Friday, June 01, 2018

The Inevitable Separation

My Retirement Speech
my retirement composition song with Mizel and his former instructor on violin

Finally, the day when I have to leave De La Salle Zobel and the comforts of home that it provides me together with all the amenities, equipment, the latest gadgets and knowing the latest trends in teaching the young, has finally come.  After thirty four years of continued service, I have to relinquish my post and hand it over to the next one.  It may be lonely but I know I am needed somewhere else.  So, to the world, I say here I come. I think you are ready for someone like me as I have been preparing to be ready to meet your challenges.

On May 25, I, together with two other retirees, Ms. Carol Ballesteros, school librarian and Ms. Tess Panaligan, Vice Principal for Academics of our Vermosa Campus, were given a tribute during the Recognition Day.  I was asked to deliver a speech in response to the tribute.  You can view the entire message in the link provided here

or if you prefer to read the text, I am reproducing it here for posterity so that those in my family who would be interested can view it the way it was presented.  Here goes:

I always gift myself with a major work, either a painting or a poem, which I do days before my birthday.  On the first day of September in 2007, a few days before I turned fifty, and ten years before this occasion, I wrote a poem which I would like to share with you today.  The poem is entitled, into the strenuous briefness, a title that is not mine, the only poem I have written that has a title borrowed from another artist, American beat poet, e. e. cummings – and it goes like this:

into the strenuous briefness

you view it
like a rocky
river emptying
tons of water
the sea


a caravan
of a hundred men
on perspiring camels
slowly passing
a gorge
of sand
for the

or even

a tortoise
on a long journey
by land to seek
the ocean, tracing,
sniffing salt
in the air
trapped in
a puddle of hardening mud
left by the ebbing tide


pushes itself
till tomorrow is

What is the relevance of this poem to my impending retirement? A lot. If you must know, I have stayed in this school for 34 years. To many, it would seem that that is a long time - but, actually, it isn’t.  To me, it seems like I woke up this morning only to find out that it has already been thirty-four years and I have already overstayed my welcome. A journey of a thousand miles, no matter how slow the pace and how long it takes, the end shall be reached and the journey has to end.  This is how it is. Time continues and will not stop for anything or anyone. We are trapped in a continuing whirlpool until we reach rock bottom for after all, life is not a bottomless pit.
People have been asking me, “Do you feel sad now that you are retiring?” My answer has always been a curt reply in the negative. You might say I am a bit numb or even egotistical not to admit I am saddened by having to say goodbye.  The truth of the matter is that it is only because it has not sunk in and that it will only be felt on the day when I no longer have to wake up early in the morning, drive all the way to school, and have my morning chit chat with friends while having breakfast. It is just like the experience of having someone die in your family and yes, you grieve but not that much for you are in the company of friends and relatives during the wake.  The loss truly sinks in when the departed is finally put permanently to rest, together with the flowers and notes and all the valuables you want to bury with the person.  When everybody has gone home, that is the time it will hit you.  Only then will you experience the emptiness, the longing for the shared laughter, never to hear the sound of his/her voice again – then you realize a dearly beloved has gone.  Yes, retirement will only sink in once I have stopped doing my daily routine, a routine I have been doing every waking day of my life for more than half of my existence here on earth. Ultimately in all reality and practicality, it will truly be felt every tenth and twenty-fifth of the month when no pay check shall be coming in.
I came to this school in 1984 during its infancy stage, together with Litz,  six years after the school started. I was not prepared to be a teacher. I did not even know what a syllabus is, I frantically looked for a sample so that I can make it my template when they asked me to do one.  I should say, my first 15 years were spent in knowing how to teach and everything that comes with it. Now that I can say I know the ropes, they are retiring me.  It is like when I finally knew the answer, they changed the question.  I will never be as good as my friend, Henry Magahis. Now he is the epitome of a good teacher. He dreamt of it even when he was young. He knew what he wanted and got it. Nor will I ever be a Tess Panaligan whose passion and enthusiasm are easily passed on to her students. For those of you who really know who I am, it would be very easy for you to understand that I wear two hats in school. The teacher me who is all serious and strict with my students and the real me, a prankster, jocular, fun-loving and one who loves to tell jokes especially green ones. I had to keep the real me in tow knowing I have to be at my best behavior when I am being a teacher. As such, I have never been close to my students. Except for those who became teachers themselves, no student of mine will ever know the real me, fun to be with and most probably, lovable. My only consolation is that several months before retirement, I was fortunate to head a delegation of eight students to Kota Kinabalu.  Finally, I have bonded with students, earned their trust and gained their friendship. To me, that is truly endearing.  I will always cherish in my heart those seven days that we were together, telling jokes – the clean ones, of course, singing, hiking, playing cards during idle moments and enjoying the sceneries and the entire experience altogether! I have considered them to be my children who I shall be looking after even from a distance. So to Cristine, Tony, Bea, Jemil, Maui, Gerard, Adolf and Kester thank you and good luck on all your endeavors.
In my thirty-four years, I have witnessed every transformation the school has undergone. I have seen the progress it undertook from its simplest political and physical set-up to today’s complicated quagmire of networks and everything that go with it, even the confusing bureaucracy we have put ourselves in. I have worked under the tutelage of noble superiors who had clear visions and novel ideas. I have worked under three presidents, Br. Andrew, Br. Rafe, Broden and now, Br. Bernie.  I worked closely with two EVP’s, Br. Dalumpines and Mr. Holmes, several Directors and Principals, notable of which is Mr. Cadlum, the very first lay administrator La Salle would have and the one who, God bless him, offered me the job, to teach in Zobel.  There are also my ninongs Mr. Lozada and Mr. Valmonte, Mr. Sagum and yes, that enchanting but very evasive woman, Ms. Melissa Cruz.  All these leaders have left their imprints, whether physical or otherwise, serving as pillars of this well-established institution as they have envisioned.   I was one of the first coordinators, the youngest then, to hold office when the school adapted this system of management. Several years thereafter, I had the pleasure to work with no less than my fellow honoree, Ms. Agnes Panaligan.  She was a perfect teacher, immaculate as a Coordinator, she was impeccable as an Academic Vice Principal. What is the point of all these? I would like to tell you, we are now reaping the fruits of trees planted for us, and to borrow the words of the late Br.Rafe, we have been drinking from a well we did not dig.
There are a lot of things I have to be thankful for.  First of all, I have to thank La Salle for providing all my children with quality education. That is the primary reason why I stayed on board. I equated their education as part of my salary. Having done so, my wages, even then, was already comparable to what those working as managers in the industry or my artist-friends who are making their names known in art scene.  La Salle has made my journey as a family man comfortable, if not luxurious. We have always been simple folks with simple needs anyway. I would like to thank the Gr 9 and 10 teachers of the last two academic years for they have made my transition from the administration back to the classroom easy. I will have to thank my band and the singers. They made me look good and sound good. Special thanks should go my team leaders, Kathy and Symbol for it is in their leadership that my survival in the classroom had been effortless.  Next to thank are those women friends who were constant companions for lunch, outings and everything in between. First is Edith, Cris, Monette, Ophel, Joji, Suzette, Zharro, Liesl, Barbie, Monica, Tiffany, the computer girls headed by Kat, Apple, Armie, Lalaine and that cute little girl who has  always been the topic of my jokes, Ria. They were my angels. With only a brother, I grew up with sisters who pampered me making me more comfortable in the company of women than men. These women are both beautiful inside and out. Most of all, I have to thank my wife, Nitz, who put up with all my peculiarities and unusual ways.  Living with an artist is not easy but she survived. Then my children to whom I dedicate everything. Kraig, Mizel, Kim and Coby. They are my truest angels who guided me in all the endeavors I have undertaken and will continue to do so until I can no longer perform.
 I started with a poem, I would like to end with another one. This one is entitled The Reunion. It talks about two former lovers who have gone their separate ways after graduation. After long years of being apart, somehow they got in touch and have agreed to meet once again at the same spot which served as their rendezvous.  The man arrives earlier than the woman and he reminisces about old times. He is excited about the prospect of meeting her again. This is my metaphor for DLSZ and the relationship I have with it and  what  I foresee that relationship shall be in the future. So here goes:

