have testified at murder trials. There are two Prepians who chose to make a stand when Martial Law was declared in 1972. In taking this stand, one was killed in cold blood; the other remains missing today. This is yet another kind of Prepian excellence.
There is a Prepian who was a pioneering kidney donor at a time when the procedure was far from perfect in the Philippines. There is the Prepian young widow who battled breast cancer to successfully raise four young children, while still managing to establish and run her own business. There is the doctor who is now providing free health care to those who can least afford it where he lives in the Pacific Northwest. Again, no titles, no acclaim, no financial reward. And again, still another kind of Prepian excellence.
Looking at the lives of these remarkable people, we discern that the truest mark of a Prepian is the ability to define “the meaningful life” in unique, sometimes, radical terms; and to pursue this meaningful life even when it goes outside of society’s traditional expectations. Prepians are intelligent, to be sure. Leaders, to be sure. Skilled, to be sure. But there is more. As an alumnus says, the moral compass of a Prepian is pointed true north. At the core of the Prepian legacy is the strength of character of people who can define for themselves what excellence in life is, and the tenacity to pursue it whatever the cost.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to invite you to join me tonight as we journey through the threads that make up this rich and diverse Prepian story. Let this be a salute to the excellence of UP Prep, and to all UP Prepians who are extraordinary in 1,540 different ways.
May I now ask everyone to rise in tribute to this once-in-a-lifetime experiment the likes of which we may never see again.
And let us congratulate each other for fulfilling the dreams of Drs. Vidal Tan and Antonio Isidro beyond their wildest expectations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight it is also my pleasure and my privilege to welcome onstage three of our schoolmates who have each become the embodiment of excellence in their fields and representative of everything the founders of our school hoped for, and more:
Atty. Felipe Gozon. After graduating from UP Prep, he went on to obtain his Bachelor of Laws degree, also from UP, and place 13th in the 1962 Bar Examination. Atty. Gozon is best known for his leadership of the GMA7 Network, turning it into the giant multimedia conglomerate it is today, through almost four of the most tumultuous decades known in modern Philippine history. For the roles he and GMA7 played in restoring and preserving our democracy, and transitioning and transforming our society, Atty. Gozon in 2012 was a recipient of the Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award from the UP Alumni Association.
Dr. Baldomero Olivera, Jr. After graduating Valedictorian from UP Prep in 1956, he went on to graduate summa cum laude from UP in 1960 and teach. He has been named Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah, where he established the Neuroscience Program, and Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. As one of the world’s leading neuropharmacologists, Dr. Olivera led his team in studying the venom produced by the predatory cone snail and developing a drug that brings relief to people in chronic pain. In 2007, he was named Scientist of the Year by the Harvard University Foundation. He was also awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor. He continues to teach. With grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. Olivera has begun working with children and young adults in the United States, the Philippines, and Pacific islands, educating them on the rich biodiversity of the world.
Last but not least, His Excellency Jejomar Binay, Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines. Upon graduation from UP Prep, Vice President Binay went on to obtain Political Science and Law degrees from UP. After serving as three-term Mayor of the City of Makati not once but twice, he became the first local government official to be elected Vice President. But it is the legal services that he rendered pro bono to the poor and those who were politically-oppressed during the Martial Law years—a carryover from his days as a student leader and an activist—that many will always remember him for.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you our FELLOW EXTRAORDINARY PREPIANS!
(At this point, the 150 extraordinary Prepians’ photos were shown on the screen.)
Here are the 150 Extraordinary Prepians: