When a child enters his home, it is almost a certainty that he will ask where his mother is. There is a comfort in the presence of mothers that calms, that soothes, that caresses. But how do you become a mother to 45,000 students? How do you become a mother for a quarter of a century? Arguably, there is no administrator more recognizable over the last twenty-five years than the mother of the valiant legions of Thomasians: Evelyn B. Ariola-Songco, PhD.
The model of a student leader
After finishing high school in La Concordia College, Evelyn entered the University of Santo Tomas, taking a Bachelor’s degree in Education, major in History. Aside from being a student, she took part in student leadership, actively involving herself in organizations like the Pax Romana, where she confessed she spent most of her time. Not to make academics suffer, though, she became an outstanding student teacher and graduated Magna cum Laude.
The start of her four decades
Immediately after graduation, she taught at the Junior High School, putting into practice what she learned from college. This marked the beginning of her teaching career that has since then spanned more than four decades honing the minds and hearts of the young.
It was in the Junior High School where she first touched the lives of Thomasians, some of whom will later on return to UST on account of her invitation or because of their desire to see their former adviser. Decades later, laughter will peal and fill the confines of the Alumni Relations office, as the teacher and the students recall days of old. “How can I forget you? Ikaw ‘yung nagpa-putok ng watusi sa klase ko!” says Evelyn to a former student who is now a successful professional.
It did not take long for Evelyn to be called back to the College of Education, where she served as Supervising Teacher in History, taking after her mentor, Miss Ma. Minerva A. Gonzalez. Her stint as supervising teacher coincided with her appointment as the College Secretary, in which she had the chance to work with would-be Rector Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, O.P., Regent of the College of Education from 1989-1990.
The mother of Thomasians: The first sixteen years
On July 28, 1990, Fr. de la Rosa was installed as Rector of UST. He brought along Evelyn in his administration, appointing her as the Assistant to the Rector for Student Affairs. With Evelyn at the helm of the Office for Student Affairs and Community Services (OSACS), Evelyn embarked on a journey that would see her form student leaders and ensure the welfare of all Thomasian students.
At a time when UST was beginning to increase its enrollment exponentially, Evelyn provided the vibrancy that made campus life pulsate with youthful exuberance. Student organizations, both university-wide and local, were empowered and revitalized.
Community development became more intensive, so much so that by the new millennium, its scope and dynamism necessitated the creation of the Office for Community Development, now the Simbahayan Community Development Office.
A personal professional commitment
At a time when the acquisition of graduate degrees was not a strict requirement, Evelyn took it upon herself to pursue her graduate studies. She earned a Master’s and a doctorate degree in Development Education, and her dissertation became the basis for the National Service Training Program curriculum and modules, in time for its implementation in the early 2000s.
The hub for student leaders
In the 1990s and the early 2000s, student life in the University was in full bloom, but the dream of having one edifice to house all or at least most of the offices providing student services remained as such—a dream. It was part of Evelyn’s dream to see the construction of a student center, and this was realized on October 3, 2006, when the Tan Yan Kee Student Center was inaugurated.
Now, the building houses the Office for Student Affairs, Office for Admissions, Simbahayan Community Development Office, Center for Campus Ministry, and the offices of university-wide organizations.
“They have graduated”
At the end of the first semester of 2006-2007, Evelyn ended her sixteen-year stint at the helm of OSA. As she was enjoying her sabbatical leave, though, she received a notice to meet with the new Rector, Fr. Ernesto M. Arceo, O.P., PhD. This came after she submitted the study that will eventually see the split of the Public and Alumni Affairs Office (PAAO) into the Office of Public Affairs and the Office of Alumni Relations.
Little did Evelyn know that after submitting the study, she would head one of the two new offices: the Office of Alumni Relations. “Fr. Arceo told me, ‘Ikaw ‘yung nakakilala sa kanila nung estudyante pa sila. Ngayon, graduate na. Kaya, ikaw ang dapat ilagay riyan.’” So it came to happen that on June 1, 2007, Evelyn became the inaugural Director of the Office of Alumni Relations.
Taking after the work of her predecessors, she ensured the continued engagement between the University and the alumni and led the formation of new associations, most notably the Thomasian Alumni Leaders Association (TALA), which is the new hub of the former student leaders, most of whom were under Evelyn’s care in OSA.
A home for the alumni
As she had wanted to build an edifice for student leaders, Evelyn likewise expressed hope that an edifice within the campus will be devoted to the alumni. It was then conceived during her time in OAR that an alumni center will be built, to house the OAR and the offices of the alumni associations, as well as a hostel and function rooms for alumni gatherings.
In 2013, the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P. Building was inaugurated, with the first five or twelve floors devoted to the alumni. It is a building that fuses the past and present, as the remaining upper floors are presently used by the Senior High School—the future graduates of UST.
