Let me tell you a story.

On March 27, 2010, a Saturday, I, along with about half of my batchmates (SOSS and SOH people), walked up the stage, shook hands with Fr. Ben Nebres, took a bow, and went back to my seat. We graduated from college–from almost 12-13 years of structured education. I remember thinking, “what a quiet way to send the sesquicentennial batch off“.

Still, that was our moment. It was our graduation. We were supposed to be at center stage. The spotlight was collectively ours.

However, it seems everybody has forgotten that teeny tiny little fact in lieu of the much-sensationalized speech of Manuel V. Pangilinan.

When I first learned that MVP was going to give the commencement speech during our graduation, I was underwhelmed. Why him, he who has given countless speeches in so many Ateneo events before? Didn’t we deserve somebody new? I wasn’t particularly enamored with him, though I knew that he held focus group discussions with select batchmates to discuss what we would like to hear during our graduation. After the first half (JGSOM and SOSE) graduated on the 26th, I was even less enthusiastic as I heard friends say his speech was boring. So when his turn during our graduation came round, I wasn’t particularly listening.

But same with going inside a theater to watch a movie with impossibly low expectations and coming out mildly enjoying it, the same happened with his speech. It wasn’t particularly engaging, but it did have some nice tidbits and it wasn’t as long or as boring as I expected it to be.

Two days later I learned that the bits I did enjoy (and remember) from his speech were plagiarized from the author of my favorite set of books. Hmm. I cried foul, as did the rest of my batchmates. His admission of guilt and repentance as well as his offer to resign mollified us. I admit, I thought at first that he was just writing it to save face. But I accepted Fr. Ben’s reply and decision, and I accepted that the board would have to convene to talk about it.

Resignations like those aren’t just accepted, especially when the school stands to lose one of its biggest supporters. I accept that they had to properly think about whether to let MVP resign or ask him to stay. It wasn’t a decision to be made in minutes upon receiving an email.

While in Davao for vacation a few days after graduation, I received a text message from the Sanggunian doing a survey for our batch, asking how we wanted to deal with the MVP speech issue. Another friend replied for all of us (around 8), to say that we didn’t think he needed to resign and that he didn’t need to return the honoris causa.

I believe this is what me and my friends were thinking that time: he apologized, that’s enough. At least he was man enough to realize his mistake and to be accountable for it. At least he knows. It would do more harm than good for the school if he cuts ties with it. A very utilitarianistic thinking, don’t you think?

Then the Board of Trustees released their decision not to accept MVP’s resignation and all hell broke loose.

I admit, the MVP speech issue was far from my mind (and I suspect the same goes for most of my batchmates) during those times. I just graduated. The ceremony’s done. It was time to let loose before the inescapable realities of job-hunting and further studies rear their ugly heads. Then I read Jaime’s blog post.

And I realized, damn. That does post a double standard. For the first time, I really thought about the issue and updated myself on what has been happening, and I realized what a very big mistake the Ateneo (or the Board of Trustees) has made by not accepting MVP’s resignation.

As a student who has written one research paper too many, I knew the implications of plagiarizing. It’s like committing murder in the academe. I remember sitting inside the Leong Hall auditorium once (for the first time, actually) to listen to a Philosophy professor lecture about the perils and examples of plagiarism. That’s how seriously the school takes plagiarism among its students.

It’s not even a matter of treating MVP like you would a student or a faculty member. It’s a matter of upholding principles. Plagiarism, in any event or circumstance–especially more so in an activity celebrating the academic achievements of people–is a disgustingly wrong thing to do. And I think MVP has paid dearly enough for it. That doesn’t mean that the school needs to coddle him, though, and treat his wounds.

I think the board is regretting its decision now. Instead of putting a lid on the issue, they’ve just opened a whole new can of worms. The members must be squirming in their seats right now. Certainly, they’ve been getting a lot of bashing and bad press, especially over at Jessica Zafra’s blog. And though I agree that Ateneo has made a big guffaw in this issue, I am saddened that this issue has gone horribly way out of proportion. Suddenly, Ateneo is the evil mastermind.

The issue has even been reported on national television. The people have turned from crucifying MVP to crucifying Ateneo, its board, and even Fr. Ben. I am not naive enough to think that everything Ateneo is perfectly peachy and happy. The school has its flaws–there are many hiding among its offices, in fact. However, that doesn’t and shouldn’t discount how capable, inspiring, and professional it is of an institution.

Suddenly, the talk of how elitist Ateneo is and Ateneans are has again come to the fore. Please. There may be elitists in Ateneo, but no way is it an elitist institution. Four years of studying there has made me privy to this insight. Elitists don’t thrive in Ateneo. They’re ridiculed and bashed, and the school does its best to beat the elitism out of people during their stay. To take jabs at the school because of the (admittedly wide) opening left by the MVP speech issue is to belittle its values and its worth. I am sure that the administration has learned from the heated responses coming both outside and inside the school. They have learned their lesson. I don’t think anyone would dare put the name of Ateneo in shame again.

Moreover, I admire the professors who have taken a stand in this issue, and I’m proud to say that I studied under some of them. That philosophy professor who lectured us about plagiarizing–she’s there as well. These are the people who matter. They are the ones who form the students and instill the values. More than the Board of Trustees, they make up the school and they are a large part of why I am proud of being Atenean.

It is sad that a speech (or two) had taken the spotlight from the graduates themselves. It seems as if we’ve been relegated to the background of our own graduation. Shame, as there a lot people can talk about in our batch. The speech has been given. The verdict has been put down. And MVP just filed an irrevocable resignation–a move which finally earned him my respect. Let us move on. More than anything, this incident has made for a sad ending to Ateneo’s Sesquicentennial year. What this it has shown us is the power of the written (and spoken) word–how it is able to persuade for and against, and how it is able to bring shame and earn respect.

Incidentally, the only two people who have remained quiet about this issue are the supposedly two speechwriters of MVP. I’m very curious to who they may be. A friend said that MVP has surely punished them. I hope he punishes them well. At the very least, he should know that they aren’t very good plagiarists.

C’mon, you take words from O’Brien, Rowling, and Obama and put them in a speech in front of 8,000 Ateneans–the people most likely to recognize these words? Really?