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The Ateneo at 150

The Ateneo de Manila’s most famous alumni is obviously Jose Rizal. Sadly, though, the current location of the Ateneo is not where Rizal studied. The original location was in Intramuros, and through those doors walked some of the great minds of the Philippines. While the location may have changed, we are proud that our alma mater remains an institution dedicated to forging men and women capable of leading the Philippines. Today, they continue that legacy by educating their students in a milieu of social awareness and responsibility.

The Jesuit Order was founded by two Basque gentlemen by the names of Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, along with others from Spain, France and Portugal, in the Chapel of St. Denis, Rue Yvonne le Tac in Paris on August 15, 1534. From that meeting came the largest male order in the Catholic Church and one of the great educational forces of the modern age. Most importantly though, today the Jesuit Order is focused on using education as a vehicle for social change; as the catalyst for bridging the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. The university that is at the vanguard of the Jesuit Order’s new policy on social education is the Ateneo de Manila University.

On April 14, 1859 ten Jesuit priests arrived in the Philippines. In the minds of the leadership of Manila was the memory of the strong educational abilities of the Jesuit order. As a result, they prevailed upon then Governor-General Fernando Norzagaray y Escudero (a man of Basque descent) to grant the Jesuits a school; they were given the Escuela Municipal (the only primary school in Manila) on October 1, 1859. In 1865, under Governor-General Juan de Lara e Irigoyen (a Basque from Navarra), the Escuela Municipal became the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. We congratulate them on their 150th anniversary.

Father Bienvenido Nebres, president of the Ateneo de Manila, says in a Newsweek article from August 9, 2008: “Thinking of helping the poor in terms of soup kitchens or tutoring cannot be enough. You have to change the status quo.” He goes on: “We don’t need to be taking down those at the top; We need to be a bridge.” Education as a means to alleviate and eliminate poverty cannot only focus on the bottom, it has to affect across the socio-economic spectrum — especially those at the top. The ‘haves’ have to be aware of their broader social responsibilities in developing nations — nations such as the Philippines. The only way the Philippines will move forward is through an understanding of our responsibilities as citizens. Social change is not a product of reduction; it is a by-product of educational enlightenment and intellectual upliftment.

We consider education to be an inalienable right of any member of civil society. Why? Because education is evolutionary and revolutionary. And in the new global age, social change cannot be looked at from a top-down or bottom-up perspective; it is a combination of both. Education then becomes the primary driver behind improvement in civil society: Coupled with the ‘normal’ education, those at the top are taught to be socially aware members of society; those at the bottom are given new opportunities through learning.

It is the responsibility of our schools to generate the next generation of leaders and nation builders. The Ateneo de Manila University has wholeheartedly embraced this calling. On the Ateneo de Manila’s 150tht anniversary there are some minor commemorative activities that we would have liked to see; for example, resurrecting the original location of the Ateneo in Intramuros to honor the great graduates of that campus. However, there is no better commemoration to what the Ateneo is and what it has stood for these last 150 years than what they are trying to do now: Create agents for social change in the Philippines. There is no higher calling than education, there is no greater means to help our nation.

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