Friday, June 14, 2024

As Time Goes By: Memories of a Distant Silliman

By Nathan Angelo Cruz | Web Manager

Vol. XCI No. 5

Aug. 28, 2019

It has been 118 years since that fateful day when Silliman began; when there was nothing but 15 students, four desks, two tables and chairs, some books, and staff comprised solely of Dr. and Mrs. Hibbard. Nobody back then could possibly fathom what the future awaits Silliman. But here it is, standing stronger and prouder than ever today.

Through the years, Silliman developed a deep and rich history, making drastic developments as a response to the times, most notably during World War II and Martial Law. Countless lives were touched and unforgettable memories were made in what can only be described as a uniquely Silliman experience, characterized by intimacy and togetherness amongst Sillimanians. It is in those minutiae—the day-to-day and personal stories—that truly bind the Sillimanian community together.

Founders Day has come once again, there is no better time than now to take a glimpse of Silliman’s past and how it can shape our future through a man who has seen it through the ages, in better and worse.

Better Days Gone By

Rolando Magdamo, 85, is the man behind the school’s carillon— an instrument comprised of church bells—that would chime every 6:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. This humble octogenarian lived in a Silliman far removed from ours; he had lived when the people, which the various dorms and halls are named after were still alive and active.

Sixty-two years ago, Magdamo was a faculty member. Together with his fellow faculty members, they lived on Langheim Road. He lived near where the CBA building is today.

Having a background in Agriculture, he and his friends would walk to the Scheide Farm. This was before motor vehicles crowded the city. It was before every day became busy, filled to the brim with things to do. An era characterized by spontaneity, not unlike the nature of the gospel music that would fill the air, played by any random person on a piano crowded by people during the evenings.

A few minutes was all it took for everyone to gather, as the people lived right next by. It was not difficult to make plans on a whim, and it was rarer to see those who would pass on the opportunity to do such.

There was not enough money for toys, so they would capitalize on nature to provide. Rain would shower on everyone due to the denser forestry, but that never stopped anyone. As nobody would get sick. They made boats out of a simple block of wood, and let it ride on the canals all the way to the sea.

It was a good time, so Magdamo says. It may be hard to imagine now, but that simple time was all they had. It was here where their character was built for the future; where the true Silliman spirit was forged.

The Foundation of God

The Silliman spirit is dead, and we killed it.

Magdamo is one of the last few people alive on this earth that still carries the original, untarnished and genuine spirit, and he sees almost none of that in the Silliman of today.

Countless Sillimanians have laid the foundations for this school to become the way it is. According to Magdamo, the structure is sound; Silliman would not last more than a century if it were otherwise. However, although the structure is there, the true essence of Silliman is not.

“When I was a little boy, here, I was trying to understand what was Via, Veritas, Vita … it contains the principles of what Silliman is, why was Silliman created … and it was based on the Bible. I don’t know how many students today, or even faculty, realize that Silliman is actually a religious school founded by missionaries. And although the fame of Silliman is in academics, that is only one part of the Silliman person,” Magdamo said.

He explained that Silliman develops the whole person, which consists of body and spirit.

“The body, the brain part, you have it in the classrooms. But the heart and the soul—that is the church. That is Silliman; a combination of academics and spirituality. You cannot be a Sillimanian if you are missing one of those.”

The academics part will always be there, and although it is not the best in the world, it is seeing success and honor in certain fields. But the spirituality part, Magdamo says, leaves much to be desired. For it is also in the Bible that we find the one simple rule to etch in our hearts and carry throughout our lives, that people do not seem to realize or understand fully.

“[The] maxims of Christianity are simple, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” But try to do that, talking about it, thinking it is one thing. Making it a reality—something else. [It is very difficult], but that’s where a Sillimanian becomes unique because those values create the kind of person a Sillimanian is. It creates a character, who is most likely to be one of the good guys.”

The Silliman spirit may be comprised of the body and soul, but what even is the Silliman spirit? Magdamo himself certainly cannot tell you, as it is difficult to explain with any scrutiny. Rather, he says it is something that is felt.

“The Silliman spirit is always the intangibles, It’s interesting, you know? Because in the end, in life, what is the most important thing? It’s the intangibles. The feeling of being loved, respected, understood, accepted, being acknowledged that you exist—you can’t pay money for that.”

Back then, people would resolve conflict through empathy and civility. It all began with the simple realization that everyone was part of the same team, and thus, must listen to each other and do their part to try and find the best solution possible. There was no concept of recognition, for there was no greater glory than a job well done as a team.

“But there was this closeness, this camaraderie, this mutual respect, which today, are only words. In those days, they were feelings. You could feel it because the people who practiced it felt it—respect for each other. And they showed that in their behavior.”

Magdamo recalled one time in 2006, where he saw the spirit in full bloom. He underwent an operation in Houston, Texas, and during the first day of his recovery, he was greeted by someone unbeknownst to him. To his surprise, he found out that the man before him was the son of a fellow faculty member back during his time. The son was sent to check up on him. However, he and the man’s father had never kept in touch since 1951. Evidently, this is a bond between worlds that defies all explanation. This is the Sillimanian spirit at work; the desire to go out of your way for a fellow man is no different to us than breathing.

Rekindling the Spirit

Magdamo is on a race against time. Death is knocking on his door, but he is not willing to go down without a fight—nay, a blaze of glory.

Though Silliman is as large as it is, he would like all of us to truly connect with one another. This would not be possible without our collective humility and empathy towards our fellow man.

It would require the internalization of those aforementioned principles. Easy to understand, but hard to execute. But if it were not hard to do, why else would we be here in Silliman and subscribe to its values?

The alumni are making an effort to preserve it with their yearly ‘Tipon’ events held all around the country. They come from all across the globe to gather and show the Philippines what Sillimanians truly are, effectively throwing what little fuel they have left for their meager fire. We must take that flame and pass the torch onward to the future.

This is our mission, our duty in service of the school. Etch the values of this school and meaning of Via, Veritas, Vita in our hearts, and carry it throughout our lives. Years may pass and memories may fade, but that spirit must live on.

For it is through Silliman spirit that we can truly become a stronger Silliman.


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