ISABELINAS: Just Girls Having Fun
The 79th Alumni Homecoming and the USI Sesquicentennial February 8-9, 2019
by Fiameta Vargas (aka Metty Pellicer) HS Batch 1959, Diamond Jubilarian
Sixty years since graduation is a long time for anyone, regardless of age to remember a face or a name, much less to connect the two correctly. Not to mention what alterations the years have done to our bodies which makes us unrecognizable even to ourselves. I left my classmates when I was a sweet girl of sixteen and at seventy-six, surely I should be excused if my memory fails at naming my fellow classmates, and I certainly do not expect to be recognized by anyone on sight.
My old classmates are so refreshing in their candor, “I didn’t recognize you right away, tumaba ka na baga! (you’ve put on some weight)” And it was foreign to my ears to hear everyone call me Fiameta. I thought everybody called me by my nickname, Metty and only Mama called me Fiameta when I was about to be scolded for some transgressions. But it appears that I am Fiameta to everyone in Bicol and Metty began life after I went away to College at the University of the Philippines. So Metty is only sixty, whereas Fiameta is an old seventy-six years woman!
Slowly, after remembering some framework of reference, the girls I once knew back when the venerable Santa Isabel was a Colegio for girls and now an impressive coed Universidad and designated a National Historic landmark no less, emerged from the past in a clear vision and it felt like I never left at all. For that was the warmth of the welcome which made me feel instantly that I was home.
Until this reunion I had no enthusiasm for my Alma Mater. I felt it was not interested in knowing about her graduates after my attempts at connecting ten years ago to celebrate my class Golden Jubilee was completely ignored. I stopped by the Colegio to get information about the preparations, but it was a Sunday and there was no one around who could help me, except the guard at the gate, so I left a note with my contact information. I googled the event and the Colegio and was delighted to hit the Santa Isabel website but its content was not updated, however there was a contact link so I left a message. My golden jubilee came and went without me receiving any response. Then suddenly last year, my cousin Pinky proposed to nominate me for an award, and I didn’t think much about it at first, until months later when the proposal was revived. And my impulsivity turned auspicious when I decided to attend after the President of the USIAA, Atty. Maria Luz Raneses-Raval notified me on January 31, that I am one of the Outstanding Alumna Awardee, and invited me to the homecoming.
I was driving with my sister from having been picked up that evening at BWI Airport to our home in Cape Charles VA when I opened the email. I have just arrived after a week of visiting friends in Tampa and Atlanta and I have a trip already booked to Venice Italy for the Carnival on February 26-March 7, and the Alumni Homecoming is on February 8-9. Travel from the US East Coast usually takes 2-3 days due to the international dateline crossing, but the hubris of the occasion of honoring our class on our Diamond Jubilee and on the Sesquicentennial of the Universidad de Santa Isabel could not be ignored. Therefore I have no time to waste by indecision so right there in the car I booked my flight and found a route from JFK that would arrive in Manila on the 5th of February and will give me enough time to make it to Naga and return to the US on the 21st so I can unpack and repack for Venice. Whew, I made it and it was well worth the effort. Modern travel never fails to amaze me and with search engines and online booking, one can plan to be at the other side of the world at the blink of an eye.
