Originally appeared in the Learning Section of the Philippine Inquirer, June 9, 2015
“Choose one person in your class,” the final chemistry essay prompt read. “What kind of intermolecular bond would you want to form with them, and why?” It was the first and only time that tears welled in my eyes during a science exam. Not an ordinary question—but then again, the Ateneo Junior Summer Seminar, or AJSS, is no ordinary summer, either.
Now on its 48th year under the Ateneo’s Office of Admission and Aid, the AJSS is an extremely challenging one-semester summer program for incoming high school seniors. Hundreds of top high school juniors across the country took the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET) one schoolyear early, and our batch of 36 were the chosen ones.
We were, without doubt, a class of nerds. From 8 to 4, under excellent and passionate professors, we took rigorous college classes every weekday in April and May—and reveled in them. We extracted our own DNA with alcohol and Gatorade in biology; in psychology, discovered that hypnosis is real. We learned the chemistry of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen and the physics of manufacturing illusions with optics. We analyzed poignant literary pieces, immersed ourselves in mathematical proofs, pondered man’s place in the world.
That AJSS is mentally rigorous is no surprise; that it is physically challenging may indeed be. After morning classes were over, Friday afternoons were dedicated solely to sports. College varsity players coached us in volleyball, futsal, basketball, cheering as little by little, somehow our serves became faster, our kicks stronger, our jump shots higher. We are evidence that nerds can indeed dance, by substituting talent with enthusiasm.
AJSS was a crash course in real life, too. We learned to fit optimally in a tricycle, and to maneuver around, along, and above “Katips” without being turned into human giniling. We experienced gut-wrenching dread when vending machines don’t accept a slightly crumpled twenty-peso-bill. We leaned and cried on each other as long-repressed longings surfaced at last.
Although we staged a one-act play and binge-studied an entire module on matrices in a week, we found six weeks not nearly enough to spend with each other. Recruitment tactics aside, AJSS gave all of us nerds the chance to come together.
In each other’s eyes, we aren’t the smart people, the weird ones, or the useful pals to help me pass. We are friends, adjective-free, plain and simple. And that alone has made this our best summer ever.
My answer to that chem question? Each of us is going his or her own way, serendipitously drawn together by fate, quantum mechanics, and a high-enough score on the ACET half a year ago. In the time we had, we shared electrons (van der Waals forces, remember?), ideas, joys, hopes, and dreams. And although all bonds break in time, I am comforted by the fact that as improbable as the odds appear, these 36 bundles of flesh and molecules will meet again someday soon.
(Trust me. I solved for it.)