I had strong second thoughts about attending my high school alumni homecoming last December 8. I always do, because I have mixed feelings towards my time in UP Rural High School. I don’t hate it. But I didn’t particularly enjoy it, either. However, one of the few things about high school that I cherish to this day is the respect I had for many of my teachers. And there was one algebra teacher in particular that comes to mind.
Little did I know at the time of the past and future ties I would eventually have with Ma’am Liza Carascal. She was a family friend. I found out because she told me during my first day in her class in my sophomore year, which was embarrassing because I had no idea at the time. It was of course, confirmed by my mom the same day when I got home from school and asked her. But it was only a few years ago did I have an idea how far back that friendship went. I was rummaging through my mom’s old things. She was a bit of a pack rat and quite the documenter. She’d probably have loved social media if she were alive today. I found her old scrapbooks covering my childhood. I find out that Ma’am Liza was actually among her first visitors right after I was born.
It would be years after high school when I crossed paths with her again.
She transferred to UPOU full-time after a while, but by the time I came in as a faculty there, she had already returned to UPRHS to serve as its principal – something which suited her incredibly well and will likely be best remembered for for in the years to come. However, she still maintained multiple roles in UPOU, as an affiliate faculty and part of the UPOU Foundation, Inc. It was in these capacities in which I interacted with her professionally. I admit that, at times, I shied away from her – again, because I had moved on a lot from high school and was not particularly interested in revisiting that part of my life, of which she was a huge reminder of.
True enough, nearly every chance she got, she kept talking about Mutyang Rural. She’d say it needed help from alumni such as myself. She’d ask me to hold this or that seminar or workshop for students and teachers in Rural. She’d also ask about my batch and why we weren’t as united as we were supposed to be (in hindsight, she probably said this to everyone regardless of batch in the hopes of spurring us to move). I’d just smile at her. But I didn’t have it in me to tell her the truth of the matter. She lived and breathed Rural and cared for its students like no other, me included. I couldn’t live with myself if I ended up disappointing her in any way. So, it was a few years ago, when I promised her that I will make it a point to start giving back to my alma mater. I would make it a point to play a more active role as an alumnus in the coming years.
But I was still not particularly fond of attending the Alumni Homecoming.
Even last year, with my batch’s 25th anniversary and turn to host the event looming, I wasn’t planning on attending. But who else was going to convince me otherwise? In the middle of an important yet unrelated meeting, she reminded me of it and told me that she expected me to be there.
I did eventually make it there last December 8. Yes, it was partly because of some sense of obligation to my batch. But it was mainly because Ma’am Liza asked me to. That’s why at the end of the event after the homecoming event responsibilities for 2019 was turned over to us, I broke off from my batch’s ranks, went to her and gave her a hug. I thanked her and told her Ma’am pumunta po ako! (Ma’am, I made it!). She laughed and replied Oo nga. Salamat! (Yes, you did. Thank you for coming!).
Little did I know that it would be the last time I would see her alive.
She’d been looking weak during the months prior. But it was not that surprising to me. She had a huge amount of work on her plate. Stress constantly looms over our shoulders in our line of work. She looked visibly tired during the Homecoming, but soldiered on through it to continue lauding the achievements of the school and campaigning for additional support from UPLB and the alumni -- her duty to her school and its wards. Again, I was sensing something was wrong, but I didn’t realize the severity of her condition. She had battled health issues before and I had believed the worst of it was over. She'd be retiring soon and have lots of time to enjoy it. I was wrong.
From what I’m gathering, I believe she probably knew she didn’t have much time left. Yes, she did slow down. Who wouldn't? But she chose to continue working as aggressively as she possibly could. In her mind, much work still needed to be done, all the while not wanting people around her to know something was wrong, much like she did during her first bout with the sickness. I can’t imagine how lonely and frustrating walking that final road could be. And yet, she was at it until the end. Because of that, as I am writing this, I have found an even higher level of respect for her.
Today, I grieve for my math teacher, mentor and colleague. And I deeply regret not being able to tell her any of the things I've written here. But I am glad that warm and happy hug was my final memory of her. Perhaps my mom has returned the favor of being among the first to welcome her, wherever they may be in the afterlife.
From this point on, she will be an inspiration for us who has worn the black, white and blue colors of UPRHS and those who stood and worked alongside her. And it is an honor for me to have been both.