That same old Varsitarian feeling

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Jan 3 2011

By Nestor G. Cuartero

THE EARLY 1970s were a turning point, in more ways than one, for the Varsitarian.

It was the time the paper gradually shifted from letterpress printing to what was then considered as modern, offset printing technology.

From doing things the medieval way, which saw us conducting our presswork amid gigantic, greasy, heavyweight and monstrous-looking typesetting machines, one side of which contained fearsome, boiling metal, we discovered new technology in the form of IBM Selectric printwheel.

The shift in the physical plant was a transition matched only by a brewing clamor for change that was the rallying cry in many a campus demonstration at the time.

Demo or no demo, primitive printing or high water, we walked, marched, or ran, across the football field, depending on the exigency, from the Varsi office at the Main Building to the UST Press at the corner of Espana Boulevard and Padre Noval Street, where now stands the College of Fine Arts and Design.

Such brisk walks, under driving rain or sweltering heat, served as our excursions to a life in print, a journey we have chosen to embrace as a career years later.

The years I spent in the Varsi, beginning in 1970 when I was a freshman in my first semester at the university, had been marked with changes and challenges. Between them was a campus life filled with joy and inspiration I’d only be too happy to pay for on top of my tuition. The Varsi years were the best years of my student life, often confusing me as to the real reason I was in the university in the first place, competing as they did with my pursuit for academic excellence.

As journalism majors, we attended classes in the evening, starting at 5 p.m. With no classes in the morning, we’d show up daily, without fail, at the V office at 8 a.m. anyhow, to write our stories, make calls, or simply hang out to eat fried, skewered sweet bananas.

The good old V office, on what is now the Security Bank, was probably the most liberal, carefree office in the entire university, where artists, writers, and photographers gathered as kindred spirits who spoke a common language and shared a common dream.

We sure had our quarrels and petty fights over stories, pictures, illustrations that came in late, sketchy, hazy, or not at all. The Varsitarian at that time had two editions. The tabloid was published weekly while the magazine came out quarterly.

Between the two editions, the staff, numbering about 30, practically ran in circles as we tried to beat our deadlines at the same time that we fulfilled our academic requirements.

It was a great balancing act that we learned early on, forming the basis of our excellent multi-tasking skills years later. The years at the V taught us discipline much faster than any lesson in Moral Theology or the ROTC ever did.

Behind the frenzy of putting out a 12-page weekly newspaper, the Varsitarian staff enjoyed great camaraderie and friendship. It was fostered and cemented by constant togetherness, marked by those long walks to the printing press, the endless sharing of food and drinks and gossip, not to mention, romantic undertones and sexual overtures in the case of some. Blame it also on the sometimes lazy and always frenetic moments at the newsroom, a general feeling of brotherhood, or sisterhood as the case may be, or both, that connected the staff members into one family.

Perhaps, it was because we were strengthened by the same set of qualifying exams, the same grueling interviews that made us turn to one another in search of a little comfort. The idle time spent together in the newsroom between classes yielded some of the most sensational romances ever told inside the dark room of the Photo Section.

Maybe, our ties stemmed from the great bonding that transpired between and among staffers while some of us got reprimanded, embarrassed, or scolded in public by slave-driving editors like Rosalinda de Leon, Carolina Nuñez and Maria Corazon Evangelista, as they copyread our stories, as they howled over a missing information, a wrong caption or head, or lapses in grammar and spelling.

It didn’t matter if one was a reporter or a photographer, a section editor or an artist, an office secretary or an editor-in-chief. Everyone felt a certain one-ness, a bond with one another that fell short of an actual fraternity, minus the trimmings, the Greek letters, and the initiation rites. There was competition for excellence in one level and deep friendship in another. That’s the Varsitarian spirit that I know and remember only too well.

Years later, upon my return to the vast campus as a teacher, I would encounter some students who were on the V staff. I would ask them how things were at the V, and they would amuse me with stories that were just like the stories our friends and colleagues then, shared, cried, and laughed over.

I could sense that the Varsi spirit, at 80, has not changed at all. It has been nurtured and transplanted, like a nylon thread, from one generation to another, resulting in a common bond that links past and present Varsitarians together. The staffers still toil long and hard on their stories even as they look forward to those all-night long Christmas parties and 5-day holidays on some beach in the summer, the better to bond and close ranks with.

The young staffers also still enjoy hanging out at the V office, which is now in more posh surroundings. The Journ majors still come to the office at least eight hours ahead of their first class, which now happens to be my feature writing class.

The previous year’s Varsi staffers would come by and visit regularly, as if they never said goodbye, as if they couldn’t say goodbye to an institution that was also home and comforting bosom to them, their youthful dreams, idealism, talent, artistry.

We felt exactly the same way more than 30 years ago, when our young lives revolved around our beloved Varsi, and those long walks to the ancient printing press that left us muddied on some days and soiled by printer’s ink on other days.

Looking back, those years, those long walks across the footbal field and longer nights doing presswork, strengthened our character, made firm our resolve to be enlightened media persons, nourished and inspired by the Varsitarian’s high standards of excellence, forged by the Varsi spirit that has defined our youth and which has not escaped us at all. V

Nestor G. Cuartero has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas where he teaches and is also the coordinator of its Journalism department. A longtime editor at the Manila Bulletin, he has won top awards in journalism from the Instituto Cervantes and the Pambansang Akademya ng Telebisyon sa Agham at Sining. His stories come out regularly in Bulletin publications including Philippine Panorama and Tempo. He joined the Varsitarian as a reporter, then rose from the ranks as Circle editor and managing editor when he graduated in 1974.