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Children of Interesting Times

Figure 1 Courtesy: Redbubble

2021 began with exuberant optimism. Pundits declared that this was the year we would defeat the pandemic. After all, safety protocols, the proliferation of vaccines, and efforts of various health agencies were reaping positive rewards – or so it seems, and the word “normal” began to creep back into our daily lingo. Yet, by March or so, dread once more set in, and by year-end, we are swinging in a pendulum between fatalism and outright anxiety. Even the National Post declares, “There is another trend lately, and that is Collective Misery Competing, The Celebration of Others’ Misery, and to proclaim that “positive thinking” or “optimism” is actually toxic.” CNBC’s Brian Sullivan lays down the 2022 prediction in a nutshell – inflation stays hot and EV sales take off – in a piece that talks about the 5 booms: Price, Baby, Heavy Metal (not the music, but the minerals), Japan, and EV.

Personally, there is a single positive event in 2021 that brings me so much satisfaction. Our Yearbook, commemorating the Jubilee (50th) year of our UP College of Business Administration 1971 graduating batch was delivered by our printer in early December and by year-end, most of our batchmates have received their hard-cover, 300+page, of mostly full colour good quality copy. As editor in chief, I am indebted to a wonderful editorial staff.

There is an apocryphal expression, “May you live in interesting times,” which claims to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse (although, no Chinese source was ever found – Note).  Let’s not dispute that the year 1971 fits into this category of “interesting times” and many of us would probably prefer another year for our graduation than this time of turmoil and uncertainty. In the “messages” section, UP President Danilo Concepcion placed a positive spin on that year by saying, “The burgeoning spirit of activism marked your stay in the University, the landmarks of which were the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune. The atmosphere of increased social awareness – pivotal in our story as a nation and empowered by our tradition of academic freedom- helped define who you were as students and eventually as graduates.” Former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, former college dean, wrote this in his message, “We consider you as battled-tested alumni and for showing that you can overcome with your management and business skills grave obstacles to business and national development.” Former Senator Manny Villar, chairman of our UP College of Business Administration Alumni Association, echoed the same sentiments by referring to our tumultuous graduating year. Our Jubilee Yearbook expresses it well in the Editor’s Note section, “…Granted we look back on the road before not as a bed of roses, but always with an eye on the prize, in whatever form this may be, in our service to country, industry, family, and self…We sprinkle everywhere in our opus countless mementos of dinners, gatherings, award ceremonies, group travels, etc. Yet we hallow our tenacity and resilience – from the battlefield of our graduating year in which we witnessed the First Quarter Storm, the Diliman Commune and returning to classrooms with missing desks and chairs that were used as barricade material – to our individual calling to different arenas in the business world – and the pandemic chaos that greeted us in the past two years and remains as persistent as a seeming curse in our Jubilee. Yes, Gloria Gaynor, I will survive – or, we will survive, and we will thrive!”

While many of my graduating batchmates accepted our calling in various fields: among others – heads of banks, involvement with government ministries, entrepreneurs, advertising, TV and media productions, professors in universities and colleges, lawyers (a judge too, to boot), world travellers, and trailblazers, we remain connected through the miracle of cyberspace (starting with the antiquated yahoo groups, we progressed to a Facebook page, and at least three Viber groups in which we exchange updates, birthday greetings, acknowledgment of family and career milestones), and where fortunes allow, not a few outings and gatherings, including a food tour of Japan. We mourn too the passing of several precious colleagues and commemorate in our humble way our remembrance of fellowship and acquaintance.

Yet interesting times demand interesting responses. As heirs to the chaos and challenges of our formative college years, we kept in mind those afflicted with worse circumstances; thus we consecrated our celebrations and gatherings with our humble gestures of giving back: donating to causes such as supporting our varsity team, helping the needy during the start of the pandemic, and other benevolence, via individual or communal means. We continue to walk this road, holding hope for the least of these…

“Interesting times” march on, apparently without pity, not just for one generation, but for the entire world. No golden ending is in sight. Some might even experience visions of the four horsemen – and the pale horse is already out of the barn. Just like our graduating college batch of 1971, we may even face a golden lining – that our current pivotal circumstance – is a valued teacher, help defining our identity as a battled-tested world coming together with our respective creativity, to survive – and thrive.

Amanda Gorman, in her year-end poem A New Day’s Lyrics, says it well, and I excerpt:

“What was cursed, we will cure.

What was plagued, we will prove pure.

Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,

Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,

Where we weren’t aware, we’re now awake;

Those moments we missed

Are now these moments we make,

The moments we meet,

And our hearts, once all together beaten,

Now all together beat.”

Alfie Kwong, January 2022

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