You attend class and find that your professor hasn’t shown up in days. Upon checking your DLSU e-mail account, you are just then told of the news: The professor has passed away, leaving their desk empty for all days. Maybe you wonder about your grades, or who will take over the class. But as you make sense of this, maybe fighting back tears, for the first time, the relationships you’ve had with your professors, predominantly molded in a classroom setting, reveal to you something deeper in the works.
We listen to these students’ stories and examine just how much the death of a professor plays a role in their lives. Perhaps, along the way, we even find the answer to the question of what exactly makes a great professor in the eyes of their students.
Just last year, advertising majors were shocked by the news of the late Sir Anlex Basilio’s death. His former students, Margaret Ruelan (IV, BS-ADV), and Kimi Barra (IV, BS-ADV) recall their surprise upon hearing the news. “First, I was so shocked, kasi I never really had anyone I was with every day, or every other day, or palagi kong nakikita na namatay,” Marga shares.
Similarly, news of the passing of literature professor Sir Francisco Guevara was also a big shock to his former students, Raffy Mendoza (IV, POM-FIN), Katrina Tankeh (IV, AB-LIM), and recent Literature graduate, Riddick Recoter (AB LIM, ’16). “It was unprecedented, all of us were shocked; we failed to grieve, we did not understand the situation we were thrown in,” Riddick recalls. “After his death, I realized how much I should have taken advantage of his passion for poetry and his willingness to help you to understand what you [were] having difficulty with,” adds Katrina. To these students, the facts of Guevara’s and Basilio’s deaths were not as shocking as the fact that the men who they knew and admired were suddenly gone.
Our professors leave us with the painful realization that some moments betray us because they begin to shimmer only in hindsight, but we transform this pain by remembering our moments with these professors fondly. Their generous empathy for the student’s plight helped us believe that we were where we were supposed to be—not out drinking in bars, or pursuing a potential life partner, but there in the classroom, just listening.
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Remembering Guevara, Raffy likens him to Brandon Boyd, the lead vocalist of the band Incubus and whom he considers a renaissance man. “With Sir Guevara naman with literature, he was cool inside out, he had this aura about him that I really identify with. At the same time, he writes poetry, he writes short stories. In a sense, he makes emotional look cool,” he elaborates. Guevara’s ‘cool’ approach to literature was what revived Raffy’s love for writing and inspired him to start writing again, despite the hectic college schedule.
Meanwhile, Guevara was Riddick’s first mentor. They first crossed paths in his HUMAART class when he sought for advice on how to go about being a Literature major. “For the qualifying exam (QLY-LIM), he casually walked me through Elizabeth Bishop to Cleanth Brooks, he simply handed me reading materials, he just taught me how to read (as I humbly asked him to) by candidly forcing me to read,” he says of that time. “That was what I liked most in [Sir Guevara]: the casual bravado, like an anti-hero, or dare I say, more appropriately, anti-professor—a disillusioned liberal.”
Katrina, who was a student of Guevara for both poetry and creative writing classes, shares, “In creative writing, he taught us the importance of keeping things. Our perspective of prose is that you can write anything you want and eventually it will come together, but he taught us to keep things.” Katrina here refers to the silence that comes in between line breaks in poetry, the scenes in a short story that we leave for the reader to imagine.
“His unorthodoxy was quite a shock to us. He hastily opened an avenue for complexity in introducing us to haven’t-heard-before topics and authors without even teaching us the basics! But looking at it few years after, I now appreciate his boldness. His pledge for difference became my mantra in college,” Riddick admits. Katrina even recollects that Guevara had his own vocabulary. “He always used the phrase ‘pronominal phenomena’, which we never understood but which now, I guess, meant an abstraction.”
Each of his students admit that Guevara was a breath of fresh air with his unconventional teaching style. But Guevara himself left no room for his students to imagine him and make him an abstraction because he encouraged dialogue with students, took them out to lunch, read their own poetry and stories and became their confidant. “He was the parrot of encouragement. In my head every time I feel like I can’t do this anymore, I hear him say, ‘What is there to be scared of, Kat?’” Katrina shares. The same goes for Raffy and Riddick, who both consider Guevara their gateway to the world of literature.
“He didn’t make you feel like you [couldn’t] do something because he always pushed you. There are professors that push you because you’re pressured to do things, they have you by the neck, but he’s the cheerleader by the bleachers,” Katrina recalls. And yet sometimes his vitality broke down to frustration. “Whenever he was in class he was just full of energy. I think the frustration was rooted from the fact that no one can really substantiate his need for the equal kind of passion that he has.”
For Marga and Kimi, Basilio motivated them to do and be better. “He really taught us to never give up and always strive for excellence in the things we do,” Kimi shares. Marga remembers a line from him that really struck her and has since become a source of inspiration and motivation: “Everyone is creative.”
Eventually, it became a principle to motivate her friends as well. “When my friends say na hindi sila creative, sinasabi ko agad na, ‘Hindi, marunong ka. You just didn’t put your mind into it. Pero if ita-try mo, you can be talaga,’” Marga says.
Apart from being a motivating force, Basilio was also a father figure, showing genuine concern for his students and their overall well-being. In fact, Marga recalls a time when she forced herself to attend his class despite being sick. “Pero pinauwi niya ako because he said na, ‘You’re still sick, why are you here? No, go home, you rest. Come back to class when you’re ok na, when you’re better. Don’t come to class while you’re still sick,’” she explains.
If there were two things to sum up why Basilio made such an impact on his students, it would be his kindness and his passion for teaching. With a trolley containing his own projector, laptop, hard drive, and other equipment, he came to class ready to share his collection of TVCs and advertisements that he deemed worthy of sharing. Marga shares, “He doesn’t go to class because it’s his job; he goes to class because he likes to go to class. I feel like teaching is what keeps him going.”
Sometimes, it is an advertising professor carrying around his own trolley, with his own projector and his hard drive of videos that makes us feel grounded, or maybe it’s a literature professor that comes in with no book on hand, and only his tattoos on display.
Whichever it is, these mentors have not only opened up worlds for us, but have given their vitality to us. These professors have understood our own imperfect urges and helped us make sense of our own realities, for which we are and will always be grateful.