by Chari Orozco Simons

It has been 60 years since we left our Assumption high school grounds where, among other things, we were patiently taught by our dear nuns, and patient teachers – a strong sense of ethics, the value of strength of character and Christ-centered courage which fired our awareness of having a purpose, a sense of meaning and in many, the inspiration for a sense of mission.

Our Diamond Jubilee has proven to be one thrill after another. As we came together to commemorate our jubilee, we were also able to celebrate the influences of our shared reminisces. At this time in our lives we had run our race, we were already very much settled in the way we lived, we felt it was great to be this age (that was before the dance practices began!)

We have exceptional classmates who have carved out their space in their respective circles while still attending to spiritual devotion and to the needs of deprived sectors in their communities. It is marvelous to know how our classmates are living what we were taught and influenced by at the Assumption! Their apparently simple acts become that much more significant especially in our world today, where there is a general lack of heart, that has deteriorated to anger, fighting, greed and war. In this atmosphere of love starvation, we are proud of our women of courage who are filling that gap in their own way, who are taking onto themselves the looking-out for fellow brethren, extending a network of care where they see it is needed, living their lives as a gift for others.

In the beginning of our Velada preparations, we missed classmates who left us in the past couple of years to be with Our Lord – Sr. Fidelis (Amce Estrada) Vicky Cardenas Navarro and Tessie Eusebio Carlos. They would have joined us in the present celebrations. The lightning bolt to all our hearts was when Myrna Sumulong Hallare suddenly left us. This ever active, helpful member of our batch was with us on our first velada planning meeting, cheerful as always. She met our choreographer and after the meeting, even danced at our first introductory session to our swaying steps. She left early to keep a hospital appointment to explore if she could go ahead for an angioplasty. She qualified, had a successful operation, but a few days later, a complication arose and she was gone. It took us a while to get over this shock, but we danced knowing Myrna was dancing with us.

We had many unsure thoughts. To dance in a stage production? We’ve done it before but now – at our age? It seemed like we were dreaming of castles in the air. Let’s be real! Our knees were weak; they were swollen; they were painful; I limp; I had my hips replaced! My asthma attacks can be pretty bad; my blood pressure is high, mine is terribly low; we have to be careful about falling! Will we even remember the steps?!! Thank goodness for Bim, our choreographer who was a beacon of patience and kindness as she tried to comfort us and lift our very limp spirits. But, if we went through the horrors of covid, we could go through this dance! So we saw once more that togetherness wasn’t just about celebrating joys together, but also of holding hands in the face of fear and trepidation.

The notable symbol of uniqueness of the Class of ’63 once more came into play. The force behind the whole exercise was Rosalinda Francisco, (our ‘Mistress of Class’, as Sister Bernie named her). She was our ‘prime mover, spear header and provider’ who showed commitment beyond compare. She pulled all the stops to make class 63’s presentation a joyful winner, including her composition and voice over introducing our class dance on stage, as well as her composing the Diamonds’ Song to end of our dance.

At every practice day, we started with a prayer and, as D’day approached, we started a novena prayer to St. Marie Eugenie by Sister Bernie. We prayed to God to keep us healthy, to withstand the rigors, to give us the memory to remember our steps and dance sequences. Rehearsals were held on Thursdays at Rosa’s office building in Quezon City, which she openly made available to us, including her office and personal staff to be on hand for whatever needs the group may have, even subbing for absentees at practice, serving as audience in the tail end, and to help evaluate the status of the performances at certain points. By this time they had the dances all memorized, so they even gave us our remedial dance sessions! Car pool service was also thought of and provided for those who needed it, from Makati to Quezon City and back home. Sister Bernie was provided with Grab pick-up to practice and back to her novitiate in Diliman.

Luisa Guysayko kept us all in line, a straight one. She was indefatigable in shooting out detailed reminders with photos, sketches and maps, in case you didn’t understand the messages correctly; we had endless daily updates and videos of our practice of the day, for our review at home. Someone called her “the uncompromising headcounter” (we all know what that meant), who expected “a good excuse for not attending the crucial rehearsals”. Of course she required that we open our Viber messages at least once every day so we could be informed.

Angie de Villa Lacson was the handler of funds. As luck would have it, Angie slipped at home, broke her ankle and had to bow out of the dance presentation. But the resulting surgery, the subsequent pain and cast on her foot which, to her frustration, kept her immobile, could not keep her from her tasks and she continued to efficiently manage the finances for the Diamonds. A real trooper.

A Food Committee was formed, headed by Gillian Carlos Pineda with Vicky Garcia Gaspar, Norma Clavecilla Garcia and Christy del Castillo Puno. These are the ladies responsible for the extra pounds we are now working extra hard to lose! Gillian and her team made every rehearsal seem like a mini-party which we always looked forward to. Since practice started at 2:00PM, a light lunch was offered. This “light lunch” consisted of soups like Arroz Caldo, Molo, Lomi and Chicken Mami. There was Tokwa’t Baboy, Chinese Lumpia, Baylon Lumpia, Siopao, Pancit variations like: Palabok, Habhab, Chow Mein, Bihon among others. Of course at every practice there was the favorite of the Assumptionista, the never-say-die Siomai. No matter how much they increased the orders every week, it was always entirely vanquished (someone admitted to once having nine siomais in one sitting).

