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The rolling stone that is Luis Dery

Dr. Luis Dery has retired.

It’s a rare sight, really. For someone who has spent the majority of his adult life writing and lecturing like there’s no tomorrow, he stands alone now, retired, seemingly desolate in the privacy of his nearly empty cubicle. No geeky colleague chatter to serve as music to his ears, no elusive blurs going about their own respective days at the office. But all is not what it seems. For all the visible signs of aging—balding white hair, a slow, cautious walk—he will not go gently into the night. He remains quick-witted, brash, maybe even smug.

“What do you want to know about me?” he asks. We respond by inquiring about the basics—his persona on paper. Dery treats it like an Olympic gun shot, his mouth suddenly goes into rapid fire mode, quickly spitting his accomplishments and educational attainments in what could have been a formidable rap tune if a beat was layered over it.

 

Dr. Dery 2 Kevin Prudon. []

 

An impressive resume

Luis Dery, or simply Louie, as his colleagues and dearest friends affectionately call him, was born on the 8th of March, 1946, in Sorsogon. He moved to the Metro in his collegiate days to study in UP Diliman, where he graduated in 1964. He took his masters several years later in the same university and finished by 1971. Directly after accomplishing his MA, he immediately went into teaching as a member of the UP Faculty. It was also during this time that he went and got his PhD in History, graduating in 1987. He held onto his professorship before he started encountering problems with regards to the university salary.

After the complications, he resigned from his position in 1994 and moved to DLSU in June that same year. In his tenure as a Lasallian professor, he has had 11 books published—all single authorship. He has also garnered three Outstanding Book awards, one from the UP President’s Office and two from the National Academy of Science and Technology. The rest of his books, he says, received nominations for the National Book Award.

Unbeknown to some though, this is already Dr. Dery’s second retirement from the Taft-based institution. He first retired 12 years after his initial entry to the University, in 2006. After a two-year hiatus, he came back in Jordanesque fashion in 2008 to the tune of a full professorship in the History Department. Since then, he has remained a prominent fixture, not only in his own department, but within the University in general. Just a few years ago, Dr. Dery donated the majority of his library collection to the University, thereby establishing the Luis Dery Collection, which is now housed on the 13th floor of the Learning Commons in the Henry Sy Sr. Hall.

 

A means to inspire

Despite all these accolades and recognitions, however, Dr. Dery shares that he never really wanted to be a teacher growing up. “As a college student back then, I realized that not all of those that were teaching deserved to be there. They had the wrong frame of mind,” he confesses. This wrong frame of mind, the young Dr. Dery concluded, led to a convolution of the academic system. “Some professors were using the grading system as a means to terrorize, not inspire.”

That magical capacity for inspiration is perhaps what propelled and continues to propel Dr. Dery into a perpetual love for his job as an educator. For him, the sight of successful students concretizes his objective, which is to inspire students to love learning and touch lives forever; this is especially true whenever he teaches “timeless” ideas that he claims no other educator has advocated before. “I may appear [boastful], but it’s true,” he clarifies, clearing away any potential air of conceitedness.

Take, for example, Rizal’s idea of the vital role of women. “I deciphered [Rizal’s] message—he believed that women are the foundation of the nation. To make women ignorant is to destroy a country.” Another idea that he proudly shares is the notion of the woman as second only to the divine god. He brands the Filipina as a goddess, but because of massive westernization, she is supposedly transformed into a sex object. He goes on to relate this to the act of wearing beachwear in full view of other people. “If you’re a decent person, you wouldn’t wear a bikini. Your private parts are almost exposed; what’s important is your inner beauty.”

 

Grounded on principle

Dr. Dery 1 Kevin Prudon []

As bold and at times head-scratching (he labels Rizal as the first feminist, and says the myth of Malakas and Maganda is superior to the story of Adam and Eve on the basis of gender equality) as Dr. Dery’s ideas may be, it’s hard to refute his pizzaz. This is a man who settles for no less than trailblazing. He wants to outsmart, outachieve, and outlast his colleagues. And what’s more interesting is that he’s not shy about it. “The night before our high school graduation I was drinking with friends in some corner [of] the campus when a teacher of mine caught us and told me that I’d never be anything in life,” he narrates. “I told him two things: first, that his future is death, and second, that I’d be better than he ever will be.”

It’s easy to mark Dr. Dery as an arrogant man. But for all his pride and high sense of self-regard, he stays grounded on his own personal principles. He recalls one instance wherein he was invited by a friend to write a coffee table book. It was bound to be a lucrative gig, one that he could’ve easily snatched up. However, the contents of the book included an entry on revolutionary general Pio del Pilar, a figure that Dr. Dery didn’t look too kindly upon. Hence, the offer was declined despite fervent insistence from his friend; he simply could not compromise.

And so we go back to the scenario at hand: a nearly empty department office and a retired professor compressing his life story into a little more than one hour of speech. Last April 20, a picture posted by fellow history professor Xiao Chua on Facebook of Dr. Dery’s last departmental meeting was met with comments of sadness and gratitude.

A melancholic au revoir seems inevitable, given the time invested by both the University and the famed professor towards each other, but Dr. Dery’s having none of it. At 70, even with his soft voice and arched back, Dr. Dery is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, he has already taken a job offer to teach at the University of Santo Tomas. When he’s not there, he’s either busy tending to his personal garden or reading books. His willpower is unimpeachable. This is someone who is not made for grand exits, though; he’s had grandeur throughout his career. He just disappears into the background and moves on to the next one.

By Paulo Yusi

By Josienne Cordova

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