Our campus is haunted by the silent screams of the depressed. There is chaos that hides behind the rigid rules — a slow rumble of voices aching to be heard. The institution’s high walls and vast grounds are gifted with an outpour of brilliant minds, but one cannot deny that we are troubled souls wandering the halls of prestige. The cream of the cream of the crop, they say. But ultimately, being the best comes with a price.
A few days ago, the news broke that a student from my high school died to suicide.
I did not know him. But that kid, who was maybe six or seven years younger than me, walked the same halls that I did. I did not know him. And yet, I grieve.
In my early high school days, there was a story that was spoken of only in whispers. A senior hung himself in the bathroom a year before my freshman year, and his story was passed on as a cautionary tale. We were told that the rooftops were off-limits. The bathroom where he died was closed for quite a while. And in the faculty room were trinkets that made his presence linger long after he was gone. There was a stuffed toy that a teacher confiscated from him when he tried to pass it on to his girlfriend in the middle of class. There were notes and books and papers. Memories that would never be forgotten.
Ten years after his death and the school is met with yet another loss.
I mourn the loss of a kid who barely lived his life. I mourn the loss of that kuya who died before I even knew him. I mourn for all those who felt trapped in the search for the untarnished truth.
Every now and then I am reminded of what it felt like to be a scholar of the Philippine Science High School system. It’s been six years since I graduated from one of the system’s provincial campuses, but there is still a sense of pride that creeps through my brain every time I am forced to say where I went to high school. They would look at me in awe, ask me what I am doing with my life now, and even though I would say that I am not a step away from discovering the cure for cancer, and that I am working as a creative, in their eyes, the fact that I finished four arduous years in Pisay entitles me to be put on a pedestal. But then again, they didn’t know that there was a dark side to it all.
The journey begins with a signature. As you sign your name above the dotted line, you are given the promise of a bright future. You will be taught by the best. You will be one of the best. Your freshman year would be all about adapting to a higher standard. In your sophomore year, your classes will include college-level Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Junior year will be about snagging that perfect internship. And by the end of your senior year, they will tell you that the greatness that was instilled in you in Pisay should fuel your success in college.
There are a great number of Pisay success stories — scientists making huge discoveries, awards won, PhDs finished — but we cannot simply overlook the downfalls. Pisay is an institution that has flourished in the many years since it was founded, but intertwined with the prestige and honor are threads of unspoken aches. Morbid thoughts that stem from the immense pressure to be great. Expectations from teachers and peers that ultimately echo as a yearning for perfection.
Today, I mourn the loss of a kid who barely lived his life. I mourn the loss of that kuya who died before I even knew him. I mourn for all those who felt trapped in the search for the untarnished truth.
The Pisay experience is not for the faint-hearted, one would say. I dare say that the Pisay experience isn’t for anyone at all.
Every day in Pisay is a wonder, but also full of torment. To be a Pisay scholar is to be so hardened by your experiences — to start thinking that sleepless nights and caffeine-fueled days are necessary for success. To be a Pisay scholar is to believe that your ability to solve complex Math equations outweighs your emotional stability. You are told over and over again about how great you are, and how great you will become, but on your worst day, when the pressure has taken its toll on you, does anybody ever ask you to slow down? Does anybody ever stop and think that maybe, teenagers aren’t supposed to anchor their self worth to how well they do in class?
I write this story with a numbness that creeps from my fingers and all through my chest. I am dealing with a loss that isn’t even mine. But still, it is a loss that feels all too familiar. A loss that happened because the system is rigged against those who cannot compete with society’s beliefs. His death, and all the others, is a telling of what happens when an institution that prides itself for being the best stops caring about the people who actually matter. The Pisay experience is not for the faint-hearted, one would say. I dare say that the Pisay experience isn’t for anyone at all.
I hope this death becomes an instrument for change— a cautionary tale that will not be told in whispers, rather, a story that would reveal the rotten system and its horrible repercussions. Pisay, I hope you start learning how to take care of the kids that make you great. This loss will be felt in all the years to come — let it not go to waste. Let it be the wake-up call that you need to change for the better.
One death is already one too many. Rest in peace.