What Ateneans Do Right
This post is in response to the blog post written by a good friend of mine, “What Ateneans Do Wrong After Graduating.” This was written in the interest of a healthy debate on the topic, and to make fellow Ateneans re-think why they’re Ateneans in the first place. A good friend of mine Dana Torio said, “Sadly, not all Ateneo students and graduates are ATENEANS.” This may be a good time to ask yourself: are YOU?
What made the blog post so popular was because her arguments mirror some of our own sentiments, or that those arguments gave us a much needed wake-up call. In fact, these are the exact sentiments being echoed several times by older Ateneo graduates. My aunt, who is part of the HR team in the company she works for, gave me a similar lecture.
On Humility and Magis
I don’t necessarily disagree with what she wrote. I agree that Ateneans should learn to be more humble and learn the value of starting from the bottom. Working up the ladder helps you appreciate everyone’s role and the importance of every single employee. It entitles you to become a better boss. And really, no matter how smart you are, you need the experience.
But the humility she suggests is not the same humility that Ateneans are taught. Humility is not about taking everything in because it’s merely “part of your job,” but it’s about realizing the fact that you and your tasks, however seemingly small, pointless, and “degrading” to you, are meant for a greater purpose, and that is why you do them the best way that you can. Humility entails the very effort of LOOKING for this purpose in everything you do.
She also makes a good point when she says, “accept the job even if it’s not your dream job, and do good with it because it will be your first step in mastering the art of working.”
Although working in a field you don’t truly desire may help you in the sense that you’re learning something new, there’s always the possibility that this dislike for your work will prompt you to give mediocre output, reflecting badly on you and making you look unprofessional. It is likely that the careers of people in this situation aren’t bound to work out. Developing new skills in different fields will always help you in the long run.
But what do you do when you find yourself disturbed by the sadly inevitable practice of mediocrity that has become detrimental to you?
In the end, it’s all about being in the place where your deepest desire and where you know you’ll make a good difference meet. You were not educated to be mediocre in a place that is mediocre for you; you were trained to search for this place and to become excellent. It’s not automatic that you will arrive at this right after graduation, but we should always see that wherever we are should lead us to THAT place where we truly belong. As true Ateneans, we should never abandon this tradition of excellence; we should never abandon our purpose. Doing so will never appease us.
On Getting Down the Hill and Getting the “Good Life”
However, I think what she has failed to address is the question, “What is the Good Life?” and “What is success?”
Success doesn’t always mean getting to the top of the corporate ladder. She complained that there were “[p]eople at the age of 40 who still don’t own a car and cannot even settle down for once.” But are owning a car and settling down the only things worth working for? Does financial growth necessarily reflect our growth as human persons?
What do we make of the countless Ateneans who have chosen to work in sectors of society where earning a lot is not the norm? Their working, no matter how determined, doesn’t give them a car, but it gives them satisfaction, peace, and happiness, because they have a purpose.
Ateneans are generally stereotyped as belonging to the fields of business, politics, or law. We fail to recognize those who have chosen to live simple but fulfilled and purposeful lives: those without the luxury of a mansion, those without cars, or even families. Why shouldn’t their choices matter?
Corporate Atenean and Idealistic Atenean
Ateneans can go on to be a Corporate Ateneo graduate, but they are NOT the Atenean, per se. You say, ”It’s not always about service and practicing humility by going to typhoon victims.” But sometimes, it is, because these very acts serve to remind us that we are meant for more than our selves. And those are the moments when we are truly Atenean.
There are so many graduates of the Ateneo who venture into the corporate world looking for their respective places in search for prestige and success in the form of wealth, socio-economic status, etc. But that is not everyone’s path. We have more than enough of them. And if some of us choose the hard path of service, something that every Ateneo student has been taught, why are their efforts and the essence of what they do being undermined? How can anyone be so arrogant as to suggest that one’s idea or method of “changing the course of their lives and their families” (in this case, having a “successful company” that would “get more employees” and “provide opportunities”) is “better” than the other (volunteering, serving, etc.)? Was the article trying to say that by being a good employee you are doing more than the people who are spending their everyday in the service of the poor? That those who receive so little by being in the Jesuit Volunteer Program, spending a year away from their loved ones to help poor communities find stable sources of income, are doing less for the country than people in wonderful business suits in the Central Business District of Makati? I beg to disagree.
You see, what I’m trying to say is that the advice is good (and even necessary) for those who wish to pursue a career in the corporate world, regardless of the school they come from. However, to enjoin all Ateneans to adopt this way of thinking is honestly quite disturbing and frankly, disappointing. Where have all those units of theology, philosophy, and social sciences gone?
Men and Women for Others?
The whole argument revolves around idea that ”We should learn to be more humble”, “We should not hesitate to do menial tasks if it that is what it takes to get to the top”, or “Do whatever your Boss requires from you, anything to get to the top.”
It’s practical and realistic, just as she promised at the start of her post.
But do they represent what it truly means to become Atenean?
There is no question in my mind that she meant well, and that her advice, in many ways, is a sensible and realistic approach to the whole situation. But it does not only generalize people of the Ateneo, it also blatantly goes against what the true spirit of what Ateneo has always stood for.
After the Hill
I remember reading a forum post by an Atenean asking the difference of a Jesuit education among others, and the relevance of having philosophy and theology units. Apparently, people who have been down the hill for too long have seemed to forget the most important part of their education. Many would roll their eyes and argue that it’s because I’m not quite “down the Hill” yet because I may be out of Katipunan, but I’m still in Ateneo Law and I haven’t seen the “real world.”
But I am voicing out my thoughts because I believe that Ateneans need to be reminded of their call to “greatness,” the search for our true vocation in life. It may not come in the form of cars or houses or financial success, but great things don’t always have to be so conspicuous. Don’t they say great things come in small packages? As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
This is not to say that Janine’s arguments were all wrong, but an assertion that the “real world” perspective so many turn to is not our only option. We are Ateneans, we DO have the power to change the world, or at least the part of the world that we live in.
We’re educated and most of us are relatively better-off than most in our country. We’re perfectly capable of choosing our own path. We have more than we need to steer our lives as we choose to, and don’t let anyone say otherwise. Do not fall easily into the valley of the “real world”, follow the light and remember the hill you’ve come from once more.