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Celebrating leadership – A surprise festschrift for Fr. Ben Nebres

March 15, 2011 was Fr. Ben Nebres’ birthday. It was his 71st and, perhaps more importantly, his last as President of Ateneo de Manila University. It was no surprise, then, that the University would want to ensure that the occasion would be one of tribute and celebration for Fr. Ben, whose 18 years as President has been marked by profound changes and dramatic growth in the University. But there were surprises in the event, the most notable being the launch of a book, a festschrift and a labor of love for Fr. Ben entitled Defining Filipino Leadership.

Photo at right: Fr. Nebres with editors Dr. Tonette Angeles (left) and Dr. Achoot Cuyegkeng (right)

The faces of those who were gathered at Singson Hall at the Ateneo Grade School varied from staff members and faculty, to people who had flown in from other countries to wish Fr. Ben a happy birthday. But, regardless of who they were, all were smiling, especially as Fr. Ben walked in, to a rendition of a slightly off tune, but earnest, Happy Birthday song.  

Perhaps there were some surprises in store for Fr. Ben in the videos projected on the screen, showcasing what seemed to be an endless stream of greetings and expressions of gratitude. Students, staff, faculty, and athletes literally sang their praises and thanks to Fr. Ben via the screen. And then there were the songs performed live by Blue Symphony, the Ateneo Chamber Singers, the Gene Pool of Mr. Rene San Andres, and the Fr. Antonio Cuna Alumni Glee Club, all of whom delighted not only Fr. Ben, but also those who were in attendance with him. 

The real surprise, however, came very subtly. 

After the numbers and a turnover of an endowment fund from the Ateneo BS Management Engineering batch of 1979, Dr. Antonette Palma-Angeles took the mike from Communications Department Chair Sev Sarmenta, and presented Fr. Ben with something he never expected: a book, all dedicated to him, written by some of the personalities who have worked with him through the years. 

Entitled Defining Filipino Leadership, the book was a labor of love by two people who had worked closely with Fr. Ben in the Ateneo—Dr. Maria Assunta Cuyegkeng and Dr. Angeles. It was Cuyegkeng and Angeles who had gathered the essays from 35 persons, all of whom had worked with Fr. Ben in some way. The result was a book that was not only a tribute to Fr. Ben, but was also an inquiry into what brand of leadership should be aspired for by Filipinos, with Fr. Ben as a shining example of it. The presentation was capped with a reading by Mr. Manny Pangilinan of an excerpt from his contribution to the book. 

The speeches were followed by turn-over ceremonies and pictorials, and the stage filled up with personalities who contributed to the book.  But, was Fr. Ben surprised?

It speaks volumes of Fr. Ben’s poise that, even when faced with such a tribute, he remained as eloquent and clear as ever.  His expressions of gratitude were sincere even as he spoke of his past 18 years with both fondness and pride. He also made it clear that there was more to be done and that, despite his retirement as university president, he was not done with the work that he started in the Ateneo.

”Defining Filipino Leadership” contains essays by the following contributors: Leslie Advincula-Lopez, Esperanza Chee Kee, Gloria Crespo-Congco, John Crossley, Jose B. Cruz, Jr., Mark Lawrence Cruz, Fabian Dayrit, Manuel Dy, Jr., Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, Ceferino Follosco, Jose Mario Francisco, S.J., Edna “Bo peep” Franco, Ester Garcia, Anna Miren Gonzalez-Intal, Milwida Guevara, Melissa Jayme-Lao, Antonio La Viña, Queena Lee-Chua, Patricia Licuanan, Sonia Lorenzo, Jose Cecilio Magadia, S.J., Carlos Medina, Jr., Antonio Meloto, Solvie Nubla-Lee, Carmela Oracion, Maria Resurreccion Palma-Alejo, Manuel V. Pangilinan, Mari-Jo Ruiz, Czarina Saloma Akpedonu, Karel San Juan, S.J., Lillian Vergara, Maria Luz Vilches, Lee Peng Yee, and Melissa Yeung.

Copies of ”Defining Filipino Leadership” may be purchased at the Ateneo de Manila University Press, G/F Bellarmine Hall, ADMU Loyola Campus.

Text by Roy Tristan B. Agustin
Photograph by Melencio Gallardo