ArchivesOctober 2010PNoy visits mom’s alma mater

PNoy visits mom’s alma mater

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A pair of tiny flags–American and Philippine–was handed to attendees as they entered Smith Hall at the College of Mount Saint Vincent (CMSV), in Riverdale, New York, immediately giving a hint of what the occasion was going to be. As the crowd filled the hall, it was obvious that there were as many Filipinos as there were Americans–a lively, congenial blend of two cultures gathered to celebrate something they had in common and someone they both held dear.{{more}}

The special guest for the September 22 affair was His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, president of the Republic of the Philippines, who was conferred the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s highest honor, the Elizabeth Seton Medal, in a ceremony attended by CMSV trustees, faculty, alumni, students and the community. The award, named after the native New Yorker, saint and founder of the Sisters of Charity, is given in recognition of outstanding achievements, generosity of spirit and extraordinary self-sacrifice.

In his citation, CMSV President Charles L. Flynn Jr. extolled Aquino’s extraordinary achievements. Flynn said, “In public service, as member of the House of Representatives, as senator and now as president, you have worked to secure democracy and the rule of law and to ensure clean, effective, efficient government.” Flynn further noted that Aquino, in his inauguration last June, pledged to be “champion of the impoverished” and reminded every democratic soul that it is a “duty to lift the nation from poverty through honest, effective government.”

The Philippine president is not unfamiliar to CMSV. This was the alma mater of his mother, the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. Dr. Flynn beamed, “This college took special pride in your mother. She is our most illustrious alumna and was by any measure extraordinary.” And for her courage and sacrifice to restore democracy to the Philippines, CMSV conferred the Elizabeth Seton Medal on her 24 years ago.

Joan Klintworth Walsh of North Riverdale remembers it very well. “I was here when CMSV conferred the award on Corazon (Cory) Aquino on September 21, 1986. I knew her from college. I was two years ahead, but we knew each other very well.” Besides, Joan has a special affinity to the Philippines; her brother, Rev. William Klintworth, S.J., has long been teaching theology at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City.

Other classmates and contemporaries of Cory Aquino were also present, and spoke fondly of her. Helen Lovell and Kathleen Delaney Schafer remember Cory Aquino as a student in the early 1950s: “She would introduce Filipino songs and dances to us, especially the bamboo dance (tinikling), which we found fascinating.”

At her conferral in 1986, the College established the Corazon C. Aquino Scholarship, which would offer two full-tuition scholarships per year to high-achieving incoming students of Filipino descent. Many Filipino students have availed of the opportunity since.

Philip Gerenia III finished Business Administration several years ago as an Aquino Scholar at CMSV. He looks back with gratefulness: “The scholarship was definitely helpful and gave me added appreciation for the value of good education and helped me understand more fully our responsibilities not only to ourselves and family but also to our community.”

Now gainfully employed in a prestigious accounting firm in New York City, Gerenia relished the chance to talk to Cory Aquino in one of her visits. He relates, “The college had a reception to honor her visit and several of the scholars were able to talk with her and express their gratitude to her and thanked her for being the inspiration that she was to many Filipino college students.”

This year, at the conferral of President Benigno Aquino III, CMSV has announced that it is doubling the number of Aquino Scholarships offered.

This announcement was greeted with hearty applause from the Filipino-American students at CMSV, who have organized themselves under the name “Samahan” (Fellowship). It was also most welcome news to the Filipino community, one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in Riverdale.

“There are many Filipino students here,” says Devonie Gail Manzano, a nursing student, and daughter of Onofre and Josephine Vidal-Manzano of Pamplona, Negros Oriental. “I have friends from all different backgrounds, but with my Filipino friends, it’s fun to speak Tagalog or Visaya, and share family stories. We perform in multi-cultural shows, and I’ve also served as Teacher’s Assistant in Filipino 101 class which helps improve students’ Tagalog and knowledge of Philippine history.”

According to CMSV, among the college’s diverse student population, approximately 9 percent of undergraduate students are Filipino-American. This is among the highest percentages for a college in the United States.

Angelique Calbitaza is one of the Aquino Scholars now enrolled at CMSV. She’s grateful for the scholarship because she is able to focus her time on school and doing well in class rather working just to pay for school. She was delighted to meet President Noynoy Aquino: “I was able to thank him for the scholarship… and promised I would aspire to be as kind and great as he and his mother.”

In summing up his citation, Dr. Flynn said, “Your Excellency, you are your parents’ son and thus a child of this college. We celebrate and honor you and, if indirectly, take some little tidbit of credit for the ideals you serve.”

Inspired by his parents’ remarkable lives and heroism, President Benigno Aquino III has taken up the cudgel to improve the economic, social and political life of his country. His prayer is for Filipinos to continue to enjoy the blessings of democracy and be finally free of poverty.

“A generation from now, perhaps another Filipino will stand here and say to you, ‘I am glad to say that we remain not only free, but are now prosperous….’ This is my prayer,” the president reflected.

In accepting the Elizabeth Seton Award, President Aquino remarked, “I am humbled by what this medal represents: your solidarity with my people. You stood with us in dark days. You stand with us now, in brighter days.”

Waving those two tiny U.S. and Philippine flags couldn’t have found more meaning in this coming together of two cultures, whose love of country is surpassed only by their love of God.

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