by ABIGAIL M. ADRIATICO
WHEN I first stepped into the hallowed grounds of the University back in 2019, I had no idea what Agape was. I only heard about it in a passing conversation during the first few weeks of my freshman year. It seemed to be branded as a yearly celebration shared by the entire Thomasian community with the promise of free food, fireworks, and a concert.
Hailing from a school with a small community did not prepare me for such a large-scale celebration. The first time I attended Agape, I stood in the midst of a large crowd staring at the fleeting fireworks display above. Somehow, I felt like a fish out of the water as I came to realize that while people surrounded me, there was no one with me to share that moment with.
While I held the food packed in a box and the bottle of water handed to me by a staff member, I saw other people enjoying their meals together. Suffice it to say, I did not expect that a twinge of sadness and longing would be a part of the food I would scarf down that night.
Since my friends were busy then, I told myself I would like to attend it with them next time. To my disappointment, the pandemic ruined all of my plans.
Fortunately, the in-person Paskuhan festivities for December 2022 were finally reinstated. My friends and I shared the excitement of finally attending it together, as some of them never got to do so during our freshman year. We looked forward to its promise of a fun night surrounded by gleaming lights and delicious food within the campus.
However, due to unforeseen circumstances, we arrived past 6 p.m. By the time we reached the gate in Dapitan, the fireworks had already gone off.
“Wala na, umuwi na tayo.” One of my friends, Aska Fukamachi, joked right as we passed by the St. Raymund’s Building. This was her first time attending Agape, and she seemed quite underwhelmed by the duration of the fireworks display.
The smoke from the firecrackers still lingered from above while we beheld the dark streets illuminated only by the Christmas lights hanging from trees. The lights around UST during the Paskuhan season were always nice to see. However, there was something different in the air this time around.
Another of my friends, Joshua Rivero, shared his thoughts about this during a conversation we had before entering the campus. Having been in UST ever since he was in Senior High School, it was not surprising that he was not too enthusiastic about the whole event compared to our other companions. Although, he seemed to be keen on spending time with us.
He told me that while it felt like a normal day, he believed the feeling would be different once we finally got to see the lights before us.
“Maybe you would get too struck by the realization that this would be the last time [you experience this] as a student,” he said.
I could not help but feel how true his words were while we walked around, passing by fellow students who seemed younger than us. As we were part of the batch who unfortunately spent more than half of our stay in college within the confines of our home, the whole event felt like a ticking clock marking the time when we would eventually part ways. The likelihood of us returning a year later is quite low and that thought subtly lingered in the air as the night went on.
When we eventually got our food, we struggled to find a place to eat. While there were significantly fewer people in the area since most had already received their food and left, the large number of people walking around was still jarring.
After circling the entire campus, we ended up settling on the steps of the Quadricentennial Pavilion facing the busy streets of España. While we ate out from cardboard boxes carefully balanced on our laps, stories and laughter leaked out of us freely. At that moment, I realized that what mattered most was not the food we scarfed down or the festive ambiance of the lights. It was the simple memories one comes to share in fleeting moments with the people that matter most.
Despite fatigue reaching my bones and the polluted air of Manila sticking to my skin, I was having a great time sharing a simple meal and a few laughs with the people I love.
With that thought, I felt my smile grow wider. F