Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lessons from 'Ole Alma Matter (STC)

Dear fellow Theresian Alumna,
            Do you remember back in high school when you thought the world ended because your crush didn’t call, your boyfriend dumped you, you flunked geometry finals, your teacher humiliated you in class, you got caught cheating, you didn’t get invited to a popular girl’s party, you butted heads with the principal (okay, maybe that’s just me), or you overheard someone label you as fat/stupid/ugly/slutty/weird/nerdy?  Did you ever think yourself the victim of child abuse and cry a pitiful “boohoohoo” to the media? Did you even once consider filing for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against your heartbreaker? Or demand a public apology? Did your parents even think to mollycoddle you by filing for moral damages because of sleepless nights and emotional trauma?
             Ridiculous, right? 
Back in the day when I was forced to settle for the gym and sunken court instead of a five-star-hotel as a venue for a once in a lifetime Senior Grad Ball (school policy); when the neckline and hemline of my shimmering Ball dress were restricted; and when I was dumped on the big night by my third choice of a date, mind you, all I did was write in my diary: “Was that the best slumber party with the girls or what?!”   That’s it.
         No drama.  Because FB was not around, because Theresians are made of tough cookie dough and because my parents taught me that humility is not damaging to character, rather formative of great character.   Just ask the “average” girls who were overlooked at graduation rites without an award and how thousands of them have turned out to be overachieving professionals and awesome mothers and women. None the worse for wear.
No TRO.  Because to graduate from ‘Ole Alma meant following her rules at the risk of disciplinary sanctions.  And to graduate from ‘Ole Alma was a privilege not a right (One of the first things I learned in law school was that TRO’s require a clear and unmistakable right to be proven before it is granted.)  I mean, if the opposite was true, by golly, every Maria, Teresa and Michelle can just bang on STC’s gates and demand the same diploma we all worked hard for, followed the rules for and wave proudly.  Can you imagine the chilling repercussions of that on religious and academic freedom?
No media.  Because who gets their panties all bunched up in a wad and calls news-reporters over the angst of teenagers other than viewers who follow "Laguna Hills" or The “OC”? Besides, I wasn’t reality TV show material and didn't have delusions about my city and zipcode being Beverly Hills 90210.
No demand for monetary damages.   Because even at sixteen years old, I knew that a windfall of say… 1.5 million dollars would not make me happy and stitch up the tear in my broken heart.  (Insert eye-rolling emoticon here.) To think other people have real problems and children in third world countries can barely eat rice.  (Insert sad face emoticon here.)  Perspective, people, perspective.  Jesus had a bigger cross, St. Theresa of Avila had stomach cancer.  No sense making a mountain out of a molehill of teenage heartache.  The last thing I'd want to do is set a legal precedent which triggers a lawsuit-happy society in my beloved country that can hardly afford road repairs.
No need for public apology.  Because although in kindergarten, teachers could make you say “I’m sorry” to the classmate you bit, as a teenager, I knew that “I’m sorry” is hollow without contrition, remorse, humility, and the willingness to make reparation.   And that contrition involves much self-introspection:  Should I have gone stag to the Ball?  Should I have invited a date who may have looked like Charlie Sheen but had the personality of well, Charlie Sheen?  No, I should have asked one of my fun guy friends in high school who could have kept me laughing all night instead of staring at the empty seat next to me.  B, J, I, K, D, V,  if I could do it all over again, I would have asked you for the pleasure of your company.  There.  How’s that for public apology?
No mollycoddling.  Because my parents acquiesced to and expected me to follow the rules and attain the virtues of the Catholic Church when they enrolled me in a Catholic academic institution.  (An implied contract if the laws of Nevada were applied.) Otherwise, they would have sent me to public school, obviously.
 When I did goof up (by laughing out loud during prayers at Sr. Merced’s black windblown habit/veil covering her face, which my friend said made her look like a “ninja” –Thank you, Kathy D.!) and I was not allowed to partake of the Sacrament of Confirmation, my wonderful parents used that as a golden opportunity to teach me: "Sorry, Sweetie.  You don't always get what you want in life and you don't get to pick and choose the real life consequence of your choices.  We'll help you make better decisions next time."  School, they knew, was their biggest ally in my faith and character formation, not the enemy.
Certainly no child abuse charges. Why not? Allow me to quote my favorite psychologist expert on parenting and discipline, Dr. Ray Guarendi:  (
 “If a parent disciplines weakly today, the world will discipline strongly tomorrow. And the world hurts. If a child acts nasty, he sits on the couch. Brutal. If an adult acts nasty, he could get fired, punched, or have to sleep on the couch or in the basement. The stakes are higher as kids get older. To put it bluntly: Don’t let the world discipline your children.  Discipline without love may be harsh. 
Love without discipline is child abuse.” 
My parents probably suspected that any Court in their right mind would have tossed out their accusation of child abuse using the principle of in pari delicto.  (For non-legalese speakers, this doctrine bars plaintiffs from recovering when they come to Court with unclean hands; hence the Court will leave the parties as they are.) Because my parents are wise and prudent enough to know that the unclean hands that rocked the cradle and failed to supervise and discipline their own teenagers cannot point accusatory fingers at other adults for their own failure.  (As if the nuns and teachers held me at gunpoint to laugh at Sr. Merced, God bless her soul.)
           My parents didn't have to be lawyers to know it wouldn't be in their child's best interest to be dragged to a trial by publicity, rehashing my testimonies before strangers and being subject to scrutiny and judgment.  (FYI, the Family Code of the Philippines uses a child's best interest as a benchmark.) 
No drama. No TRO. No media. No monetary damages. No public apology. No mollycoddling. No child abuse charges.  And I survived to tell my tale.  By God’s grace.
So on my graduation day that capped a colorful year, when I sashayed up on our auditorium’s antique wooden stage, the glory, gratitude, pride and happiness of receiving a diploma (with minor honors) was not just mine but my parents.  No they didn’t raise a perfect child, but they were the primary educators in my home who, in accordance with their God-given authority, entrusted me to nuns and faculty who loved and disciplined to the best of their ability, who didn’t find me wanting in living up to a certain standard. 
That was twenty years ago.  Now that I have three girls and there’s a dearth of conservative nuns and faculty teaching in US Catholic schools, I homeschool them.  And I sure hope and pray that when my children turn 16, they won’t laugh at the good nuns (especially during prayers), disregard their authority, disrespect their vocation as religious teachers, ever ask any boy to any Ball (we’re not having one in our school yay!) or post pictures of themselves in a bikini, or cigarettes, or alcohol online.  If they did, why… I would send them into Mother Angelica’s cloistered convent and file a writ of mandamus for the Poor Clares to keep them till they come to their senses. :)

