The Value of the UP Experience
by Maya Baltazar Herrera
(First published 6 July 2008 in the Manila Standard Today)

There are no children here.

This week, I went to a meeting at the UP School of Economics and I came away with renewed belief in the value of the UP experience.

If you speak to anyone from UP – student, professor, alumnus - you will get no Latin slogans or apologies about how the school teaches values in spite of its outward materialism. This is not a student population that thinks about basketball games or memorizes school songs. This is not a school that chooses one statement to drill into the minds of its students.

This is not, of course, to say that UP does not care about values. It is that UP, in its own inimitable way, believes that values cannot be force-fed. The statue of the naked man that guards the entrance to the campus in Diliman best represents UP's approach to all education and the respect for students that is the center of its educational philosophy. All who come to
this university, regardless of origin, bring themselves naked, carrying nothing but their thirst; like the proverbial empty teacup, making an offering of self, waiting to be filled.

Adults

For many students from private schools, the first lesson that is learned here is that this is a school for adult education. There are no children here, and that is why no parents are allowed either at freshman orientation or during enlistment.

The spirit of the oblation lies not in a mother or a father offering up his child to the world, it is that of the newly adult, freely offering of his self.

I remember quite vividly that moment that drove home how different the UP education continues to be. It was my daughter's first semester in university and she had invited a group of her high school friends to our house. One of them asked a classmate whether she had gotten her parents permission form approved for that weekend's outreach activity. From the
UP population around the table came the mock horrified responses of: "Permission? " and "Outreach?"

I thought about it and realized that all of these students were, in fact, legally adults. I thought it interesting that only the UP students appeared to appreciate this fact.

Even more interesting was the "outreach" comment. I think back to my own university years and the last three years that my daughter has been in UP and am certain there is no lack of civic activity. There are medical missions, house building projects, tree planting, community work and barrio work and so on. I realize now that the reaction was not to the activity as
much as it was to the use of the word.

One of the most important differences of the UP campus from all the other campuses my children considered going to is that this campus has no walls. Many parents fear this. They are afraid their precious children will not be protected from the ills of society in a campus that is so open to the rest of the world.

But UP is open to the world in more ways than just not having the physical walls.

Community

Being in UP means much more than being a student. This campus is enmeshed in a community. This community is made up not only of the transient population of students who go home each night. It includes the many, many students who lay their heads on dorm pillows each night, enduring time away from families in the firm belief that this campus will bring them closer to their dreams. This community includes the families of faculty and employees who live on campus. It also includes the many people who work not for the University, but nevertheless work on campus. This community includes the lady who remembers the brand of cigarette you smoke and automatically hands it to you in the morning. It includes the gentleman who remembers you like pepper on your egg sandwich or the one who knows you will dip your fish balls into two of his sauces, who patiently waits for you to eat your three
sticks before being paid. It includes the woman who saw all her children through college by selling peanuts every day on campus.

To a UP student, the daily heartbeat of the school is never far away from the realities of the country. The word outreach suggests that civic activity is something outside of the normal, something you do once in a while. It must be immensely difficult to think of community as a thing apart when your campus experience brings you face to face with all of the world's realities every day.

Character

All of this probably explains that unmistakable sense of self that you will find from students who come from this campus.

Here is a campus where all have the same opportunities to learn. But also, here is a campus that will give all the same opportunities to fail. There are no guidance counselors who will chase after you because you have been skipping classes. The attitude this university takes is that you must take the initiative – for learning, for seeking help, for realizing you need help.

That is not to say that no help exists. But it is help that is not forced upon you.

This is a university rich in both introspection and conversation. On this campus, the student is constantly exposed to people – faculty, administrators, community members, other students – who care deeply and passionately about the world. The conversations are almost never purely cerebral. A single graph can provoke comments about government policy and its effects on people.

As a result, UP is home to a student population that looks at the world and cares. It is easy to see pictures of protesting students and dismiss it as radicalism. But there are few campuses in this country where students go beyond a passing curiosity about what is happening in the world beyond their own lives. There are even fewer universities where students not only care but also actually believe they have a responsibility to make a difference – not in some hazy future – today.

And that, I believe, is what truly forges character. Character is not molded by speeches or long classes in ethics or theology. Character grows from within. It begins by being handed the keys to your own self and being told you are in charge; you now have power over yourself and your own actions – and with that power, you take on responsibilities.

Each student in this university goes through his own unique voyage of discovery. On his voyage, as he decides what he cares about, what he will fight for and what he will sacrifice, he crafts his own personal values. That is what education is truly about.


The essay can also be found on the official website of Prof. Maya Baltazar Herrera, which you can read here.