Fellow Alumni of Harvard University, Members of the Harvard Club of the Philippines,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
More than sixty years have passed since I first entered the hallowed yard of Harvard College in 1948, 64 years to be more exact. And slightly more than fifty years have passed since I left its campus. Sixty four years is a long time to remember things, places and people, not just because of the passage of time, but because of the many changes that take place, so much so that when you revisit where you once were, very little often remains of what you once knew. Fortunately, our alma mater has been blessed with a certain permanence, a certain constancy, a certain familiarity, and I am greatly honoured that you have asked me to share my memories of Harvard with you. I shudder to think, however, that I could be the oldest alumnus in this gathering tonight - 81 years old and going on 82 by next month. Where did all the years go?
I first went to Harvard College in 1948, having completed my high school studies immediately after the end of the second world war, first at the Ateneo in Manila, and then at the Bellarmine School, a Jesuit prep school in San Jose, California.
I also did my first year of college at the University of San Francisco, another Jesuit school.
At that point, I wanted to transfer to another Jesuit school in the Midwest called Loyola University to pursue a degree in Journalism. But my father had other plans for me. He wanted me to go to Harvard because he went there sometime in the mid-twenties to pursue a one-year post-graduate course in law at the Harvard Law School. Without letting me know, he had worked it out with Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos P. Romulo to get me admitted in Harvard as a transfer student. A few years later, my elder brother, Eugenio Jr. or Geny, who finished his undergraduate studies at the Virginia Military Institute or VMI in Lexington, Virginia also came to Harvard Business School for his MBA. It must have really gladdened my father’s heart that his two sons were studying in Harvard.
When I arrived in Cambridge as a freshman, in the fall of 1948, I was there as a sophomore and not as a freshman. I noticed there was so much over-crowding, a consequence, I suppose, of the GI Bill and the influx of soldiers just released from the services, so that we initially had to be housed at the gym of the indoor athletic building, in rows of cots, one student to a cot, before we could be eventually placed in dorms. Later, I finally ended up at Leverett House, one of Harvard’s famous “houses”. I had two Filipino batchmates. One was Armand Fabella, reading for his degree in economics, and he stayed at the John Winthrop House. The other was Alejandro “Ding” Lichauco, also reading for his degree in economics, and he stayed at Dunster House. We eventually graduated together, Armand and I with cum laude honors. Armand went on to further studies at the London School of Economics. Ding returned to Manila.
Even the discipline and rigors of my Jesuit scholastic background did not prepare me for what I encountered at Harvard. That first year I spent there was probably the toughest academic year I experienced in my whole life. There was so much reading the school expected us to do and you had to get used to a new way of thinking, where you had to question every idea or doctrine to test its validity against a rational criteria.
Nothing was sacred or taken for granted. All my beliefs were challenged. It took me a whole year to learn the Harvard way of doing things. My experience was apparently in line with what Harvard President Lawrence Lowell said about the freshman year at Harvard as “being like a cold shower; it made men of boys.” But I also like what another Harvard President, Nathan Pusey, said about the unique educational system at Harvard College –“To be in Harvard College” he asserted “was to be invited to sit at a table loaded with intellectual riches beyond my power to describe.”
My second year was much better, as I got better grades and by the 3rd and senior year, I was confident enough to go for an honors degree in Government, where I had to write an honors thesis. My subject was a short history of the Communist Movement in the Philippines. There was so much untapped source material available in Harvard’s main library, Widener Library, which is the world’s largest university library, that my thesis sounded like an authoritative history of the movement. My thesis went over big with the graders and I eventually graduated with a cum laude on my degree.
Needless to say, my father was very proud of my achievement, and he had my name and picture plastered in all the newspapers in Manila at the time. Armand, who also graduated cum laude, complained to me that he did not get the same publicity as I did. I said it was probably because his father was not a newspaper publisher as my father.
Of course, Harvard in our era was still all-male, as it was to remain up to the time I left in 1960. But Harvard’s citadel of male chauvinism did not last too long after. Radcliffe students were admitted to Harvard courses by 1943. By 1971, Radcliffe students were allowed to live in all upper class Harvard houses and by 1999, a genuine merger was achieved between the two institutions. Thus, when I attended our 50th class reunion in 2001, I was mildly shocked at the sight of women living in my Leverett House and all the upper class Houses in the Harvard campus.