For merienda we would see Canneloni, Macaroni, Dinuguan, Puto, Fruit Salad, Empanadas, Chicken & Pork Barbecue, Turon, Pichi-pichi, Ensaymadas etc. And for In-between nibbles, others would bring Chicharon, Peanuts, Cookies, Chocolate, Cuchinta, and the like.Bim Ebol, our gifted choreographer, with the patience of Job, was most accommodating. We admit to some whining on our part at the start, but our “whiz teacher” found the right combination of easier steps and moves without diminishing from the zest and zing of our number.

A welcome site to our vanity was Baby Serrano Araneta, who has always been our photo class recorder for all our gatherings and events. She was on the job during these gatherings, always coming out with clear, well-composed pictures, even the candid ones.

This celebration would have been hard put, had it not been for generous donations of classmates. Those living abroad big-heartedly sent their contributions to Angie, just as they diligently monitored our activities, coaxing, encouraging and cheering us on. They watched the Velada presentation and they reacted so enthusiastically, with such pride in their class, it was as if they were also on stage with us! To whom much is given, much is expected. Our classmates in the country selflessly showed their magnanimity for the celebration of their homecoming as well, even though some could not personally participate in the activities themselves. Thank you very much for your super generosity, you know who you are. God bless you more abundantly.

We were super lucky in the person of Drea Lorenzana, Rosa’s pretty and amiable daughter and partner. She was responsible for the videos of us on stage, the videos flashed on the screen behind us as well and for all the marquee signs of our group. She did all those things that made us feel like movie stars! She made us feel so loved! To add to this, Piandré Salon was transported to the Assumption Ballet Room on performance dates where stylists made us all, oh so pretty with hairstyling and make-up for the shows. We are so very appreciative and grateful to Rosa and Drea, for the grace and sensitivity you showed us, that can only be described as exceptional. The Diamonds shone brighter because of you. You even had a packed lunch for each of us outside the Ballet Room on Velada Day. How thoughtful and loving was that! To quote Angie as she aptly said “No one else could have had the devotion and generosity to give, give, and give some more, whenever there was a need. “

When all is said and done, Class ’63 can be very proud. We’ve had our ups and downs, but life’s been good. We learned in the long process, that “a setback is nothing but a step towards a comeback”. The comeback could be very exciting, as we have seen from the Velada, even at this stage in our lives. God has been so loving, so faithful and wise. Time after time, He has delivered. Not what we may have wanted all the time, but what He knew was best for us at the time. If we continue to trust Him while we do our part, we will be fine. The Assumption education prepared us, not just with a uniquely elegant handwriting, but more so to be women of strength, women of courage, so we can be women for others, as Mother Eugenie foresaw.

We, the Diamonds are still riding on a high with the fantastic bonding and camaraderie we shared in the last couple of months. We can’t wait to schedule regular gatherings after this! Rosa has already scheduled “Closing Ceremonies of the Diamond Velada Olympics” two weeks after the school presentation, for a Financial Report on the status of our funds, a thanksgiving Mass, and of course, merienda. Planning of activities for 2024 is also on the table.

So far, nothing else can compare for batch 63. It was worth all the tension, getting out of our comfort zone, all the rain and traffic, the Bengay, hot and cold compresses, all the trips back and forth from Subic, Tarlac and Iloilo, just for rehearsals. Sr. Stella came from Paris & was at rehearsals the next morning, jet lag and all. Two days after the Velada, she left for Iloilo and so did Beb Corpuz Jamora. Linda Floirendo Lagdameo flew in from New York just for the week of the velada, with husband, Ambassador Tonet Lagdameo, Candy Papa Colayco, here from California and Frida Robles Evangelista, from Chicago came in time for the rehearsals and all three left (plus Amb. Lagdameo) two days after our velada. This was a celebration of childhood friends, of rekindling affection and camaraderie, of shared memories, of helping, kindness and working together for the success of the whole. Our performance was incredible, seeing that at this age we can still put out this kind of performance with our chic costumes. We surprised not only ourselves, but the unsuspecting audience as well. We were elated hearing their eager comments of a well-done, elegant performance, which they well enjoyed! Then again, it is the experience of our bonding, the laughter and moments of togetherness and the sharing in the celebration, more than anything else, that will most stick in our hearts and minds. It was the journey that showed us again that success is best when it is shared.

It is a revived learning which started with values imbued in us & our stalwart faith. God has taken care of us this long, because we have more to do in His name. We learned again that it will be good to continue to work for our best selves, as well as our creaky bones can manage. We can do it! Just offer Him simple, profound moments that make life worth living, for us and for the paths we may have a chance to pave for others. Then it is a life of purpose. As St. Mother Marie Eugenie said, “love never says you have done enough”