Sunday Lifestyle

Harvard spring

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

In temperate countries, spring is a time for rebirth and awakening, an exciting period of growth and renewal after the cold winter season. In 2004, I also had a “spring” of sorts  an intellectual one, which was a burst of new knowledge and learning, when I joined the master’s in law program at Harvard University.

But if you asked my batchmates from Ateneo Law School (Class of ‘96) whether they thought I’d end up taking my master’s in law at Harvard Law School, then the usual answer would be in the negative. Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly known as a scholar at that time and it was actually a difficult time for me personally. My father had passed away after my freshman year and so, aside from the grief and loss, I had to face the challenge of supporting myself and finding funds for my studies. But somehow, particularly through the help of my mother and brothers, as well as working part-time, I obtained my law degree on schedule but not with the highest grades.

Of course, if you asked my mom whether I could  and would  study at Harvard Law School, her answer would be, emphatically, yes. Attribute it to motherly love and her own undying belief in the abilities of her children that perhaps enables us to go beyond what we ourselves might initially believe to be the limits of our abilities. In fact, when I did eventually file my application for the master’s program at Harvard, she immediately told our relatives that I was going to study at Harvard Law School. Her motherly exuberance had a negative effect on some relatives, though; they laughed behind her back and said that it would never happen. The reality was that although some Filipino Muslims had gone to Harvard University, primarily the Kennedy School of Government, as far as we knew  and this was confirmed by an employee at the International Program Office at Harvard Law School  no Filipino Muslim had ever graduated from Harvard Law School. However, perhaps because of her mother’s instinct, my mom knew that, against the odds, I’d get to study in Harvard.

And the odds were great. One of the greatest of which was that I didn’t believe that I had the academic and intellectual credentials to study there. Harvard Law School, including the master’s program, has a small rate of acceptance, with literally thousands of students vying for a few hundred spots. Simply put, I lacked the confidence to even apply. Luckily, my wife, Weena, was more than supportive and was my personal cheerleader, encouraging me to apply. After the miracle of my being accepted into the master’s program, the next big hurdle was the financial obligation of studying abroad at an Ivy League school. To cut a long story short, after being granted scholarships from the university and my wife taking on the duty of being the sole breadwinner for the family, and borrowing money, I was finally prepared to go to Harvard. (The moral of this story is: if you want to succeed in life, then get a great wife to encourage and help you.)

Some might wonder, why did we go through all that trouble just to get another degree? I already had three degrees at that time  economics, law, and a master’s in public administration from the University of the Philippines, so what use would another one have? Well, firstly, it was a career investment. Being able to study at an Ivy League school, with the networking and connections that it would facilitate, would prove valuable in the practice of law. Secondly, when applying for work or appointment to a government post, a Harvard law degree is similarly helpful. Thirdly, for Filipinos, with our experience of the American educational system, our academic aspirations usually refer to American institutions instead of British ones and the most iconic of all American academic institutions is Harvard University. Thus, going there was personally fulfilling and had utility in that sense. Fourthly, and most importantly, it is not so much obtaining the degree in and of itself but rather the process of it, meaning the learning, intellectual growth, and exposure to another legal system and getting an international perspective on legal education that was, in a word, invaluable. I cannot overstate how I benefited from seeing how other legal systems all over the world operated. And this was a function not only predicated on the classroom component of the master’s program but also on the non-class component: the interaction, discussions and debates with legal scholars from 60 nations. As hyperbolic as it sounds, the truth is that my Harvard education has improved my life and made me a better lawyer.

This Tuesday, at Makati Shangri-La Hotel, the Harvard Club of the Philippines (HCP) will celebrate its “Harvard Spring” and bring together alumni from different colleges of the University  Kennedy School of Government, Education, Business School, etc.  together for fellowship and to listen to two distinguished Harvard alums, Oscar M. Lopez, chairman emeritus of Lopez Holdings Corporation (AB ‘51, MPA ‘55) and Butch Abad, Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (MPA ‘94) share their thoughts on, among other things, their Harvard experience and how the alumni can use their skills and resources for nation-building. The event will be covered by ANC and I will be one of the hosts of the event. HCP president Andres Bautista, currently chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (HLS ‘93), has spearheaded the Harvard Spring initiative to re-energize the Harvard Club of the Philippines. All Harvard alumni are invited to join us.

While for the jaded, a meeting of Harvard alumni would appear merely to be a social event, if properly harnessed, the event could be used as a springboard to other events and activities that will hopefully benefit our country. While not always the case, many graduates of Harvard University have achieved success in their various fields of endeavor. Consequently, with the resources, network, and skills of the members of the HCP, the organization, if properly utilized, can be one of the non-governmental and private organizations that will aid, or even spearhead, the building of our nation. And perhaps because of this, we can actually have “spring” in the Philippines  a period of renewed economic growth and social development for our country.










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