Then and Now

Originally published in 2001, Then and Now: Bridging 50 Years in Silliman was featured in The Sillimanian Magazine, a special centennial Founder’s Day Issue of The Weekly Sillimanian.


Fifty years ago, I was a product of the Silliman University Recruitment Team that visited my home some 44 kilometers from Dumaguete. Apparently the Team was guided by mimeographed High School Commencement Programs that featured those graduating with honors. Looking back, I see a concrete example of the Team’s concern for Silliman University to have quality students. Such deeply-seated loyalty!

I enrolled as a freshie in the College of Education in 1951 with the college capping the biggest enrollment; however, it shrank to a department three years after because of continuing decrease in enrollment (Silliman University 1901-1976, Edilberto Tiemp, With few students in my higher years, there was more time to live and learn together in the classroom. We reserved our individual study at the main Library located at Hibbard Hall.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.55.28 AM.pngDr. Pedro E.Y. Rio, our Dean, would call each one of us to learn about our academic problems and to keep on improving our QPA. Little did I know that one’s academic transcript is a passport to a quality position. Also only upon reading Silliman University 1901-1976 (published 1977) did I know how in 1955, Silliman University had funding for further studies abroad. Dean Rio must have been deeply hurt when I turned down the scholarship for an M.A. degree in an American institution. Family values prevailed.

There were few University-sponsored activities. The Galilean Fellowship was well-attended. Spurred by a deeply moving sermon by Rev. Tom Lung, I still see myself moving forward to acknowledge publicly Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. There was the acquaintance party at the beginning of the school year wherein the skill of the Christian boogie (square dancing) ended with “a small glass of punch, one teaspoon of peanuts and three cookies” (Ibid., p.337). Founder’s Day celebrations and commencement programs drew us together. There was the Honor Society that welcomed students from all colleges and departments with a QPA of at least 3.5. Among them were President Pulido, Board Member Estacion, Bishop Genotiva, Board Member Lucy Villegas, Atty. and Mrs. Cortes, Thelma Mariño Espedido and Ramon Centeno, among others. I recall one or to outings with no deduction in grades for non-attendance. There was no Campus Choristers, no Men’s Glee Club, no Dance Troupe, no Weekly Sillimanian, no Southeast Asian Studies. This could be due to the lack of buildings and facilities. Many of our classes were held in T-rooms. The absence of varied activities criss-crossing disciplines limited my outlook as a University college student.

The academic vitality was centered in classrooms. We had such outstanding and unforgettable teachers as Dr. Metta Silliman, Dr. Gordon Mahy, Dr. Polson, Mrs. Feria, Ms. Inez Damaso, Rev. Jose Jacinto, Dr. Demetillo, Dr. Luz Ausejo, Dr. Rosengren, Mrs. Rosita Romero, Mrs. Rosario Oracion, Dr. Herman Gregorio, Mrs Ravello and our very own Drs. Edilberto and Edith Tiempo.

I recall with nostalgia how all of us during our junior year – about twenty of us representing different disciplines with English as either major or minor – with all enthusiasm joined hands in preparing a makeshift stage right in the classroom for the actual production of a one-act play by a Filipino writer under the class of Dr. Edith Tiempo: some with ingenuity took care of costumes; others, of physical arrangement; still others with make-up and accessories; and one timer. The rendition was within the given class schedule, for the room was to be used by another class.

There was the fun of marching right in the classroom in “Hannibal Cross the Alps” under Dr. Polson. In contrast was the feeling of nervousness in the awaiting for the brisk entrance of Dr. Luz Ausejo who always carried two or three books and threw them to whomever the books landed: to be summarized and evaluated with stress on the books’ messages the following class session!

Most enjoyable of all was the reproduction of a line or two from Shakespeare under Dr. Silliman. This of course was after a thorough understanding of the play. The individual reproduction was to be complete with appropriate tone of voice and corresponding gesture – right in front of the class. In a similar manner, Ms. Damaso gave each student the freedom to choose a significant response during personal encounters and express each in at least two different meanings. An example would be “I am done” expressed angrily or jubilantly. Then there was Dr. Rosengren who – in the second language approach – would make us first master the eleven vowel phonemes in American English. Right in front of the class each one took turns as a leader in the repetition of the phonemes. All of these techniques served as an individual speaking contest as well as a contest in dramatics. There was joy… there was fun… there was muffled criticism followed by laughter.

I would like to thank the Weekly Sillimanian for the opportunity of reminiscence; for giving me the opportunity to relay to the present SU student body how fortunate they are to be in an atmosphere of excellent buildings and the corresponding varied programs that provide vibrant activities stimulating creativity; for the opportunity to thank publicly our former professors for molding us into men and women who, according to our first Filipino President of Silliman University, Dr. Leopoldo T. Ruiz, “do not only have the training, experience and ability to perform chosen and expected tasks but also the passion to serve their fellowmen.”




Fifty years later, and it is my turn. My turn to walk the very same halls, roads, alleyways and avenues my grandma once tread. My turn to line up, shifting with impatience at the Business and Finance Office; my turn to borrow books from the library, to poke through the shelves and peer at dusty magazines. My turn to sit in class, to stare at the teacher, either furiously taking notes or passing them. My turn to speculate on how haunted the dorms are, how eerie cries echo through the passageways of Katipunan Hall – where white ladies are said to float with blood-speckled clothing. (My father was born there, by the way.)

