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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

entry arrow5:59 PM | Life in the Early Days of Silliman University Part 1

In celebration of the 114th Founders Day of Silliman University, I'm posting an article titled “They Wanted To Be There: One of the First 15 Students Recollects,” an interview story by Samuel Serate, first published in the 28 August 1956 issue of The Sillimanian.

David and Laura Hibbard, the founders of Silliman University

“No fanfare marked the formal opening of Silliman Institute,” Dr. David S. Hibbard, first president and founder of Silliman, wrote many years later. “In fact, there was no ceremony of any kind. No government nor any other dignitary was present. I remember coming down that morning from our quarters and seeing fifteen boys gathered in the room on the first floor of the building. There was not a pair of shoes nor a single hat among them. I do not remember seeing any of their parents with them. The boys were there because they wanted to be there.”

Alfonso Viliran, now 67, his hair gray and his voice weak, was one of the 15 barefoot boys “who wanted to be there.” That was 55 years ago today, but Viliran remembers some of those days better than the more recent ones.

Yet, life was not easy, even in those days. Anyway, not for the serious student. Viliran used to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to prepare his lessons, especially Standard Arithmetic. Philippine History was also considered an indispensable course. Dr. Hibbard’s desire that the boys learn about his native land made it necessary to teach them United States History. English being the medium of instruction, it was necessary to learn Grammar. And reading was the magic key that opened the treasures of the printed page.

Since the beginning, Silliman believed that mere facts and information do not make an educated man; so in addition to Physiology and Geography, the study of the Bible was added to the curriculum thereby giving the young both knowledge of the world around them and awareness of God in the world.

Morning classes began at 7:30 and ended at 11:00 o’clock. The boys went back to school at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon and were dismissed at 4:30 after Physical Education which consisted of boxing, chinning-the-har, dumbell and ring (argolia) exercises.

Opening ceremonies in the morning included singing patriotic songs such as “The Star Spangled Banner.” “Columbia,” “The Gem of the Ocean,” and “Of Thee I Sing.” And Viliran fondly remembers that Dr. Hibbard never failed to start classes with the beautiful “Lord’s Prayer.”

The Institute had no school building of its own at the time, so classes were held in a tented house owned by Mr. Egnacio Gonzales west of Rizal Avenue. The two-story building had lime-stone foundations that walled in part of the lower story. The posts were of first-class hardwood, and the walls were of wood. The house was built to last for years.

Viliran himself did not stay long in Silliman. He left school after five years, unable to pay even the P2.00 monthly fee needed to pay for his studies. For two of those five years, he studied on a scholarship grant from the Dumaguete Municipal Council after placing first in the qualifying examination given by the government. But his training at Silliman qualified to teach in the public schools.

Now a retired public school teacher after 22 years of continuous service to his government, Viliran lives on his pension in the house his earnings have built for him just a stone’s throw from the Silliman campus, across the street from the University Mission Hospital.

He speaks of Silliman now with a lump in his throat, his voice breaking with uncontrollable emotion. And he smiles when he talks of Washington’s birthday and July 4th, the two official holidays grandly celebrated at Silliman. They had programs and parade around the town. The Sillimanites with the white sailor caps “that came from the States” and a red band around and across their chests attracted the admiration of town who would say, Baling mga toga Silliman, dili mga siponon.

Gradually, the boys acquired decent clothes. On ordinary school days, they wore closed-collar coats, but on special occasions they put on coat and tie. “We dressed like gentlemen in those days,” says Viliran, in conscious criticism of the casual fashion of today.

But the best tribute to the reputation of Silliman was paid by many Spanish students enrolled at the Institute despite the fact that at the time there were two schools in Dumaguete operated by Spaniards.

All this Viliran remembers, as he does the names of his classmates that memorable 28th day of August 1901: Pablo Bueno, Jacinto Catada, Simeon Emilia, Doroteo Flores, Jose Gamo, Lorenzo Gonzales, Daniel Larena, Patricio Larena, Andres Las Pinas, Eduardo Montenegro, Miguel Patero, Antonio Periquet, Gerardo Periquet, Geronimo Sobremisana. They were fifteen pupils, young in years, strong in heart, of high courage—the first of the eager young ones who year after year keep coming back to Silliman.

An assembly of students at Silliman Hall, first built in 1903.

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