And in booking this trip I never anticipated that it would be so much fun.The Alumni bash the way the Isabelinas did it was like no other reunion I have attended or heard about. Just like it was a singular experience to be educated at an all girls school and so it was at the alumni homecoming. There was exuberance and lack of inhibition in having fun which was contagious. On the first day the parade on traffic snarled Naga City streets dominated the afternoon and traffic officers directed cars and tricycles away from the route at rush hour. I’ve heard that the City wanted the parade at 1 pm to avoid the rush hour beginning at 3 pm, but the organizers said, “No sir, thank you!” It was the hottest time of the day and the colegialas didn’t want to have their make-up melt in the heat. City hall had to comply for it seems that all the movers and shakers of Naga had been educated or related one way or the other to an alumna of Santa Isabel. And so the noisy parade of marching bands, multicolored tricycles ferrying alumni and vehicles festooned with banners and loaded with candy-throwing ladies in matching attires and causing onlookers to dive after the sweets playfully and the hundreds of women in colorful themed costumes dancing and singing and breaking into a choreographed routine to entertain the people snaked through from the USI compound to downtown, and back in a loop for three hours. As the parade approached the campus, the walkers geared into their dance moves before they broke formation at the gate and gathered into assigned sections at the St Elizabeth quadrangle. Inside the throng is squeezed into every available space to watch the Velada, the display of dance performances and lip-synched songs by participating classes. I’ve never seen such skill at showmanship displayed in any reunions that I’ve attended, and the wit and ingenuity in selecting the material was impressive. There was the opening number from Oklahoma!, from Grease, hip hop military themed number, Bohemian Rhapsody, and I was wowed by the Marvel heroes number featuring Wonder Woman zip lining from the roof onto the performance square. The emcee was very patient in moving the program along, but mostly the show ran at its own pace, whenever the next group was ready. In between numbers the cameras shot photos and selfie sticks abound, and Isabelinas connected and exchanged phone numbers, vowing to stay in touch from hereon. It went on and on until the last number was called which I no longer witnessed as I had to leave for a previously arranged dinner with my cousins. The Diamond Jubilarians, my class of 1959, 22 members strong and all in our mid-seventies, stood the test of endurance well.
And endure we did the following day, at the Alumni Award Ceremonies. The formal event opened with the flag entrance by a high-stepping and heel-clicking color guard and the singing of Bayang Magiliw, after which followed a five-hour marathon of speeches and recognition of past USIAA Presidents, volunteers, and ceremonial conferring of the Sesquicentennial Outstanding Alumna Award to fifteen recipients in various categories, from Engineering, Science, Health, Education, Community Service. A dance tribute to an esteemed mentor, Ms. Agnes Clemeno, who I definitely remembered even if I was not a dancer, was fitting and nostalgic. And the much-awaited Golden Jubilarians Singkil Suite opened the Velada of musical performances from the celebrating classes. The numbers looked professionally choreographed, matched with opulent costumes and panache of the performers. I felt such a greenhorn when all these blew me away readily in amazement but my perspective was quickly corrected when told that this year’s extravaganza was a pittance compared to previous years bongga talaga celebrations because of the weak economy. WOW! My HS batch 1959 Diamond Jubilarians lip-synched a medley of songs, the first about a senior’s favorite things to the tune of These are a Few of My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, drawing giggles and a thunderous applause from the audience and a special visit on stage by the beloved USI President, Sister Lourdes Albis to congratulate us personally.The skillful maneuvering of this response from the audience was smoothly accomplished by our class emcee Fanny. At the finale we demurely acknowledged the audience
and waved our auf wiedersehns and proudly felt we deserved the accolades just for showing up, and not necessarily from the quality of our practice performance.
At our batch ‘59 private dinner later I was chided by the class for not informing them that I was an Outstanding Alumna Awardee in the Communications/ Mass Media category. I suppose I met the award criteria for my contribution in inspiring Isabelinas in the Vincentian values of excellence and grace as a public speaker, author of books, and for my Blog , Senior Moments at http://mettypellicer.com.
I was uncomfortable in accepting the award feeling that I did not. deserve it. That dictated my behavior of minimizing it and of not informing my classmates. The feeling was further corroborated when I learned that two of my classmates were Town Mayors and another was a successful entrepreneur who built an internationally known brand of abaca products from sheer ambition and grit and another wrote for major publications and covered significant events as a journalist. Nobody among my classmates was awed by this, for we believe that we are all capable of being anything we want to be, because of the confidence and excellent education that we received in our formative years at the Colegio de Santa Isabel. I was reminded that we competed to be the first to borrow from the library the popular book series of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. These books were pivotal in directing my interest in adventure through the excitement of travel. Never in my youthful wildest dream did I envision myself living and traveling all over the world the way I am doing now, but the seed of ambition was planted here at Santa Isabel. In this environment of women we did not absorb the cultural attitude of limiting women’s ambition in deference to men, so we became scientists, journalists, mayors, engineers, doctors, lawyers, in addition to being teachers and nurses, mothers, wives, daughters, caregivers. I am proud to be an Isabelina, and I am proud to be a member of USI HS Batch 1959, and I am proud to receive one of the Sesquicentennial Outstanding Alumna Award. We have come a long way, my high school and I, Cheers and I’ll see everyone when we celebrate our Platinum.by