Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Little Book That Could…

Is a collection of sixteen "Dear Student" letters addressed to the graduating seniors of Pampanga High School (PHS) in 2008, written by a group of alumni who left the school forty years earlier.

A 40th high school class reunion is a rite of passage marking the midpoint of our lives. As a group of us began to think aloud on how best to commemorate this event, the idea of a book was born with this premise: If you could talk to a student who is about to leave high school and as you think about your life since you left the same school, what would you tell that student? What advice would you give? What wisdom can you pass on? What would you tell the student about the challenges and choices that they are about to make? What will you tell them about what it means to love one’s self, kapwa, and bayan? What will you tell them about navigating the complexity of a globalized world? What will you tell them about what it means to be a Filipino? Would/could you a write a letter to that student?

More than a hundred pages later, these sixteen letters became From Our Hearts To Yours: Letters To a Young Student (Phoenix Publishing International, 2007) edited by Leny Mendoza Strobel and Nancy Figueroa Gochuico.

As the letters were submitted, we sent copies to the Principal of the school to ask what she thought of the project. Does she think this book project is worthwhile? Will it be read and received well? Can the teachers use it? Would she endorse the project by writing an Afterword?

Her reply to all of these questions was an unequivocal "yes!" She said the book is an "authentic" textbook because it is about the legacy of PHS to its students – past and present. Furthermore, she requested that the book be made available not only to the graduating seniors but to all the forty English teachers with sixty students each, and to the special science classes with a total of 240 students. She wants this to become a textbook. This was the "go" signal we needed.

To further authenticate this project, we showed the excerpts of the manuscript to others to ask their opinion. One private school owner who is an alumnus of the same high school wrote: It will be a sin NOT to proceed with your project. If these are just excerpts and am already bawling my eyes out, I can’t wait to read the rest. We asked Mon David, also an alumnus and an Outstanding Kapampangan awardee, and he said: Even parents, not just students, would appreciate reading these letters.

Governor Eddie "Among Ed" Panlilio, the priest-turned-governor of Pampanga, endorses the book as he recognizes Pampanga High School as the most venerable institution of learning in the province and he believes this book serves to maintain the legacy of its greatness as alumni return to express their gratitude via the project.

When we began writing these letters many of us said: I want to write the letter I wish I had received when I was about to graduate from high school.

We had a conundrum, though. There is a 40-year gap that we need to bridge between our readers and ourselves. Do we even understand how a young high school student thinks or feels anymore? As our own children are already beyond their high school years, how do we make these letters relevant? Are there life lessons that are still as valid as they always were in spite of how technology and globalization has changed the world? Do some values stand the test of time and distances?

The answers we came up with are in this book; we have opened our hearts to "pass forward" the lessons learned from our long journeys. Conceived as a small high school project to commemorate a centennial and a ruby reunion, we hope there will be an interest in the book beyond its first intention. This is the hope we hold out for our "little book that could" – that it could become a textbook for high school English or Creative Writing classes or classes in civics or citizenship. Now we wait and see.

BOOKLAUNCH: February 14, Pampanga High School Diosdado Macapagal Court, 8am

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