Having completed my college degree, I left Harvard to study in Spain, only to return a year later, this time to the Littauer School, Harvard’s Graduate School of Public Administration, which eventually gave rise to the John F. Kennedy School of Government. But the two remained separate entities up to today. This time, I had to rent a place off campus to stay in. It turned out to be a private home in which I was the only boarder, and the only male in a household of four. My landlady, Mrs. Killiam, was quite old, and lived with a daughter who was divorced and who, in turn, also had a daughter. Armand and Ding Lichauco were gone, but there were now many other Filipinos in Harvard, to wit, Johnny Ponce Enrile, Estelito Mendoza, Fred Lagmay, Rafael Salas, OD Corpus, Beniting Legarda and Fr. Horacio dela Costa and Ruben Santos Cuyugan. Johnny and Estelito were in Graduate Law School, Fred was doing graduate work in psychology; Paeng and OD were with me in Littauer, Beniting and Fr. dela Costa were both doing Graduate work in History, and, Ruben Santos Cuyugan was in Economics. This period also coincided with my brother Geny going to the Harvard Business School to do his M.B.A. degree. He was there with Ric Camus and Vince Paterno. I pursued a Master’s degree in Public Administration even as I also finished virtually all the course requirements for a doctorate.
Two years later, Geny and I both got in 1955, our diplomas and went home. The following year, I decided to get married to Connie Rufino and brought her back to Cambridge, to be away from the influence of our parents. I also hoped to finish my PhD because all that was lacking was my PhD thesis. What we could afford on our limited budget was an old apartment house run by an old lady, where you couldn’t plug in too many electrical appliances because the wiring couldn’t take the load. During the cold months, I had to shovel coal into the heater every night. On nights that I would come home late from the library, Connie and our children would have to go around in their snowsuits until I arrived and could shovel the coal in. In the more than 3 years we spent in Cambridge, our first 2 children were born, and that was how we started our married life. At that point, however, I decided I had spent too much time abroad (about nine years) and it was time to go home and start working without finishing my thesis. My father gave me the job of being publisher of the Manila Chronicle which I held for 6 years.
I came back to a Philippines that had begun to really shake off the shackles of its colonial past and of its colonial inferiority complex. Major businesses that had previously been dominated by expatriate shareholders and managers were now under Filipino ownership and management control, among them Meralco and PLDT. There was great optimism in the air, the sense of a country eager to fulfil its manifest destiny as leader among emerging countries in the Far East. The Philippines had so much potential, it seemed. Filipinos had so much potential, it seemed.
It was a pipe dream and we never did pull it off. The promotion of clan and individual interests took precedence over the promotion of the nation, and we all took turns pulling each other back and pulling each other down. By the end of the sixties, we were engulfed in what came to be known as the First Quarter Storm, during which radical student, worker and farmer movements took turns agitating for change, for more economic equality. This was something I very much sympathized with. For in doing my masteral thesis at Harvard on the history of the Communist movement in the Philippines, I came to the personal conclusion that communism was not the answer for us. However, I also came to recognize that the plight of the poor was a national issue that we urgently had to address and solve. Otherwise, it would be a cancer that would eventually eat us up. That dream of the sixties finally came crashing down with the declaration of martial law.
But we are a blessed country and a blessed people, it would seem. Today, in spite of everything our country has had to go through over the past forty years, we find ourselves once again able to dream of a better Philippines. Our people continue to be a resource with tremendous potential. They are young. They remain relatively well educated. They are articulate and industrious. They are in demand all over the world. We cannot generate employment for all of them. Yet, they have the capacity to seek work in virtually every corner of the globe, and to share their earnings with us in the form of remittances. Our land continues to hold great potential, if only we could properly manage its use and protection. Economically, we may be lagging behind our more progressive neighbours, but we are not a distressed economy. We have been able to grow consistently over a number of years, and we are able to sustain that growth, even when many parts of the world have dipped into recession.
But is it once again going to be a pipe-dream that we will not be able to pull off? Are we once again going to be our own worst enemies and pull each other back, and pull each other down? Well, I submit that we will never become the kind of country we dream about until we begin to think, first and foremost, of our country. Until we put the country first, before ourselves, before our families, before our clans, before our businesses, before our religions and, certainly, before our politics. I could go on for an hour talking about what I perceive to be the ills of our society. We could go on for hours discussing and debating them. But when you tear the issues down to their most fundamental root causes, then, like me, I think that you will agree. Bottom line, we haven’t yet learned to put our country first, or even to think like one. That is why the Philippines has yet to live up to its potential. What I am hoping and waiting for is a wise old man or a much younger leader, preferably with a Harvard education behind him, who can straighten things out in the economy and society. A much younger version of Eddie Ramos will do. That’s all I have to tell you.
Thank you and a very good evening to all of you.