Reuben L. Nocos
Ateneo Grade School 1990
One of the sad realities facing immigrants is the separation from friends. For someone who had constant interaction with the barkada, embarking on a different path in a foreign land and carving out special relationships out of thin air may seem like a daunting task. I remember as a 13-year old graduate of Ateneo Grade School, just a couple of weeks removed from marching in my Barong Tagalog along with hundreds of my batchmates, my parents, siblings and I boarded the plane for a trip to our new home—Daly City, California. The 12-hour plane ride proved to be a tearjerker, as my Ate and I related to each other how much we would miss our friends from UP and the Ateneo.
Keeping in touch with friends from the Philippines was quite challenging. Letters by snail mail took forever. Overseas calls were prohibitively expensive. Thank God for the advent of the Internet. As soon as Friendster hit the market, it became much easier to connect with people from thousands of miles away. It seemed like it was only a couple of years ago through Friendster, that I was able to see how fate took my friends’ lives to different pockets in the world.
Mark Zuckerberg continues to make the world smaller as he and his team improve on more opportunities to connect on Facebook. My grade school batch, AGS1990, has a Facebook page with over 350 members. The medium is regularly used to set up quick reunions each time a batchmate is in town.
Indeed, the power of social networking brings all Ateneans closer geographically and relationally. BS Chemistry 2001 graduate, Lieza Danan-Leon can attest to this fact. Lieza and her classmate, Lito de la Rama, (BS Chemistry 2001, BS Physics 2002) sat down one day in November 2015 and wondered how many Ateneans lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lieza then decided to use the “Find Alumni” search tool on LinkedIn and messaged the first 20 hits to invite them out to lunch. Out of that sample, ten alumni responded.
From that initial contact, a group was born on Facebook called the “San Francisco Bay Area Ateneans.” The SFBAA Facebook page was set up the very next day following that fateful lunch with about a dozen alumni sharing the same desire: connecting with other Ateneans in the Bay Area. Of course, as Ateneo alumni, the members did not sit idly by and just enjoyed the almost monthly get-togethers. They dreamed of something grander.
Heeding the advice of one of the founding members to let the group grow organically, SFBAA became very inclusive. So long as you have attended any Ateneo campus, regardless of of time, you are welcome! As a result, the group has grown to over 380 members, running the gamut from one time attendees to alumni attending Ateneo from Prep all the way through college graduation.
The SFBAA members transformed the small get-togethers to something more momentous. In April of this year, ADMU College Batch 1988 organized their grand reunion together with the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco. As can be expected, the generosity of fellow Ateneans was abounding. The batch opened their reunion to the entire SFBAA group. Father Jett Villarin, S.J. and Father Kit Bautista, S.J., were the guests of honor with 90 alumni present. Lieza Danan-Leon recalled that it was a “magical night” that started with a mass and a choir that sang “Bukas Palad” songs.
SFBAA sensed that with grander ideas, organization was key. On July 23, the group held its very first planning meeting with 22 members attending the brainstorming session. After four hours of alumni introduction, relating stories about Ateneo experiences, enjoying pizza and salad, the members came up with the group’s vision, mission and values. Committees were set up and a follow up meeting was held a month later.
The group projected to have one thousand members in six months and endeavored to host a major event before the end of the year. Pressing on, SFBAA held its first major event by sponsoring a special screening of the movie, “Ignacio de Loyola” which was directed by Atenean, Paolo Dy. The Ateneo spirit was present throughout the night. After the movie ended, and as people were filing to exit the theater, a handful started singing “A Song for Mary” who were then joined by almost everyone who watched the film.
The screening was followed by a fellowship dinner at Fort McKinley Restaurant, owned by SFBAA member, Barry Picazo. Inspired by the story of St. Ignatius, shortly after opening prayers, the attendees sang “Prayer for Generosity” in English and Tagalog. The members were graced with the presence of the film’s second unit director and fellow Atenean, Aaron Palabyab. It was a very proud moment for every Atenean there as Aaron shared the success of the film production. The night ended with another impromptu singing of “A Song for Mary.”
It was very fitting that SFBAA’s first major event involved St. Ignatius, whose values are reflected in the group’s vision: “An alumni network living out and sharing Atenean values, inspiring one another and others to be of service to our community and each other.” Ateneo was home to me during my formative years between 1983 and 1990. What I experienced back then—the camaraderie, ingenuity, fellowship, community and spiritual awareness—are still present to this day. No matter where you end up, you will always be home among Ateneans. This is the place where we belong.