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INAUGURAL SPEECH: What a gift to build the future of Ateneo de Zamboanga, together

(Inaugural speech of Fr. Guillrey Anthony “Ernald” M. Andal, SJ on his investiture  as the fifth President of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University on 17 June 2023)

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WELCOME

Buenas tardes a todos.  

Peace to all. 

Assalamu Alaikum Warah Matullahi Wabarakatu.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably wondering, “How can this person be the university president? He looks more like a student just out of senior high!” 

Well, my superiors can attest that I’m old enough to be a priest. I just happen to enjoy youthful looks, thanks to the genes of my parents. Apparently, I also inherited their height! (I guess no one’s perfect!)

My parents, by the way, are here this afternoon. They and other guests, including the treasurers of the different Jesuit institutions, have arrived from various places. To all of you who braved the congestion at the airports, endured the delays and cancellation of flights, and confronted the risks of traveling at a time when the virus persists, thank you, and welcome to Zamboanga City, “Orgullo de Mindanao.”

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Fr. Guillrey Anthony “Ernald” M. Andal, SJ delivers his inaugural speech on his investiture as the fifth President of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University on 17 June 2023

Welcome also to what I hope will no longer just be seen as the smallest and poorest of the Jesuit universities in the Philippines but instead the most agile, most resilient, and “most committed to improve” Jesuit educational institution in the country—Ateneo de Zamboanga University. 

Bienvenidos a todos. 

PAST PRESIDENTS 

This afternoon, we are blessed with the inspiring presence of the past presidents of ADZU.

  • Fr. Karel San Juan—whose leadership has steered the university past the tumultuous periods of local peace and order instability, the Brebeuf Gym fire, K to 12 reforms, city-wide flooding, and the COVID-19 pandemic. He ended his term on the 110th Year of Ateneo de Zamboanga: showcasing how the Escuela Catolica of the Immaculada Concepcion Parish has blossomed into this vibrant University.
  • Fr. Tony Moreno—who, after his six years in ADZU, had become our Provincial and the President of the Jesuit Conference in the Asia Pacific. He was instrumental in the professionalization of our institution and in boosting the University’s leadership in the Zamboanga Peninsula and throughout the country.
  • Fr. Bill Kreutz—who, before becoming a name for our basic education campus in Barangay Tumaga, has already been a legendary pillar of Jesuit educational leadership. Under his 18-year presidency, he oversaw the establishment of numerous academic programs and outreach units.

To the Jesuit presidents who came before me, muchas gracias

Thank you for the strong foundation you have built. I have massive shoes to fill, but I take comfort knowing I follow in the footsteps of great men dedicated to forming young minds and hearts according to the vision of Father Ignatius of Loyola.

ADZU STILL MATTERS

Speaking of St. Ignatius, it’s interesting to note that he never really had this grand plan of setting up a worldwide network of schools. Nonetheless, he had a great desire to “help souls.” 

This conviction became more than a personal aspiration to convert non-believers to Christianity. His belief gradually matured into a longing to serve more people on a larger and more organized scale through the Society of Jesus. 

After much discernment, St. Ignatius and his brother Jesuits recognized that one of the most expedient paths to “help souls” would be in and through formation houses and schools. 

Nearly 500 years later, we Jesuits continue this enterprise with you, our mission-partners. 

And we know that God still calls us to this mission especially so when we are reminded of the stories of our alumni.

From a simple family in Dipolog City, Ryan Victor Miranda was a recipient of several university scholarships. Early on in his studies he knew how his Jesuit education can equip people to resolve conflicts and transform communities. And so he took every chance to learn and develop himself in this aspect. He volunteered as a student assistant at the Ateneo Peace and Culture Institute (APCI) and spearheaded a Soil Painting Workshop as a platform for Peace and Culture Education. In 2013, he graduated as class valedictorian and has been involved in peacebuilding and development work in various local and national government units.

Reden Lacastesantos also has an inspiring story to share. As a college scholar, he was also a beneficiary of the Siu Hua Yu/ Pan cada Dia Program. 

Started by our alumna and board member Ms. Ruth Owen, Pan cada Dia is a food subsidy program that provides vouchers to some scholars to help them purchase meals during school days. 

Reden would freely speak of his difficult domestic situation. But throughout his years at ADZU, he felt safe and supported. He saw his opportunity to study here as a chance to serve others, becoming a student leader—helping youth, indigenous groups, and voters. 

This year, Reden graduated with the distinction of being an outstanding student in the School of Education. Moreover, he has expressed his intention to stay at ADZU, and pay the blessing forward as one of the formators of the Social Awareness and Community Service Involvement (SACSI) office.

The stories of these alumni show Jesuits and partners can work together and strengthen our mission to form people for and with others. 

Despite challenges, ADZU still matters in Zamboanga. The Lord still calls us to continue laboring with Him in this mission. 

THREE PRINCIPLES

Yes, ADZU is still relevant. Because in this wounded and wounding world, we still need to form compassionate, committed, competent leaders inspired by the Gospel values. They who will courageously put service over self, wisdom over distinctions. 

