What Dr. Hibbard Might Have Seen

What Dr. Hibbard Might Have Seen

(Delivered by Silliman University President Dr. Ben S. Malayang III as his keynote speech at the Silliman University Alumni Council of North America 10th TIPON Anniversary celebration held June 18-21, 2011 at Fairbanks, Alaska, USA.)

It’s been told many times in Silliman that when Dr. David Hibbard, our founder, first saw Dumaguete from a boat in the sea in an early morning hour just as the sun was rising, he was struck by the serenity and beauty of the place, the grandeur of the tall mountain providing a verdant backdrop of the small sleepy town, and saw how a fine school can rise from its gentle shores.

I often wonder what Dr. Hibbard saw in that early morning hour. How did he see a school rising from among the coconuts that swayed proudly to the wind? What kind of school did he see emerging from the rustic scene of small huts and a place unhurried by cares? What legacy of the school rose in the eyes of his mind, swathing a vast distance of time from when Dumaguete was only a quiet shore that he saw that morning, to when a century and a decade later, Silliman will emerge to be among the best universities in the Philippines?

I won’t dare think that I would be able for even a bit glimpse at what Dr. Hibbard might have seen that morning. But I can invite you to surmise what pictures and visions must have swirled in the mind of a great man of God who was bent to found a school that will be a ministry of Christ’s church. For to Dr. Hibbard, as are shown in his letters and reports, the school he is to plant in Dumaguete was to be an institution of learning and of faith that shall fuse among its students high intellectual acuity, broad academic acumen, sensitivity and integrity, and deep spiritual anchors.

Today, we wonder what Dr. Hibbard was seeing that early morning day.

  • Did he see how the school would someday become a great institution of learning and of faith that in both times of light and dark will be persistently responding to the changing aspirations of a people?
  • Did he see how many Filipinos and people around the world would someday have their lives
    transformed and then they transform others because they came to the school beside the sea?
  • Did he see how the school will someday grow into a complex institution of many facilities for learning, for healing, for praying, for playing, for airing and proclaiming faith and good values, and for expressing one’s inner humanity, but all working toward a common goal of building competence, character and faith?

We can never be sure what Dr. Hibbard saw in the eyes of his mind and in his soul that early morning hour as he gazed at the quiet shores of Dumaguete.  But we can be sure that he was aware that for a great school to emerge from the grove of palm trees in some quiet southern shores, the school must possess three things:

First, a great school must have a clear sense of context. In brief, it must have a sense of a people’s aspirations that it shall seek to respond to, on which it shall focus its vision of what it should be, and its mission of what it must do. A great school is not stand-alone as if it were a star around which all human concerns are to revolve. It is not an isolate as it were, devoid of responsibility to society. And so I wonder how Dr. Hibbard saw the aspirations of the Filipino, to build a nation of greatness and integrity, and yet constantly defrauded of its sense of nationhood by hubris, selfishness and corruption, could be served by a school that is to start out modestly in the shores of Dumaguete? I wonder how Dr. Hibbard saw Silliman becoming relevant to a people whose sense of nationalism is high, but whose sense of nationhood is low; whose value for character and integrity is quickly said, but whose practice of the same can be quickly compromised; and a people who can be fast to condemn the immoral and the wrong, but who finds it difficult to muster the moral courage to do something about them?

Second, Dr. Hibbard must have known that a great school must have a clear sense of constituency. It must know whom it serves and whom it seeks to uplift. It must know to whom it shall be accountable, now and forever. Indeed I wonder if Dr. Hibbard saw that day the throng of Silliman alumni spread across the world, making a difference in their communities, families, and professions, because they went to Silliman. Could he have anticipated that sometime long after leaving Silliman, he will receive a letter from a Muslim leader who later would become a governor of Sulu, saying that he did not think that Dr. Hibbard nor any of the other missionaries in Silliman, could have ever thought that a Muslim like him could become a better Muslim because he went to Silliman and was active in Silliman Church! Did Dr. Hibbard ever saw that early morning how graduates of the small school he was to found, will someday become great doctors, lawyers, scientists, nurses, teachers, pastors, engineers, great athletes, great parents, and simply great persons of integrity and faith, because they went to Silliman? Could have Dr. Hibbard saw among the coconut groves in the distance, a very small school of just a handful of students, someday fueling the world with creativity, talent, and integrity?  Could he have ever seen that early morning day that because the school he was found serves young men and women of faith and commitment, Silliman will one day burst out from its confines in the campus beside the sea, to become a school celebrated in many places in the world, and a school with clearly a global presence?

Third, Dr. Hibbard must have known that a great school must possess (and be possessed) by a common purpose. Did he ever see a school that someday would sprout many colleges and excellent centers of learning offering different fields of studies, a school with many facilities offering different venues of learning of the mind, body, spirit, soul, and service to others, and, yes, a school that hosts diverse and even opposing points of view and interests, but all working toward a common ministry of excellent education? Did he ever see in his mind and heart that the school he was soon to found will be a ministry – an apostolate – of learning, and so must be constantly animated by faith? Did he see a school always tethering between insidious self-interest on the one hand, and commitment to serve others on the other, yet constantly seeking faith and conscience to guide it toward proclaiming Christ’s love and justice for all?

We’ll never know what Dr. Hibbard saw that morning. But one thing we know today, is that Silliman will fail Dr. Hibbard’s expectations (1) if we fail our people, fail to serve their needs, and fail to support their aspirations to be free of oppression from without and oppressive corruption from within; (2) if we fail to know whom we serve and to whom we must give account of how we are keeping true to the faith and mission of Silliman; and (3) if, in the pursuit of our individual goals and personal interests in Silliman, we fail to find a common purpose for Silliman.

Dr. Hibbard represents all that was good about dreaming up of a great Silliman from seeing only a quiet shore and gently swaying coconut trees. Today, my fellow Sillimanians, even as we may not stand as tall as Dr. Hibbard, we represent all that can be good of aspiring to live out the greatness of Silliman.