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Moon River Dreamers turn gold, UP College of Medicine Class ‘67 celebrates

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Fifty years since we left the college, a lifetime ago, but it seemed it was only yesterday.

Fifty-four classmates made it to the Desmond Hotel in Albany on July 11-16 for the University of the Philippines Medical Alumni Society in America’s 32nd Annual Grand Convention. The UPMASA is a 501 (c) (3) educational and charitable organization established in 1980. Hosted by the Upstate New York-New England Chapter, one of 16 chapters nationwide, and helmed by Jun David, incoming President, it drew an overflow crowd to the New York State capital city in the Adirondacks and Saratoga Springs, to witness the irrepressible Moon River Dreamers of Class ‘67, turn gold.

If you haven’t been informed yet, “Moon River,” the theme song from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, had been the class signature song since it won the choral competition in its freshman year at the UP College of Medicine (UPCM). No less than Andy Williams himself acknowledged that by sending a video dedicated to the class on its Silver Jubilee in 1992.

And lest you forget, the class brought the song in many forms, at this convention. A choral reprise at the Pabidahan opening ceremony, and again at the gala ball, when the class took center stage accompanied by Andy Williams rendition and presented a dance medley to its rumba, cha-cha, and tango arrangement.

In the beginning, 132 were chosen out of over 800 applicants to the UP College of Medicine, all ‘iskolar ng bayan.’ Fifty-six were women. It was the largest number admitted in spite of gender bias practiced by members of the admission committee, who subjected some of our women to tears and anxiety, by comments such as, “Why are you depriving a man of a slot in the college, when you will just waste it by not practicing the profession after getting married? You could become a flight stewardess or work in a bank, there you would meet rising young men and get married just the same!”

The ladies of '67: Baba Alonso-Perez, Connie Somers-Uy,  Metty Vargas-Pellicer, Noy Calderon-Panahon, and Lina de la Cruz

The ladies of ’67: Baba Alonso-Perez, Connie Somers-Uy, Metty Vargas-Pellicer, Noy Calderon-Panahon, and Lina de la Cruz

In the end, two of the women were the topnotchers of class ‘67, 120 graduated, 54 women and 66 men. After 1967, the college adopted an equal gender admission policy. A study of statistics from 1912, when the college graduated the first woman, disproved that women wasted their medical education.

But before we could embark on our careers, our class found itself in yet another controversy. We could not just stand by and pretend we did not see the rampant cheating at the Philippine Medical Board examination. We filed a complaint, and were shocked to find ourselves the victim. We were placed under investigation for spreading fake news. Big names were drawn in, from the UP President Romulo, Dean Herrera, Secretary of Health Garcia, Civil Service Commissioner Subido, and President Marcos himself weighed in. When the decision was to void only the examination of the cheaters, our names were withheld from publication, and some of the leaders continued to receive phone threats and harassment by delaying the release of their examination result. We were prevented from taking our formal oath by the delay in releasing the result. In the end, we were vindicated by our 100 percent pass rate and later recognized for our courage and integrity.

So here we are. After 50 years, could we say, “The best is yet to be?” or is it, “What you see is what you get?” After graduation, 100 of us immediately joined the ranks of OFWs and left for the USA, made possible by the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 by the U.S. Congress. Most of us took the clinical track and treated patients in various specialties and had to fight an uphill battle to disprove the fallacy perpetrated by the American medical establishment that foreign medical graduates – or FMGs –were inferior doctors.

Some of us distinguished themselves as tenured professors in academia and were published extensively, one held a patent on his invention of a back-to-back tape used in many hospitals and clinics. Several were selected as Outstanding Teachers in training programs, by their students, and most earned this recognition repeatedly. We were heads of departments, presidents and officers of professional associations and chairpersons of medical staff bodies, some were board examiners, medical directors and consultants. Our debut brashness in medical school served us well in finding our place in the sun both in America and in our counterparts who remained in the Philippines.

A banner of accomplishments, the gentlemen of ’67.

A banner of accomplishments, the gentlemen of ’67.

But as a body we were not much impressed by our professional achievements. Many were generous with their time and care for their communities, and founded free medical clinics, resource and help centers for expatriates, and brought the Philippine culture to the diverse American landscape by leading Filipino associations, by making adobo, lumpia, and pancit well-known among their circle, by giving back to the Philippines through their participation in medical missions and by supporting UPMASA.

Class ‘67 and UPMASA have a closely linked story. Through the years since our Silver Jubilee, we have donated individually and as a group $648,191.32 to benefit UPCM and Philippine General Hospital (PGH), in various projects from Professorial Chairs, Scholarships and Grants, and Infrastructure renovations of hospital wards and college classrooms. The UPMASA- Permanent Endowment Fund currently manages assets of $6.5M invested in stocks, and disburses only interest income to projects, preserving the corpus in perpetuity.

What did 50 years do to us? It made us reflect on what we did with our years. Did we live it well? Ah but we’re still crossing rivers in style and following rainbows, mind you, we are not over the hill yet.

So, here’s to us, Moon River Dreamers. May we always dazzle in sunlight and sing to the moon!

Metty Vargas-Pellicer is a grandmother, mother, woman, and doctor. She loves to travel and has compiled her adventures in a book, “Hello, From Somewhere: Stories of the Roads I Traveled,” published in January, 2015. Her second book, “From Miman, With Love: A Grandmother’s Memoir,” was published in October, 2015. For her next book, she is writing a historical fiction set in 19th century Philippines.

Copyright © 2017 The FilAm

May you always dazzle in sunlight and sing to the moon!

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