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Academic rituals.

We tend to think of school rituals mainly in terms of graduation ceremonies. Sectarian schools have the religious ceremonies like regular Masses, but not much more.

I feel rituals are important, and I mean rituals with a bit of pomp and pageantry. As an anthropologist, I value rituals because they mark our passages through academic life, a time to bring people together to reflect and to appreciate the good in our lives.

I've tried-unsuccessfully, I'm afraid-to get more people involved in our flag ceremony at UP Diliman, even offering a Friday concert. But people just aren't fired up by that ritual.

The most popular rituals are those held toward the end of the year: the 'Pag-iilaw' or lighting up of the campus and the Lantern Parade.

In the past few days we've been having many of these rituals of passage at UP Diliman, as we transition from the presidency of Alfredo E. Pascual to that of Danilo Concepcion. (He is known to many as 'Attorney Campanilla,' the late-afternoon radio program where legal advice is dispensed. Among academics, he is called 'Danicon,' but one irreverent official, Filipino-style, has proposed another nickname.)

We've had all kinds of thanksgiving and tribute rituals for President Pascual, and if you're reading this on Friday morning, we will be having a turnover ceremony with prominent guests including other university presidents and officials. A more formal investiture will take place in a few weeks.

Wednesday's 'Pag-uulat at Pagpapasalamat' ritual sets the pace for future UP presidents, and perhaps chancellors and deans-a chance to take stock of an official's term, and a chance for constituents to express thanks. The UP president has a 6-year term, which is a long period, and people's memory tends to be short so it is important to talk about those six years.


But I want to focus on another academic ritual: the affirmation ceremony for deans. I had one last Wednesday for the new dean of our Asian Institute of Tourism, Dr. Edieser dela Santa.

I introduced the affirmation ceremony because I noticed how mechanical we had become in the swearing in of new deans. The new official goes to the office of the chancellor with his or her family, takes the oath-and that's it, all lasting less than half an hour.

I told Anril Tiatco, who, besides heading Diliman's information office, is a kind of master of all ceremonies and rituals, that we needed something more meaningful, where a new dean is 'affirmed' in front of his or her family, fellow faculty, students, staff and alumni.

The term 'affirmation' came about because I joined the Quakers some years ago, which led to a dilemma with swearing in. Quakers do not take oaths because we believe that if you promise to do something, it should be serious and binding enough not to have to invoke God. Put another way: Just walk the talk and get things done.

But I thought I'd expand this idea of an affirmation-which incidentally is provided for in the US and Philippine Constitutions-to bring more meaning into a new official's position, and public life. In effect, we have an entire community bearing witness to a person's new office. In our deans' affirmation ceremony, there is a presentation of the new official's plans and visioning and, as I rib many of the deans, a time for 'parinig,' meaning they can talk about needing more funds for their projects, while looking at the chancellor.

The affirmation, in turn, gives me a chance to respond, to share my own expectations of the college. For example, for the new AIT dean, I talked about how we were pouring in funds for them to renovate and to create a tourism and heritage complex. The college as a center for heritage is what will make it unique among the tourism schools. After all, AIT was the first institution in the entire Southeast Asia (maybe even the entire Asia) to offer a tourism degree, way back in 1976.

A tourism program combined with heritage means the program will produce more than hotel managers and staff, or tourist guides. Instead, we will have people who understand the importance of tourism as a program that brings people and communities together, an encounter of cultures and a way to create more friendships in a world so torn apart by bigotry and strife.

Our affirmation ritual has been evolving. While people enjoy that ceremony, it does take time to get used to it, and to fine-tune it.

Turning point

Dean dela Santa's affirmation marked a kind of turning point. I was feeling under the weather and felt that I just had to get through it quickly. But when I got to the venue, I was surprised to hear live music by a large band. It was the Quezon City Symphony Orchestra, and I found out that the new dean had made the Quezon City government feel somewhat guilty because it plays for our neighbor, Ateneo de Manila University, but not for UP. We do have our own bands and orchestras at UP, but I thought it was a wonderful gesture to get the city's symphony orchestra, which is handled by the tourism office, to play at Dean dela Santa's affirmation.

I was impressed, too, because the auditorium was packed. There must have been close to 100 people seated at tables, with a buffet table at the side. The new dean's family was there: parents, a youngest sister, spouse and children, including the youngest who is only two years old. There were four former deans, alumni, staff and, most important, students.

I told the audience how overwhelmed I was, and that AIT had set a high bar for other colleges' affirmation ceremonies. The next in line for an affirmation is architecture dean Armin Sarthou, and I kidded him about getting the Manila Symphony Orchestra. But, again, I think the QC Symphony Orchestra was great, even practicing 'UP Naming Mahal' with a musical score given just the day before the event.

I also thought about how such a large gathering is another way of expressing appreciation for someone willing to take the often thankless job of administrator: People remember your lapses, but do not thank you enough for the good you do.

There's so much more to be done to make these ceremonies even more meaningful and, sometimes, conducted in a light vein. Our information office provides a kind of template to colleges preparing for an affirmation ritual, as well as support such as inviting cultural performers. We usually get the UP Filipiniana Company to do a presentation, which includes the 'Sayaw sa Bangko,' where the dancers perform on a narrow bench, with incredible balance. I've joked that this number could easily be UP Diliman's official dance, given the tough political maneuverings that a good leader has to master.

Who knows? Maybe we will have future affirmation rituals that go on into the night with revelry.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Feb 10, 2017
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