In 1984, I was a high school freshman in the Ateneo de Manila High School. One of the teachers who introduced me to the high school was my class moderator, Mr. Onofre Pagsanghan. Through his eloquent and energetic mode of teaching, I was enthralled by the wonder of the English language, and of being a teacher to such as myself.
Back then, I wasn't really a top-notch student, despite being a member of the honors class. My lowest point in Mr. Pagsi's class was when he scored me for not having read the story we were taking up at the time ("To Build A Fire" by Jack London). It was one of the moments that shamed me into putting a little more effort into my school work.
I remember the time we had to deliver memorized speeches from "Julius Caesar". I chose to deliver the classic "Friends, Romans, countrymen, ..." I did decently, I think; at least, I didn't embarrass myself.
One of my high points in Mr. Pagsi's class was when he complimented me for a tanaga I had written; if I recall right, he said that my take was a "fresh" one. Given the fact that, back then, my grasp of the Filipino language was tenuous at best, I took whatever compliment I was given.
My next experience with Mr. Pagsi after my freshman days was in third year, during my "Days With the Lord". He was one of the speakers, and he vividly and eloquently took us through his own life and connected with with Kuya Jess, the Dazers' colloquialism for Jesus. It was during this talk that he shared with us his metaphor of the toothpaste tube; he said, "My ambition is to live like a used toothpaste tube, twisted every which way, folded many times over, scraped clean of all the beautiful things God has given me." And, at the age of 86, Mr. Pagsi is still twisting, still folding, still scraping. There are still a lot of beautiful things this man can share with all of us.
If there is one thing I regret, it was that I never became a member of Dulaang Sibol, the theater group of which Mr. Pagsi continues to be moderator. The funny thing was that I learned much later on that I could've been a member; I just never gave it a try. Still, since my best friend Erick Lirios was house manager, that meant I sometimes helped him out in keeping Sibol spic and span.
When I became a high school English teacher after college, I became a colleague of one of my oldest mentors. It has been a comfort for me to be working side by side, and continuing to learn from him, both about the subject we teach and about life in general.
Through the years, Mr. Pagsi has continued to teach, long past the time that others have decided to retire. Today, he turns 86, and he continues to be a paragon of teaching, and continues to inspire others.
I remember one of my co-teachers taking a picture of Mr. Pagsi working at the English table last year, and, posting it on her Facebook feed, she wrote (not verbatim; I can't quite recall what she wrote), "When I see him, I have no excuse to say I am tired." It's a lesson in determination and perseverance that others repeat. Mr. Pagsi is 86 years old today, and he has the energy of one who is much younger. If he is able to deliver the goods, how can we say or do any less?
Happy birthday, Mr. Pagsi. Thanks for all of the experiences and the lessons.