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Gaudeamus – A celebration of Fr. Ben Nebres’ legacy to the Ateneo

“Gaudeamus igitur/Juvenes dum sumus/Post jucundum juventutem

Post molestam senectutem/Nos Habebit Humus.”

“Let us rejoice therefore/While we are young./After a pleasant youth

After a troublesome old age/The earth will have us.” – De Brevitae Vitae  

It had already been a day of surprises of Father Ben. His open house birthday celebration was also a surprise book launch, with the book, a festschrift for him in tribute for all the accomplishments he had garnered over his 18 years as University President. But there was so much more to come. 

At the end of the launch of his festschrift, after numerous pictures and even more greetings, Fr. Ben was invited to the Henry Lee Irwin Theater, supposedly to view the messages of love and admiration posted there by various members of the Ateneo community. Inside, however, was an even grander gesture, one that had been brewing since late last year. 

Inside, the theater was fully prepared, with lights, backdrops, teleprompters, and screens all prepared and in place. The performers and presenters had been practicing feverishly, and secretly, for months, making sure that they can give the best that they can for this unique program. Even up to the very last moments before the anticipated arrival of Fr. Ben, they were preparing. Dr. Michael Coroza greeted those who arrived ahead to teach them the greeting song, “Maligayang Bati”.  Singson Hall, after all, was very close, and there was very little time to get everyone ready for the surprise.  Soon enough, Dr. Jerry Respeto ordered the lights off, and the theater fell silent. 

Moments later, the theater exploded with music and applause as Fr. Ben made his way in and everyone sang their newly practiced greeting. Fr. Ben looked thrilled as he made his way to his seat, greeted with the booming drums and cheers of the Blue Babble Battalion.

It took a few moments for everyone to settle down. When they finally did, Dr. Coroza took to the stage once more, this time to sing “Kenkoy” by Nicanor Abelardo and Romualdo Ramos.  Ariel Diccion, Jethro Tenorio, and Banaue Miclat-Janssen then followed as Chris Tiu, Fr. Ben, and Dr. Edna “Bo-Peep” Franco, respectively as they traced the growth and evolution of the University under Fr. Ben’s leadership in a hilarious comic journey through the history of the university. 

of Humanities Dean Dr. Marlu Vilches then gave a brief but warm welcome to everyone to the program. It took a lot of effort to hide the surprise, but it was well worth it, she remarked. She also honored Fr. Ben’s leadership through many of the significant events and changes in the University.  Her remarks gave way to a wonderful four-hand piano performance by faculty members Nicco Vitug and Jonathan Arevalo Coo. The Ateneo Glee Club also serenaded Fr. Ben with songs from his own native language of Ilocano.

The LS Schools were not the only units of the University who participated in the program. The Ateneo High School’s INDAK dance group danced exuberantly to the tunes of contemporary Philippine rock.  Dulaang Sibol, also from the High School, and the Ateneo Children’s Theater of the Grade School joined LS School theater groups Entablado, Tanghalang Ateneo, Teatro Bagongtao, and the Blue Repertory in a tableu of the noteworthy theatrical productions staged during Fr. Nebres’ term as University President, reminding everyone of the rich cultural heritage the Ateneo has fostered over the years.


Loyola Schools Vice President Dr. John Paul Vergara joined the well-wishers in greeting Fr. Ben on his birthday as well. He also shared his experiences while working with Fr. Ben and expressed his admiration for Fr. Ben’s unflagging drive and energy.  He was followed by the recent winners of the Loyola awards for music, led by Victor B. Robinson, who performed Firework, by Katy Perry.

A documentary film followed, entitled Gaudeamus, with interviews from prominent personalities in the Ateneo community followed.  They all spoke of Fr. Ben as an individual who inspired others to be great, and was someone who they credited for their own achievements, as they all had to be able to live up to the standard set by Fr. Ben himself.  The documentary itself was a testament to the growth of the University, with so many people now helping run what is undoubtedly a much larger, much more influential and involved University.

Applause from the film, and admiration, became affection as the Ateneo Staff danced for Fr. Ben, in a colorful and energetic number.  The sincerity of the affection, as the maintenance staff danced, some hiding embarrassment with a brave smile, shone through the number, which had the audience clapping their hands to the beat of the song. 

The last set of numbers showcased the University’s long standing emphasis on letters and learning as some of the leading writers and artists of the school, such as Exie Abola, Devi Paez, Dr. Ricky Abad, and Dr. Beni Santos read poems, some from their own work, some from great literary figures even as they were punctuated by songs from other artists from the Ateneo.  After this was The Great Wave, where hundreds of pictures of the various members of the University waved their goodbyes to Fr. Ben, some with tears, others with exuberance, all wishing the outgoing President of the University the best.

Fr. Ben did, eventually, get a chance to respond, and he did so swinging his arms widely and with a grin that was noticeably much wider than normal. He expressed his appreciation at the surprise, and at the amount of care put into the presentation which was, all for him. He had an inkling, or so he said, that there would be something special for this particular birthday, but he had no idea it would be this grand. Characteristically, he placed himself below everyone, saying that he needed to be the best, because that was the least he could do to live up to the expectations of those who had, in his words “committed their lives” to the University.  He said, “I owe it to you to give the best that I can to represent the institution that you have given your lives for.”  

At the end, a final blessing was sung by everyone again, honoring someone who was, to a great majority of the members of the University, more than just its President, but in a lot of ways, he was the University. It was a long program filled with numbers prepared and performed with the utmost sincerity. It was also, not the end as Fr. Ben was whisked away again, this time by the members of the Blue Babble Battalion.

Text by Roy Tristan B. Agustin
Photographs by Melencio Gallardo