Very dramatic, wouldn’t you say. How very… touching, how very dynastic.

I wasn’t here when girls covered their ankles modestly and walked with eyes downcast, when men slicked their hair back with pomade and wore suspenders. I wasn’t here when John Lennon and his wife strove to change the world with love, when people refused to cut their hair, bell-bottoms reigned supreme and Saturday Night Fever and spray net were the names of the game.

I am here, in a world ruled by MTV, where everyone has an e-mail address and a mobile phone, and information is so easy to come by; where pomade is no longer pomade, it is either hair gel, mousse or hair conditioner; where spray net is out and John Travolta no longer prances around in tight fitting jeans.

I am here, in a campus where a student’s hair can range from red to blue, and fashion is not taken lightly. Some dress like there’s a perennial party going on. Some dress like slobs. Some dress like everyone else. Some don’t care about the way they dress at all.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.55.54 AM.pngMine is a campus where gender-sensitivity asserts itself, girls go to the comfort rooms in groups, and April Boy Regino is an evil word. Mine is a campus where sward-speak is acceptable lingo; char and tola are an essential part of communication. In Silliman, equality is the name of the game, and the SU Main Library has transmogrified from a modest collection at Hibbard Hall into a huge building filled with books and is something akin to a gigantic freezer. Oh, and for us, TFI is a deadly acronym that stands for Tuition Fee Increase. It also appears every year, to our utter consternation.

We still have yearly acquaintance parties – sans cookies and peanuts. We don’t just sit around and get acquainted; we move around, a maelstrom of gyrating young bodies, moving to a futuristic, funky beat under heady, mysterious, dazzling lights. This is no polite little gathering with cookies and punch, brought alive by melodies played on the piano and a bit of square dancing.

There are now so many students in Silliman, we all seem to blur into a mass of intelligent, opinionated, outgoing, friendly young people changing rooms, going from class to class. There are now so many departments and colleges, so many organizations of various inclinations, all you have to do is go for whatever strikes your fancy, be it religion, writing poetry, love of math, cooking, climbing mountains. Sometimes, the extra-curricular activities even outweigh the academic ones.

I’ve had my share of Shakespeare. I know the rudiments of political science, have gotten re-acquainted with history, and explored my heritage through Filipino subjects. I’ve stood in front of class, playing either a girl gone mad or declaiming like all get out, I’ve sat through biology classes, merrily dissecting frogs and I’ve stared helplessly at a board full of the squiggles that accompany mathematical logic, feeling like a Spanish-speaking local in a totally Dutch setting. Which of course means, mathematical logic never made any sense to me – although I passed it (by the skin of my teeth).

Currently, in the pursuit to make me into a more knowledgeable young adult, I am going through the rigors of physics, am figuring out how the economy can make or break a country, and am being trained to think critically, among other things.

And since you can’t graduate without learning how to swim, I’ve had my share of delicious Shaw Memorial Pool water – I either swallowed or inhaled a pitcher’s worth while learning how to plunge or trying to stay underwater. Pity those who had to do that over and over.

Sillimanians all go through the following: setting foot in the Cafeteria. Sitting through convocations at Silliman Church. Attending film showings at the Audio-Visual Theatre. Slogging through muck at the Booth Area every Founder’s Day and getting splinters from building booths – or headaches from problematic carpenters. Cramming frantically for finals.

Cheering contests. Intramurals. Miss Silliman. SG elections. Christmas parties. Semestral break (the most awaited part of the school year, not to mention summer and Christmas break). T-shirt payments. Rummage sales. Open house. Closed week. “Kabsies”.

Ah, life.

Time is a funny matter, and Silliman is funnier. It is a great big oxymoron, I suppose… for while the acacias remain the same and the roads are as they were; while Silliman Hall, Hibbard Hall, Katipunan Hall and the Scheide Chapel still stand as symbols of early Sillimanian zeal and the spirit of Silliman still permeates the air… somehow, everything has changed. The roads have more potholes (at least, until surgery was performed), some acacias are gone, newer buildings have popped up where empty fields used to lie, and enrollment is faster because of digital technology. It is the same, yet changed.

For all this, Silliman still goes on being Silliman; palm trees, three by three yells, friendly smiles, the Gates of Opportunity ever open towards the sea, welcoming disembarking people from the pier, a constant reminder of where Dumaguete’s heart really lies. Silliman will always be Silliman, precisely because it can never be anything else.

So I’m here, five decades later, in the Silliman of today. I’m here, just as my grandmother was, and my father and mother were, before me. I’m here, as my brothers also are. And perhaps, the dynastic heritage will continue, because the children I have just might be here, too. Yeah. If I ever have any.


Professor Emerita Josefina S. Cornelio was the former Vice President for Academic Affairs for Silliman University, and the recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Oriental Negrense Award in the field of Education. 

Nikka Cornelio-Baker moonlights as a freelance writer, columnist and erstwhile blogger.  She now lives in Toronto and is currently working on her first book, Pretend You’ve Read Everything.


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