Twenty Seventeen

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Before I begin what I attempt to be a short essay, I’d like to lay down my options.

I have two options here. I can write something that would read like a prepared text, or I can write about how I feel. I choose to write about how I feel.

It has been roughly a month since the Xavier School (XS) Class of 2017 marched out of the halls of Xavier, and as they say, went on into the world. In my 14 years of teaching and being in education, I do not recall having written any piece work that paid tribute to a specific batch.

So why write one now?

As with any act that matters, I had been reflecting about what to write, and more importantly, why I should write. I knew, from the very beginning, that from the deepest core of my heart, I wanted to write something. I just needed the specific reasons on why I should proceed.

I had been planning to write something weeks prior to graduation day last March 24, 2017. On the days leading up to graduation, on the day of graduation, and on the days and weeks that followed, there was a flurry of posts, photos, videos, and other media across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social networks and media channels that either looked back, or paid tribute to the XS Class of 2017. With the quality of works I was seeing, I thought, I’d rather not compete, and perhaps I’d let those pass first.

Roughly a week or two after, we started seeing less of these posts, and more posts of people who were either going for revisions or going on vacation. These posts led up to the Holy Week, which concluded in Easter Sunday last weekend.

I had originally planned to publish something on Easter Sunday — to add some drama — but other projects got the better of me.

So now, here I am, writing this piece at 3:00 in the morning, taking the advice of a student to write it while being offline, and while the rest of the world (at least this part) is asleep.

Just like the serene environment before dawn breaks, I figure that maybe this is the right time to write and publish this, while there is a calm that is permeating across this universe otherwise full of disorder.

Once again, I ask myself: Why should I write something if none of the others are writing about this batch; save for those teachers who have either just retired or resigned? I reviewed my reasons, and deemed it best to proceed.

At risk of being shunned by naysayers, I believe that I should write about this batch because I trust that from reading through the different posts recently made, I have not yet seen the stuff that I’m about to share.

Team Ethnos atop the Mirador Jesuit Villa in Baguio, with former San Fernando, Camarines Sur Mayor Abang Mabulo.


The Xavier School Class of 2017 has been regarded as pioneers. In the graduation speeches and in several events, this batch has been labeled as pioneers for a number of reasons. The main, repeated reason, is that this is the first batch to graduate from the Senior High School (SHS) program of Xavier. In other words, this is also the first batch to graduate from the K to 12 program of Xavier, as defined by the country’s Department of Education.

The transition from the previous curricula and program to the SHS/K-12 one was by no means an easy task. While it might have seemed seamless from an outside observer’s perspective, there was a lot of detailed work that went on behind the scenes. The teachers and administrators would only know. All hands needed to be on deck, and all hands were. I personally applaud the enormous effort that the faculty, staff, and students exerted to make sure that it happened and became a success.

When I first interacted with students from this batch, I never realized that they’d be the first batch to graduate from the Senior High School program. To me, it was just an interesting shift or jump, if you will, from what used to be known as High 1, to this new year level called Grade 9. This shift was most evident in the year-level patch that every student wears on his school uniform.

I distinctly recall this because one of my earliest interactions with this batch, that became what I now deem as a lasting mentorship and friendship, was playing this academic, iPad game called QuizUp with one of the students when they were in Grade 9. I do not recall the exact details today, but said student claims that he beat me in the game. I suppose a rematch is in place!

Another early interaction of mine with this batch, was when a tremendously young bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student suddenly volunteered to help out with TEDx. I was particularly impressed with this student as not only was he very hardworking and focused on whatever assignment was given to him, but he meticulously made sure that he learned every single detail needed to running a successful TEDx event. This student has since personified TEDx, and is widely recognized as a leader in his own right.

These, along with other interactions through the years, formed bonds that became very strong.

What’s interesting about all of this is, I was never their teacher in any class. I’ve always been a sideshow, and at times, even a jester. Perhaps this afforded me an opportunity to see this batch from a very unique perspective.

In mathematics, we have what we call prime numbers. These numbers are considered unique as a prime number can be divided only either by 1 or itself.

What’s interesting about the number 2017, is that it’s a prime number. What makes it even more interesting, is that if you get the sum of all odd primes up to 2017, the result is a prime number. Talk about the sum of being odd!

The word prime, is from the Latin word primus, which means first.

According to the Oxford dictionary, prime can also mean “of the best possible quality; excellent.”

Often compared against other batches, I humbly submit from this oddball, unique view of mine, that the XS Class of 2017 is truly a batch of firsts, and is of the best possible quality.

I say this because the XS Class of 2017 has made history multiple times, on school, local, national, regional and international levels. Never before have these been achieved, especially by an XS batch.

Allow me to give three examples.

