Alumni Update April 12 – 18, 2021
2006 Outstanding Sillimanian Awardee in Theater Arts and former Silliman University Speech and Theater Arts Department Head, Prof. Amiel Y. Leonardia, shares with us his Silliman story. Leonardia reveals, “At Silliman… I discovered what I was meant to do… theatre was going to be my life’s work… It became my passion and my life.”
Leonardia completed his Bachelor of Arts degree from Silliman in 1961. He earned his niche as a theater actor while still a student, and pursued directing when he became a faculty in the University under then the Department of Language and Dramatic Arts. He holds a master’s in Fine Arts in Drama and Theater from the University of Hawaii. Mr. Leonardia was appointed theater technical consultant during and after the construction of the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium in the 1970s, and his production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof was one of the inaugural shows held at the Luce.
After Silliman, Leonardia moved to the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman to teach at the Speech Communication and Theatre Arts Department. In his 26 years with UP, he chaired the department for 7 years. Leonardia is now based in Vancouver, Canada.
Silliman and Remembrances
by Amiel Y. Leonardía
I am at an age when life is nearer its end than its beginning. I have time to examine my life as Socrates suggested. I have time to reflect and to reminisce and to remember. I remember.
I have always wanted to go to Silliman. Whenever my classmates asked me where I wanted to go after high school I would invariably say, Silliman. Maybe it was because Miss Aida Arribas, my inspiring history teacher when I was a freshman in Negros Occidental High School, was from Silliman or because I heard good things about the university from other people. I wanted to go to Silliman, but my mother could not afford to send me to Silliman on her school teacher’s salary. (My father, who was a pastor, died when I was 5 so my mother and I had to fend for ourselves for a long time). Much to my disappointment and dismay, I was sent to Central Philippine University (CPU) for pre-medical studies since I was entitled to some form of tuition waiver because of my father.
I spent a semester in CPU, but I had to go back to Bacolod because of my mother’s health problems. I finished the two-year pre-med course in a school in Bacolod and went to Manila without knowing what medical school to attend so, of course, I failed to enter any program. I went back to Bacolod dejected and depressed. Not knowing a lot about Silliman and its student aid programs, my mother, after praying for God’s providence and guidance, decided to bring me to Silliman because she was afraid I was going to lose interest in further studies altogether. She knew the Registrar in Silliman at that time, Mr. Raymundo R. Dato, because he was her student when she taught him in elementary school in Kabankalan, I think, so she prayed and she hoped Mr. Dato might be able to help and we left Bacolod for Silliman.
We arrived in Dumaguete after a 12-hour overnight bus trip. We stayed with a relative who lived on the ground floor of what is now La Residencia Almar Hotel. After breakfast and a short rest, my mother and I took the short walk to Silliman along the boulevard. Little did I know then that short walk would lead to some of the most meaningful, consequential, and life-changing experiences of my life.
The first person we met when we entered the campus through the old Gate of Opportunity was Negilo “Nilo” Cachopero who was a year ahead of me in Negros Occidental High School. He graciously brought us to Mr. Dato’s office. I was very late for the school year, but after my mother talked to Mr. Dato he kindly found some form of tuition assistance for me. He also made it possible for me to be accepted in my classes despite my being very late. I enrolled as a junior in a BS General Science program because I still wanted to become a doctor. Thus, my time in Silliman began.
I spent two years in Guy Hall. My roommates were Ben Narajos, Regie Conol, and Mike Arrojo in the first year. There were a lot of people from Mindanao and Luzon and from other places in the Visayas in the dorm. I got along with all of them. I made friends with students from different disciplines and colleges. By the end of the first semester, I had fallen in love with a girl who was my classmate in English 51. Because of her, I joined the church choir conducted by William Pfeiffer and a service fraternity whose president was her brother and because of Nilo Cachopero. I also attended a creative writing class of the Tiempos as a visitor for the first time because of her.
I played chess a lot in the lounge of Guy Hall that overlooked the boulevard. I played chess with Plutarco Garcia, the student assistant at that time, and other chess-playing acquaintances. My friends thought I was good enough to join the university chess tournament so I did. I did not do too badly: I placed third to Virgilio Sevandal who came in first and Cris Talucad who came in second. I was awarded a wooden rook as a trophy for my efforts.
In my second year in Guy Hall, my roommates were Raymond Llorca, Hermanelli Torrevillas, and Jose Baguio. I finished my BS studies and left to study medicine.
I left my medical studies halfway through the semester because I discovered in time that I did not have the passion and the kind of discipline needed to be a doctor.
Despondent and directionless, I turned once again to Silliman to find myself. I stayed in Larena Hall where my roommates were Angelico Tiongco, Eulogio Estampador, and Raymond Llorca. I enrolled in the Anthro-Socio program because of Prof. Timoteo Oracion who became my mentor in the program. It was during this time that I became a member of the debating team of the College of Arts and Sciences. I remember Raelyn Agustin as one of the members of the team. We won our debate against the Business Administration team and became champions. Raelyn was named Best Speaker and I was named Best Debater. In the meantime, I continued with my studies in Anthropology and Sociology although I did not have the passion for it. I still felt I was not where I should be.