Oh if I could join my twentieth homecoming this year, I’d dress up in a bikini… underneath a perfectly modest blue and white dress (bikinis are glorified underwear, after all --there are rashguards and swimskirts for ample coverage) and toast some bubbly champagne to the good nuns and faculty for guarding my purity and dignity all those years I was under their supervision.  Post all that on FB and state that: while I’m grateful for lavish ceremonies like graduation and homecoming to bring us together once and again, these celebrations are only icing on the cake to what my parents and educators actually taught me about the virtues of faith, humility, modesty, prudence, wisdom, love.  And discipline.
Then I’ll toast to ole Alma, as she remains standing, more than ever a respectable Catholic educational institution, who in accordance with her motto, upholds virtue first and follows God’s Commandments more than man’s laws, regardless of the public's opinion. A school that practices humility to seek reconciliation with its estranged family members.   Thanks to Ole Alma’s fortitude and humility, we all (nuns, faculty and students past present and future) have learned:  “St. Theresa’s stands among the rest, as a leaven to the quest…”
         Raise your hand, if you are with me.  Este... raise your glass to toast:
To St. Theresa’s College… nuns, teachers and students come and go, but I stand for you.
                              Near or far, our song rings true.
                                      And our theme for'ver shall be
                                      St. Theresa, Hail to Thee!
Anabelle Toledo-Hazard, Esq.


Mai said...

If I had daughters, I will not think twice about sending them to STC. Especially after the school standing their ground on this issue. =)

Se7en said...

well said Bel. couldn't agree with you more.