  1. Two-time national debating championship.

    Ignacio Lorenzo Villareal, representing Xavier School, was able to bag the championship of the Philippine Schools Debating Championships (PSDC) for two years in a row. First was in 2016 with Matthew Araneta (’16), and once again in 2017 with his batchmate, Jacob Johann Wee (’17).

    Xavier Debate Team at the PSDC 2017.
    Xavier Debate Team at the PSDC 2017.

    The debate journey for Ignacio and Jacob doesn’t end here. Coming up, they still have to represent the Philippines in the Asia World Schools Debating Championships (AWSDC), as well as in the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC). The WSDC is considered the olympics of debate for high school students.

  2. Two-time International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) medalist.

    Robin Christopher Yu was able to bag medals at the IOI 2015 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, as well as at IOI 2016 in Kazan, Russia. IOI 2015 was the first time the Philippines ever competed at the IOI. To be able to be awarded a medal for a first-time competitor at what is considered the olympics of algorithmic and competitive programming is a massive achievement. To do it twice in a row, is just astonishing. These enabled Robin to be the first Filipino to secure direct admission into the National University of Singapore (NUS) on a full scholarship, under the NUS School of Computing’s IOI Medalist admissions program.

    Philippine Team to the IOI 2015.
    Philippine Team to the IOI 2015.

    Like Ignacio and Jacob, Robin’s journey doesn’t end here. Robin will most likely make it to the Philippine team* to IOI 2017 in Tehran, Iran.

    * Disclaimer: As I am the Chair Emeritus of the National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI.PH), which selects the Philippine team to the IOI, the statement above is highly personal, is not official, and has no bearing over this year’s team selection.

  3. Two-time global finalists of the Harvard Social Innovation Collaborative Village to Raise A Child (VTRAC) competition.

    Ethnos, composed of Ignacio Lorenzo Villareal, Roberto Antonio “Ronin” Leviste, Jacob Johann Wee, John Gabriel “JJ” Agcaoili, John Vincent “Javi” Amador, Luis Salvador Diy, and Kyle Lee Uy, were twice selected as global finalists of VTRAC, in 2015 and 2016. Their entry garnered some of the highest ranks in the public voting for both years. This is the first time that any entry/team has achieved this, and definitely a first for the Philippines.

    Unlike some projects that do not see the light of day after a competition, these gentlemen decided the carry on and move the project forward. This resulted in a visit to the indigenous communities in northern Philippines, and for the first time, the production of the XS SHS neckties. These neckties are now being used for every moving-up ceremony for the boys of XS San Juan.

    Team Ethonos. Luis, Javi, Ignacio, Ronin, Jacob, Kyle. Missing: JJ.
    Team Ethonos. Luis, Javi, Ignacio, Ronin, Jacob, Kyle. Missing: JJ.

    A bonus for Ethnos, is that when they traveled to Baguio, they were able to visit the Mirador Jesuit Villa. There, they were able to trace the origins of the China Province of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, of which Xavier School and her early Jesuits once belonged.

Three two-time’s. Interestingly, the number two is the first in the series of prime numbers, while the number three is the second.

There may be, of course, a whole lot of other firsts by this batch. Needless to say, I had a lot of other interactions with different folks from this batch. These three, however, stand out for me, as to me they were defining, and I was able to personally witness them.

These are what drove me to write this piece. I hope that in one way or another, for the moments when the XS Class of 2017 made history, these may be permanently etched somewhere.

Thank you, Xavier School Class of 2017.

Apart from what were narrated above, I had countless other shared experiences with you. Some very good, some not very good. Regardless, what’s more important is how you synthesize these, and enable them to let you grow into men fully alive.

XS 2017 Graduation.
XS 2017 Graduation. Mackinley Ngo giving the Welcome Address.

To recall, Fr Johnny, in his graduation speech offered the following unsolicited advice: “Count the stars. Count the stars — even if you know you’re going to lose count.”

He goes on saying, “The world is going to insist on measuring you in terms of what you have and what you do. And you’re going to be tempted to do the same and use those same measures in judging others. But remember, more important and more lasting than what you have and more than what you do is who you are.”

While all of the examples I gave might seem to have focused on what you and your batchmates did and have achieved, it is critical to note that these are even more noteworthy because of who you and your batchmates are — and perhaps what’s at the crux of what moved me to write this.

Perhaps Katipunan Ryan delos Reyes, sums it up best. In everything, we must have courage and ideals. In doing so, we can then enable ourselves to have brilliance.

It was a great honor and privilege, especially those who I’ve worked with, to have shared these experiences with you.

Continue making history, wherever you go.

Look further.
Do further.
Move further.

Go forth, and further.

Luceat Lux!

KN1GH7S – Xavier School Class of 2017 by Marco Millan and Ryan delos Reyes on Vimeo.

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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