Upholding The UP Spirit

by Manuel S. Gaspay, Ph.D.

What is the UP spirit anyway?

To me it is a spirit bred by a liberal education experience that makes you think for yourself, confront the evidence of your reality, challenge current paradigms and beliefs, advocate, seek and act for change. It is that spirit, expressed in social activism, that drove a good number of my generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s to go to the hills and respond to the call "Kung hindi ikaw, sino pa? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?" It is the same spirit, oft mistoook for mere rebelliousness, that my mother-in-law would refer to when explaining her difficulty in making my children obey her instructions she offered no reason for - "Palaking UP kasi!" she would exclaim, alluding to how my wife and I raised our children in a sort of liberal way.

It is the same bold spirit that also made many like us leave our motherland to seek better possibilities elsewhere. We confronted the reality of limited opportunities back home, rebelled at the thought of ourselves and our children being hemmed in by an impoverishing environment, and decided to change our lot. It is that same daring spirit that gave us the courage to move on.

The UP spirit also includes an accepting attitude towards diversity and individuality. The UP campuses of my time (Diliman and Los Banos) were places where it did not matter what regional group, social or income class you belonged to. One never felt overly conscious of these differences when engaging each other on campus. Students with strong regional accents may have been teased, but it never deterred them from feeling entitled and availing of the same liberal education experience as the rest. Graduates of public high schools competed as well as graduates of exclusive high schools in all forms of university life. We also had students who found it natural to experiment with alternative life styles, often severely testing the commitment of university administrators to precepts of liberalism.

There is an inherent paradox in a liberal education system that promotes access to the best educational resources in the country, for all classes of its society, through a process of selection that takes only the best and brightest of each generation. UP graduates imbibe a subtle elitist spirit that give them a keen sense of entitlement to leadership and upward social mobility. They presume graduation provides them an automatic pass-key to the elite group that monopolizes power and privilege in Philippine society -- however, humble their beginnings are. The shattering of this myth fuels the discontent expressed in hordes of talented and skilled professionals leaving the country, for those who can leave, and acts of political subversions for those left behind. Small wonder that UP grads can be found on both the left and right ends of the Philippine political spectrum - all struggling to lead with no clearly defined and compelling national development agenda to go. It is the same aura of entitlement for being UP grads, that those of us who find ourselves here in the land of capitalist opportunities have to shed first to succeed. Here in America our UP diploma has limited value in certifying our merits to enjoying the Holywood version of the American Dream. We all had to reinvent our liberal educational skills into some form of utilitarian technical skill marketable in this very competitive society.

The UP spirit is also invoked when referring to alumni who achieve excellence in their chosen fields. "UP grad ata yan" people would exclaim when proudly alluding to Punongbayan gamely holding his own amid many recognized international volcanology experts attempting to explain the behavior of Philippine volcanoes. It is a spirit that values excellence and makes us proud of being products of the UP school system. It is the spirit that moves us to seek each other out, organize and assemble in conferences such as this, honor our alumni who has demonstrated this excellence, and think about giving back to our alma mater. We do this not only so we can bask in that shared aspiration of glory, but that we may rekindle some spark of that liberal education spirit that fired up our youthful dreams.

Perhaps in this conference we can uphold that spirit by putting together concrete and substantial means by which we can contribute to UP's continuing mission of providing an education that teaches our youth how to think for themselves, how to continually learn, how to uphold the dignity of the mind, how to gain wisdom and faith in the nobler pursuits of humankind, and most importantly use knowledge to enhance their own happiness and fulfillment.

Manuel S. Gaspay, Ph.D. (Stanford 1993)
UP BSGE 1972, MEIE 1980