In honor of their classmate who became 15th President of the Philippines, and passed away before the twilight of his life, the Ateneo de Manila University’s (ADMU’s) High School batch ’77 and College batch ’81 launched the Benigno Simeon Aquino III scholarship on his birthday last Tuesday (Feb. 8) with a seed fund of P10.75 million.
“Let me just share a short story,” architect Gerry Esquivel, who spearheaded the fund drive among PNoy’s classmates and friends, said during the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Ateneo president Fr. Roberto “Bobby” Yap, S.J. and himself. “Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, brought with him a servant every time he walked along the roads of Rome. The servant’s job was simple, to tell the emperor especially when people would kneel and sing praises to him, ‘You’re just a man. You’re just a man.’ I don’t think Noy had someone—a bodyguard or an assistant—following him around with the simple task of saying, ‘President Aquino, you are just a man.’"
"To some extent, maybe others around him would say the opposite, especially when his ratings were high, and the world praised his many achievements. But I am witness, I have seen in his cadence in words that he had spoken, and not spoken, in his demeanor, that Noy was just faithfully serving his tour of duty, bound by nothing else but love for God and country, feet on the ground, and had no illusions of building a dynasty and installing himself as emperor," he added.
“But of course, Noy, you were just a man, but you were a good man. And in many ways, as I understand greatness to be, you, Mr. President, were a great man.”
Esquivel expressed hope that the scholarship “be a gentle reminder of your love and contribution to Ateneo, our country and its people.”
Fr. Bobby Yap, for his part, said the new endowment that begins the Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III scholarship fund comes at a “truly opportune time” as the university seeks to improve access to quality education both within the university and outside of it.
“By giving deserving, talented young Filipinos from outside of the National Capital Region the opportunity to study at Ateneo de Manila, the fund can help make that goal a reality,” Fr. Bobby said.
“Your generosity will help transform the futures of a lot of young Filipinos who now stand a chance of getting quality education and formation from one of the nation’s best universities. Hopefully, these young Filipinos whose lives will be transformed will carry on PNoy’s legacy of service, commitment, honesty, compassion, and true love for God and country, things that we need to see in our leaders, whether today or in the coming years,” Fr. Bobby added.
According to Dr. Maria Luz Vilches, vice president for the Loyola Schools, the launching of the Aquino scholarship on PNoy’s birthday “is a happy event because it is a celebration of benevolence by kind-hearted High School ’77 and College ’81 alumni through the scholarship fund that is dedicated to the memory of their classmate, an illustrious Atenean, President Noynoy Aquino.”
She said the university is very grateful for this scholarship endowment, which is especially meant for bright but financially hampered students who reside outside of the National Capital Region.
“And we are especially happy that this fund can already be first awarded in this school year 2022-2023. During this pandemic, we have experienced the felt need of students for financial assistance. I have never signed so many promissory notes before, except in the last two years. Parents and students persevere because the Ateneo education has not lost its premium status, as attested to by those who have been through it, like the ones who are here with us today,” she pointed out.
(Ateneo will administer the scholarship fund. Please contact the Office of the Ateneo president for inquiries and donations.)
‘Don’t lose heart’
President Noynoy Aquino, an Atenean from Prep to College, passed away on June 24 last year due to renal failure. He is remembered for his good governance and for the economic gains achieved by the Philippines during his term.
In a Mass celebrated via Zoom to mark his 62nd birth anniversary, former Ateneo president Fr. Jose Ramon “Jett” Villarin, S.J. urged, “Wag tayong mawalan ng loob.”
“This is my message to myself. My message to you, and probably, without being too presumptuous, probably this is God’s message to all of us here. Not to lose heart,” Fr. Jett urged.
“Sa madaling sabi, mahirap mawalan ng loob, mahirap manakawan ng pag-asa kung didibdibin natin ang dinidibdib ng Diyos,” he continued.
“Hindi natin sinasanto si Noynoy. Kilala natin siya eh, ‘di ba? ‘You’re just a man,’ paalala nga ng alalay sa emperador sa kwento ni Gerry kanina. ‘You’re just a man.’ Pero… kanyang dinibdib ang makapaglingkod lamang ayon sa katarungan, ayon sa katotohanan, kabutihan, lalong lalo na sa kapwa na walang maisusukli kundi simpleng pasasalamat. And so, my dear friends, let us help each other to find our heart and never to lose it along the way.”
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In the family’s response, PNoy’s eldest sister Ballsy Cruz read a poem shared with her by a young lady she had never met in person. She said she tweaked the poem a little, and it goes, “Today, we celebrate the life you lived and the blessing that you were to us during your time on Earth. We remember you. We feel you. We know you exist in our hearts and elsewhere. We sip your favorite drink and taste the food you loved. The simple pleasures that are no longer yours, exchanged for the joy of being home in our Father’s house. Knowing truth, seeing all. We love you, Noy. Today, in your honor, we celebrate life.”
His sister Pinky Abellada remembers his last birthday party outside the hospital, Feb. 8, 2020. His sisters had it catered by a private chef and invited three of his closest friends. By then, Pinky recalls, her brother didn’t have much of an appetite but enjoyed the dessert of crepes samurai. “Food was his favorite gift,” recalls Pinky.
Ballsy thanked Fr. Bobby, Gerry and the rest of PNoy’s classmates for the honor they gave the Aquino sisters’ (Pinky, Viel and Kris’) “beloved only brother” with the scholarship fund.
And then she assured Fr. Jett: “Father, hindi kami mawawalan ng loob.”