Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Belated Happy Birthday, Old Friend

By Beth Castillo-Winsor

Last week, my old university in the Philippines celebrated its 112th year. When I think about Silliman University, I think about home. I was only 16 when I first set foot on campus with my mother. Along with a couple of pieces of luggage, I carried with me a hopeful heart and a strong sense of adventure. I was totally unprepared for what the next few years would do to me. Not only did my Silliman experience meet my expectations, but she delivered more than what I was prepared for. Dumaguete City welcomed me with open arms. As my mum and I got off that ferry and onto the port and made our way into the campus, I felt the arms of the acacia trees beckon and embrace me. Even from then, it felt like I had come home. There was something about the place that just drew me in. It had nowhere near the excitement of the big metropolis, but it had an abundance of the charm of a quaint little city. The next four years was a heady concoction of every possible emotion. I was deliriously happy and was devastatingly depressed. I laughed so hard and I cried so much. I felt alive and I also got so ill I had to be hospitalised. I proved myself to be smart but likewise did things that made me a complete idiot. I was clever and I was a fool. I felt like I could conquer the world and I felt bone-weary. I won some and lost some. I trusted and was let down. I fell in love and had my heart broken. In a nutshell, I lived Life. In the few years that I was there, I felt like I lived life to the full. I was so young and my world was still small, but hell, I felt like I lived all of it and more.
But more than that, the biggest gift that Silliman gave me were the friendships I made. I can truly say that some of the best people I know now are friends I’ve had when I was there. We’ve all been flung to different parts of the
world and yet that affection, that loyalty and that fondness of each other have survived the inevitable test of time and distance. We live very different lives but when we get together, it seems that time has stood still. This is evident whenever I visit anyone of them–we can talk as if we saw each other yesterday and not 15 years ago. Even when I meet other Sillimanians who are either younger or older than I am, we could talk as if we were there at the exact same time. The names and dates have changed, but the memories are strikingly similar. We can all close our eyes and most likely be transported to the same scenario–the musty smell of acacia just after the rain, the vrooming sound of the pedicabs, the faint sea breeze on your face, the voices echoing in the high-ceilings of the Hibbard Hall rooms, the clacketyclack- thumpety-thump of shoes in the wooden hallways, the laid-back boozing by the sea wall… My husband finds all this hard to understand. He asks, “How can a university experience do that to you?” I have tried to explain many times and I can never find the right words. It’s like an inside joke–you just have
to be there to get it. Belated happy 112th, Silliman, old friend! I wish I had been home for the party.


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