We still need to accompany Ignatian leaders who discern that true power lies not in accumulating riches but in enriching lives. 

This is the kind of transformational Jesuit education we provide here in Ateneo De Zamboanga University.

And this is what I, with your help, will continue and strengthen institutionally in the coming years.

I shall bring with me three inspirations from an interesting fusion of horizons of Pope Francis and educator and philosopher Paulo Freire. 

And I sense that these inspirations are already in the Animo of ADZU. Hopefully, they shall continue to take flesh in the university’s priorities and five-year strategic plan. 

First, education as a common good. Quality education should be for all, but poverty, conflict, and isolation deter many in Western Mindanao and the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). According to the UN Development Programme, the pandemic worsened this. As schools closed and families struggle, opportunities for vulnerable children have become more out of reach. 

At ADZU, we dream of a future where no student will be denied a Jesuit education due only to a lack of means. We will advocate for better complementarity between the private and public education sectors. We will also expand scholarships and aid for underprivileged students, recognizing that the better it will be for the Peninsula and beyond when more of our young are educated well.  

Second, education for social transformation. Through meaningful dialogue and action in a Filipino, Catholic, and Jesuit university setting, ADZU aims to foster a harmonious, equitable, and peaceful society in Western Mindanao. We will continue educating our students to become agents of change and bridges between peoples. 

They will be reconciling leaders who are strong in their faith that does justice—”spirit-filled evangelizers”—joyful in sharing God’s saving love for all.  

Our students will learn not just practical skills for their profession but also discernment so that they can navigate complex contexts with depth and creativity, especially in this post-pandemic world.

Finally, education for solidarity and kinship. Western Mindanao is a mix of ethnic groups, faiths, and communities. While some think this diversity could only increase tensions, we believe it also enables unity and fraternity. Education builds understanding and kinship across divides. 

By promoting solidarity, ADZU can celebrate the region’s multiculturality as a gift. We shall journey with our students to help them forge bonds transcending any barriers. We will model interfaith understanding, intercultural sensitivity, and peaceful conflict resolution through honest conversations and compassionate encounters. Beyond diversity, we shall seek inclusiveness. Beyond tolerance, empathy.

ACTUALIZING THESE PRINCIPLES

To realize these principles, ADZU will take an integrated approach to teaching, learning, and well-being. We will pursue changes and improvements to academics, formation, research, and administration for a more dynamic education geared for the 21st century.

In the coming years, we will accelerate our move towards blended learning, redesign courses, emphasize service learning and ecological education, expand community and industry partnerships, and maximize the use of our resources as we strengthen our advancement efforts. We will support faculty and staff development and collaboration across disciplines and units to advance excellence. In all this effort, we shall not be alone. We will lean on and learn from other Ateneos, especially from Xavier University and Ateneo de Davao University, as we work on reimagining and revitalizing our Mindanao Consortium of Ateneos.  

We shall not shy away from using emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). Yet, while recognizing that AI opens up new possibilities for us, human teachers and classmates, values and connections should remain at the core of ADZU’s pedagogy. With prudent policies and practices, we can harness the power of AI as an incredible tool to augment human work, learning, and teaching but not diminish human dignity and generativity.

We must always remember, at the heart of our ADZU life are our relationships. We seek to heal and strengthen our relationships as we participate in the reconciling work of our God who reconciles us with Him, with one another, and with our common home. 

To nourish our socio-spiritual lives, we will strengthen campus ministry and formation. We shall embrace Ignatian spirituality in all we do, convinced that it is not just a nice-to-have addition to the educational experience but foundational for our institution. More Jesuits and lay formators will accompany students and personnel—providing mentorship and spiritual companionship. 

And balancing cura personalis and cura apostolica, we will take care of our people. We must not forget the importance of caring for those who make ADZU the institution it is today. Our faculty and staff are the soul of ADZU, and they deserve all the resources and support we can sustainably provide. We must give them the help and recognition they deserve and ensure they can thrive personally and professionally. When we sincerely care for each other, we can better own and live out the ADZU mission.

CONCLUSION

These next years will be challenging for me and for those who would choose to stay and collaborate and accomplish our shared mission of forming the next generations of Ignatian leaders–they, who are God-fearing, critically conscious, compassionate, committed, and competent to address the challenges of society. 

Let us continue to live out Saint Ignatius’s dream of helping souls through our university. Let stories like Ryan’s and Reden’s be the norm, not isolated success.

I invite you, our ADZU community, and those who believe in what we do: uphold the principles guiding our educational mission: education as common good, education for social change, and education for solidarity and kinship. 

Not an easy mission and will demand much from us. But what greater privilege could there be than to lead and serve in this university at such a time as this?

I ask for your partnership, patience, and prayers. Our mission is profound. 

With and by God’s grace, Ateneo De Zamboanga University’s greatest days are ahead. What a gift to build that future together, always Pro Deo et Patria, always AMDG.

Thank you. Muchas gracias.

Dios nos bendiga!

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