by Marlu Balmaceda

Since this is the maiden article of what we hope would be a regular feature in our relaunched AAA website, I figured that I must start from the very beginning of my Assumption journey.  Years after we leave the campus, there is a lot of the Assumption that remains in us.  It could be your best friend for life; an inspiring sister; your penmanship; an unforgettable teacher; or certain foods that trigger happy memories. There are places in school that still show up in my dreams and lessons that I now pass on to my own child.  I keep hundreds of images and recollections of growing up in the Assumption in my heart. So let me now take you to the schoolyear 1965-66, in the corner classroom where it all began.

Grade One-B, Section 3 was on the ground floor of the primary building in Assumption Herran. If you were facing the building, the Grade One-B classrooms were to the right of the stairwell that halved the building. To the left of the stairs were the Grade One-A classrooms.  You may ask: Why were there two Grade Ones?

Grade One-B would later be renamed Prep while Grade One-A was the real Grade One. I don’t know why Assumption did that but I would like to think that, in a way, it was something inclusive.  Grade One-B students were made to feel that they were officially in a big school instead of a pre-school.  At any rate, being in Grade One-B provided some if my most lasting memories of the Assumption.

First, it was in Grade One-B where I, literally, found my voice. Believe it or not, I refused to speak in school for the first half of the schoolyear.  I guess I was overwhelmed with everything and was content just being a silent observer.  However, that didn’t sit well with our Mistress of Class, Mother Mercedes. She resorted to her bag of tricks to get me to talk.  Once she threw a plastic mouse in my way, hoping that I’d get startled and scream.  But I didn’t.  It would actually take something very ordinary for me to start speaking.

Which brings me now to my second Grade One-B memorable person – Vera Veloira – who sat next to me.  I guess I have editorial instincts in my DNA because during one lesson, I noticed that our teacher, Mrs. Pamintuan, had written something wrong on the blackboard.  I was dying to tell someone!  So I had to break my self-imposed silence with a whisper.  Yes, I whispered the error to Vera and that single act unleashed my quiet tongue! Mother Mercedes must have proclaimed a miracle.

The third personality who shaped the Assumption in me when I was 5 years old was Mother Araceli.  She was still a postulant in a white habit when we were in Grade One-B. Her role was to open our lunch boxes in time for morning recess.  These lunch boxes were parked on a low shelf outside our classrooms and she would cheerfully prepare our snacks before the recess bell rang.  Years later, she would be our Mistress of Class in 6th Grade and in High School.  When I was 12, she encouraged me to write and I did.

There are other Grade One-B memories tucked in my heart of hearts like how I was part of the Christmas play with a speaking part at that!  And how at the end of the schoolyear I was mortified and  grieved that I didn’t receive a medal for academics (my parents had to remind me that I was speechless for about a semester).  I cried my eyes out on that day called Lecture of Notes. 

It has been 56 years since I was in Grade One-B.

I reconnected with Mother Mercedes during Assumption Day in 2016 – exactly 50 years since she was my Mistress of Class.  She had returned to the San Lorenzo community after years as a missionary in Thailand.  In 2018, she attended the relaunch of my book of short stories where she was a prominent protagonist.

Mother Araceli left the congregation when I was in college.  We have kept in touch through the many years and she wrote the introduction for my book.  She wants us to just call her Archie but, somehow, we find it irreverent.  We refer to her as M. Archie with the “M” for Mother, a term of affection that we cannot simply drop. A month before the lockdown in February 2020, my classmates (some of whom I’ve known since Grade One-B) and I invited her to lunch before she flew back to the US where she is based.  When we saw the photos of that lunch, we realized that she looked like one of us; the lines have blurred.

And Vera. She migrated to Canada when we were in Grade 6 and never heard from her again.  Out of curiosity I did an Internet search and found her a few years back – on Facebook!  In fact, Vera, Mother Mercedes, and M. Archie are all my Facebook friends – something unimaginable in 1966 when I was non-speaking Grade One-B girl.

We all have something (or someone) of the Assumption in us… forever.

Marlu Villaneva Balmaceda ( HS ’78) belonged to the last Grade 7 class that graduated in Assumption Herran. Recently retired, she worked for over 30 years in corporate communications. An author and editor, her book titled “Tombola & Other Stories” is a collection of girlhood memories of growing up in the Assumption. She was a past president of the AAA and currently a trustee of Assumption College.