Where I should be would become clear when an American Junior Year Abroad student, Pat Senn, twisted my arm and marched me to an audition in Prof. Albert Faurot’s studio held by Robert Soller, a Fulbright scholar, who was going to direct a production of Robinson Jeffers’ adaptation of the Euripides classic, “Medea” for commencement. Despite quaking knees and a trembling voice, I was cast to play the male lead role, Jason. I observed how the director worked and noted how the whole production was put together, how it was so different from many amateur theatricals I saw in the past. I was hooked. I discovered what I was meant to do. I decided after the production that theatre was going to be my life’s work. It was where I should be. It became my passion and my life.
Two years went by very quickly; I earned my BS in Anthropology and Sociology and had to leave Silliman again. This time I knew what I had to do. I spent time in Manila where I took the few theatre courses available and joined every production I could. I was offered a Graduate Assistantship for one year by the University of Wyoming so I left for the States. One year at the University of Wyoming was not enough to finish the MA so I moved to the University of Hawaii where I earned my MFA in Drama and Theatre. My theatre work has taken me to upstate New York, Illinois, Singapore, Silliman, Ateneo, and UP Diliman where I retired as Professor of Theatre Arts. While in UP, I also worked as Technical Director of the Manila Metropolitan Theatre for five years, from 1981-1986.
Like many others, my time in Silliman was marked by many “firsts.” My first night in Guy Hall was unforgettable for the wrong reasons. I spent the night twisting and scratching because my bed was infested with bedbugs. With my roommates’ help, the problem was solved the following morning.
After the problem was dealt with, we all attended a convocation in the Assembly Hall which featured Mimi Palmore (Mimi became a friend and colleague in the Cultural Affairs Committee. She used to invite me to her home for coffee with her and Jim) playing a familiar tune in different styles and tempi. It was the first time I had heard anything like it and it absolutely blew my mind.
I fell in love for the first time in Silliman. After two years, my first love became my first heartbreak. I made friends for the first time with people from other provinces, people who spoke a different language from mine, or people from other countries. Prior to Silliman my world view, my weltanschauung, was narrow and parochial. Silliman changed that.
I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime, friendships with people like Lorna and Myrna Peña-Reyes, Bill Ogan, and Eleanor Funda. I renewed my friendship with Raymond Llorca who was my childhood friend. Some Silliman friends have already passed away like Onyot Heceta, Boy Valera, Elmo Makil, Tony Ancajas, Negilo Cachopero, and Pete Guasa.
I discovered Agatha Christie and her character Hercule Poirot because of my friend Antonio Ancajas. I was introduced to famous writers like Hemingway, William Faulkner, A. E. Houseman, T.S. Elliot, Henrik Ibsen, etc., for the first time in my English 51 class taught by Prof. David V. Quemada, and also because of my friend Raymond Llorca. I nervously read a scene from Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” aloud in a class for the first time. (Little did I know at that time that Henrik Ibsen would become an influence in my life in terms of modern drama). Although I was somewhat familiar with Shakespeare because I saw “Macbeth” with Orson Welles when I was in the third grade and Laurence Olivier in “Hamlet” when I was a freshman in high school, I learned more about him and performed scenes from some of his plays for the first time because of the Shakespeare class taught by Dr. G. Gordon Mahy.
The last time I was in Silliman for an extended time I directed a play by Elsa Martinez Coscoluella, “In My Father’s House.” I remember one evening after dinner at the cafeteria I was walking along Hibbard Avenue to Luce Auditorium for a rehearsal, when lost in thought, I realized I was walking in the wrong direction. Instead of turning left on Langheim Road, I was going toward Channon Hall and Larena Hall like I used to do when I was a student. I had momentarily gone back to the time when I walked in the same direction with my friends after dinner in the cafeteria.
My wife and I now live in Canada where we are Permanent Residents. I have gone to the Philippines with my wife, Lou, every year for the last three years. I always include a visit to Silliman because Silliman has had the most influence on my life. I am speaking not only of its academic life but also of its nurturing environment and the opportunities for self-discovery that enabled me to learn what I was meant to be. Silliman is where I found myself, where I met my wife when I was a member of the faculty, and where my three children were born. Whatever I may have become, whatever I may have achieved, I owe much of it to Silliman.
In the midst of development and change, as Silliman continues to engage with the 21st century, my hope is that Silliman will always be securely anchored to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.
I am 79 years old now going on 80. I remember and I reminisce. When I visit Silliman, I spend time around the campus sitting on benches around the quadrangle, walking along familiar paths, reliving times past, and remembering teachers, friends, and faces long gone, and loving the college I honor, “where the white sands and the coral kiss the dark blue southern seas and the palm trees tall and stately wave their branches in the breeze.”