The alumna comes home…to OSA
On January 18, 2010, Evelyn found herself in the Tan Yan Kee Student Center, back as the Assistant to the Rector for Student Affairs, on the eve of the University’s Quadricentennial celebration.
For her second run, Evelyn not only became a focal part of the different celebrations in the University, she likewise institutionalized more programs and initiatives in OSA. A central push for alumni leaders to help form the present-day student leaders became a norm, from a more sporadic and organization-based effort in the past.
The leadership formation program became more institutionalized and sophisticated through Style-I, a multi-module series of seminars and workshops for student leaders.
Research likewise became a focal part of policy formulation. With the help of youth studies researchers Clarence Batan, PhD, and Mark Anthony Abenir, DSD, the research book “Researching Student Affairs and Services: The Case of the University of Santo Tomas” was launched in 2015, containing three researches that (1) provided the typology of university-wide student organizations; (2) described the varying roles of faculty advisers; and (3) uncovered the perceptions of administrators with regard to student activities.
Discovering the love for research
While in student affairs, Evelyn took a break from teaching, which opened the avenue for her to become a research associate at the Research Center for Culture, Education, and Social Issues – Youth Studies Cluster. She confessed in the student affairs book that “with discipline, I found I can actually devote time and succeed in doing research.” Her administrative post likewise “made it manageable to collect data form top administrators and come up with a credible study.”
In 2013, the Philippine Association of Administrators of Student Affairs was tapped by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to conduct a nationwide assessment of its cultural education programs from 2002-2012. Evelyn joined the team composed of researchers from De La Salle, UST, the Technological Institute of the Philippines, and the Far Eastern University. For the entire year of 2013, Evelyn joined the team and traveled around the country, talking to public school teachers who were beneficiaries of the program.
The NCCA research became part of PAASA’s efforts to make research a thrust and in 2015, Evelyn became the Managing Editor of the Asia-Pacific Journal for Student Affairs.
The mother of student affairs practitioners of the Philippines
Evelyn founded the Philippine Association of Administrators of Student Affairs (PAASA) – National Capital Region chapter at the start of the new millennium. It was logical to expect that she will eventually head PAASA, but her own resistance to the position prevented it from happening—until 2015, when an overwhelming vote swept her to the top of the national organization.
“I asked them, ‘Are you sure about what you are doing? I am retiring,’ during the election. They said ‘yes’ and that started my one-year stint as PAASA president.”
A dash well-spent
May 17, 2016 was the date when the University of Santo Tomas honored its faculty retirees. Then-Acting Rector Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., PhD could not help but exclaim at how youthful Evelyn looked despite her age. Such youthfulness can be best traced to her work environment, which has always been decorated with youthful bliss.
In her response on behalf of the retirees, Evelyn—by then, she had accumulated so many monikers: “Ma’am Songco,” “Ma’am Evelyn,” “Dr. Songco,” “Dr. Eve,” “Mama,” “Mommy,” and even “Lola”—quoted the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis to highlight how her cohort of retirees was blessed to have spent a lifetime that allowed them to see, among others, the 400TH founding anniversary of the University, the visits of three Popes, and what has become University traditions, such as the Paskuhan and Baccalaurate Masses.
Evelyn expressed her profound gratitude to the University of Santo Tomas, her employer since 1973 and her home until now.
“I’m good, Father. I’ve had my time.”
On August 1, 2016, Evelyn entered the University of Santo Tomas with a smile that expressed profound glee. It was the first official day of her retirement. Although she was still technically serving as Director of the Office for Student Affairs, she knew she was on her way out the week after. In a conversation with the Rector, Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, O.P., she assured the Rector that was doing well and was excited for retirement, gracefully ending her cumulative 22-year stay at OSA.
August 5, 2016 was her official last day at the helm of OSA, and it was a fitting end to her run. She was there beside the Arch of the Centuries, watching the latest batch of Thomasians pass, symbolically starting their Thomasian journey. It was ironic as it was poetic: as the children enter, the mother exits.
An endless stream of gratitude
Following her retirement, Evelyn reveals that until now, she still receives invitations from former colleagues and students who wanted to “date” her, to catch up and relive fond memories of old. This, she says, serves as her source of joy and fulfillment.
On September 10, 2016, the Grand Ballroom of the Buenaventura G. Paredes, O.P. Building was packed with Thomasians who paid tribute to Evelyn. Stories of inspiration, of gratitude, of success were shared, and all of them went back to a single source of hope—the one and only Ma’am Songco.
J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series called on people not to pity the dead, but to pity the living, especially those who lived without love. Evelyn Ariola-Songco is a fitting example of a person who showed boundless love to the students she ministered to, and a testament to how love that is given freely, is returned tenfold. A happy teachers’ day to the mother of Thomasians.