"We might not have the maps to go by but we have the compass of the heart that can direct us towards what is good and what is compassionate. We look inside that heart to find a sharper 20/20 vision that has the power to cast a spell against the sting of adversities in this year 2020."

The Vice President for the Loyola Schools’ Year-Ender Message

By Maria Luz C Vilches, PhD

Everyone aims for a 20/20 vision. The wear and tear of the physical eye can render our vision blurry, necessitating the use of spectacles. Severe vision impairment needs delicate medical intervention. We strive to do everything we can to restore or even just approximate a 20/20 vision.

There’s a vision, though, that goes beyond what the physical eyes can see—what Antoine St. Exupery’s Little Prince reminds us of: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Sharpening that vision, is I feel, what we have been given to consider for the year 2020. And to be able to see with the heart is a process that is more delicate than any carefully studied ophthalmological procedure. Because discernment and compassion are the sinews of the heart that take time and patience to form. A great exercise towards this end was what we faced this year to give our hearts a 20/20 vision.

The first took place at the beginning of the year itself. When the most dramatic scenery of flickering fire electrified the island on a lake and shrouded the area with spewing darkness and turmoil, people marveled at the grandeur of the spectacle happening in real time. There was no need for cinematographic magic we often employ in film making. This was nature asserting itself in full strength and creativity. The flipside to that wonder was fear for the destruction this eruption caused and, indeed, as it happened, the devastating aftermath. The joy of glittering lights that had welcomed the new year seemed like a dream as we were faced with the reality of recovery from the disaster.

And then in no time at all, the pandemic called COVID-19 descended on us! That invisible molecule of an enemy swept us completely off the familiar track. As if the world had been turned upside down. And how would we stand on our heads in that world? What used to be tried-and-tested approaches were suddenly failing miserably in the face of new realities at first encounter, on a path where no signposts were in sight and at a time when looking for maps was a futile endeavor.

While stunned in a paralyzing situation, we in the Loyola Schools did not allow our spirits to be defeated. With the university effort to put up a campus on the cloud, the indefatigable Team LS immediately worked on converting teaching/learning, student services, as well as administrative processes online.

Of course, the systems being new, we have dealt with some adjustments in the implementation process: quarterly vs semestral organization of courses; synchronous vs asynchronous classes/activities; pacing of classes and regulation of workload; lack of or spotty internet connection; time and space management in a home that has become a school/workplace at the same time; keeping the personal connection between students and faculty in an online setting where interaction is artificially mediated by the video screen but actually also diminished by it. In the midst of these very challenging circumstances, the most important way to go is to listen to students, faculty, parents, and administrators, and open the communication lines with them so that together we can address concerns as best we can or find solutions into the future. Dialogues have taken the form of fora attended by thousands online. Never before had similar meetings been generously attended onsite! Most especially during these trying times, the bonding with one another becomes a tremendous life line. Kamustahan sessions happen within departments and schools and offices.

And just as we got done with the first quarter and were ready to start the second, two huge typhoons blustered our way and derailed schedules drastically. Before we could even finish doing relief operations for the victims of Rolly, raging came Ulysses—far from being the wise hero of Greek mythology—adding more insult to injury and causing far reaching devastation. A lot of our students in the Bicol region and other areas were rendered helpless from flooding, destruction of properties, power outages, no internet connectivity, and the utter shock of not knowing what the future can still bring. We had to make radical adjustments to class schedules to give everyone the needed space to recover from both the physical and the psychological strain that this entire upheaval caused.

Leading this LS community, I’ve often wondered where we could go to hide from all these challenges, to protect the community from anymore of the same. The experience of one calamity after another can easily make the spirit falter. But grace thankfully snaps me out of the tendency to entertain a despondent thought. And I begin to count the blessings: creative solutions through, e.g., the AteneoBlueCloud, LS One, Adaptive Design for Learning Program, formation programs online; resilience in, e.g., adapting to constant calendar adjustments, modifying/adjusting academic policies, realigning budgets to cater to mission critical priorities; compassion for those in need (e.g. more scholarship grants, relief operations; creating support systems for employees and students; collaboration among faculty in helping each other work on their online learning lessons; the Sanggunian’s constituency checks); productivity for excellence (e.g. science research and innovation to respond to current situation; an all-time high in Scopus indexed publications—228 as of November; awards garnered by faculty in their fields of specialization); a breathtaking sustainable campus where natural beauty is thriving (e.g. rare birds freely flying around and frolicking in the fields; trees in full foliage and flowers in bloom).

There is still a lot to be done but I know that in this Loyola Schools community where the energies are aligned for one mission, I trust that we are going to find our way into a good future. I would like to thank this multi-talented community—students, faculty, professionals, staff and maintenance, administrators—that gladly shares in the responsibility of dealing with the present efficiently so that we can forge our way into that good future. We might not have the maps to go by but we have the compass of the heart that can direct us towards what is good and what is compassionate. We look inside that heart to find a sharper 20/20 vision that has the power to cast a spell against the sting of adversities in this year 2020.

I wish everyone continued hope that lifts the spirit to greater heights of freedom and peace!

I wish everyone continued courage that conquers apathy and tames recklessness in support of the common good!

Blessings for a Christmas filled with joy and peace that only the heart anchored in Jesus can experience.