The Reunion

Nothing has changed since I left
not the old tree in front
of the gate they closed at five,
or the tree we climbed to enter
the school,
so we could be alone,
talk, cuddle and kiss.

The white bench where we sat to watch
fiery glow of setting sun,
my signal to hold your hand,
put my arm around you,
hoping you would not resist –
caress your long, soft hair
blown by the gentle breeze,
gently kiss your reddened cheek.

Time stood still as we listen to the chimes
singing to announce
it is time to pray the angelus,
a prayer we used to share
while I gazed at your young, innocent face.

And then you arrive!

He hands of time spin as quickly
as the blades of a running motor.
You are different!
Your heavily made up face,
accented by thick, red lips
heavy mascara and plum body
remind me of my own flaws
now weighing on my shoulders.
Then I notice, the tree has gone dry,
its leaves withered by the summer heat,
our bench is dirty and rusted,
chimes now play a different tune.
We have gone old and the years
Have not been kind.

             What am I trying to say in my poem? Heraclitus said, “You cannot cross the same river twice.” I cannot cross the same river twice because neither the river nor I will be the same. It is on that note that I say, with deep regret, that I can never return to the same De La Salle Santiago Zobel again.  Given three to five years, only a fraction of those teaching here would know me for those who did would have been gone having resigned, or yes, retired as well.  In ten years and more, nobody would know, much less care, who Rolly de los Santos is and all the thirty-four years of my stayhere shall be rendered as of no consequence.Just to prove my point, we all know where the Cadlum hall is but we don’t know after whom the place was named after.  Hoping I shall not be misconstrued as being critical but jus t driving home a point, this very institution was conceived and built by Br. Andrew and yet, nobody among the teachers here know  who he is. While he has a room named after him, nobody has the mind to build a statue in his honor in this very institution which was his baby, a project that he ardently fought for as the brothers then frowned upon the idea questioning why La Salle had to build another “elitist” school.  What about the two statues outside of the CPA? Br. Ceci and  Br. Felix? Those endearing brothers who charmed their way to the students’ hearts. Nobody knows them now. If these great men whose work far exceeded what was expected of them and yet, are forgotten now, surely I, a simple art teacher whose service can be considered minimal in comparison will not matter after ten years or even earlier.
        And so, my friends, if I can make an appeal to  you, those  here present and have known me and my work, please try to remember who I was and what I stood for. Try to remember me using that ancient computer lingo, wysywyg – what you see is what you get. I know I may have been brash or  rude at some point and may have possibly hurt someone one way or another  with my blunt words, but try to understand  that I was just  trying to be me and I apologize.  Believe me when I say it was nothing personal. I am still the same friendly me after that. I know that humility has not been my strongest virtue but I make sure that having integrity, being honest, and objectively fair top them all.  To the new teachers, I am sorry we could not have interacted that much but this I tell you, De La Salle is one place where you can stay for a very long time and it will treat you well if you do your job just as well. To my friends, I bid you adieu, hoping  it is just for now and that we will continue to correspond until I am no longer available to. Thank you Zobel, thank you everyone. This is rolly de los Santos signing out. Good morning!