There was a schoolboy in Sta. Cruz, Manila who had a huge crush on a beautiful American actress he saw in the 1960 Columbia Pictures film about Gulliver’s travel. He admired her so much that he wrote letters to her, but the first two that he sent bore no response.
The boy, however, did not lose hope and sent his third letter with a lovely brooch made of shells. Delighted to receive the letter and the brooch, the movie actress not only replied to the message but also had the photo of the determined sender published on a famous US magazine.
Many of those who saw the photo wrote to the boy from Sta. Cruz. Receiving an average of three letters a day, the boy happily wrote back to each of his new pen pals. He actually had about 90.
Decades later, the schoolboy from Sta. Cruz became a high school teacher, a professor, a dean, a school director, a writer and a mentor so endearing to students.
FROM PEN PALS TO A BOOK
“That’s how I learned my writing,” cheerfully shares Dr. Antonio Jose N. Torralba, University Fellow at UA&P and former Dean of UA&P College of Arts & Sciences. From simply writing back to about 90 pen pals, Dr. Torralba honed his writing through the years and shared everything he learned about the structure of language to students as he worked for the Modern Languages Department of UA&P.
Today, Dr. Torralba writes not for his pen pals but for everyone with a heart wide open to learn. Soon to be published is a book entitled Love, Life and Everything In Between. Among his inspirations in writing this book were his days as a student of San Beda College, his first years of teaching in Infanta, Quezon and his stay in UA&P.
THE WELL-ROUNDED BEDAN
In San Beda, Dr. Torralba was a well-rounded high school student who not only excelled in academics but also actively participated in many other school activities. He was exposed to theater arts, became the President of the Student Catholic Action and served as the editor-in-chief of the school paper. With good grades and an active campus life, it is not surprising that this Bedan became the Valedictorian of the graduating batch.
In college, Dr. Torralba took up Philosophy in his alma mater. Besides admiring the structure of Philosophy as a course in San Beda, he had a high regard for the Dean of the Liberal Arts at that time. “The Dean of the Liberal Arts was known to be a very good teacher na pag di ka nya nasigawan parang baliwala ka. E nasigawan ako,” he says in jest.
TEACHING IN INFANTA, QUEZON
Right after college, Dr. Torralba was invited by a friend to go to Infanta, Quezon. Though becoming a teacher was far from what he imagined himself to be, he found himself staying in the province for one whole year, teaching in Mt. Carmel High School. “Yung mga classmates ko nag aapply na for a 500 peso-paying job. Mine was 180 pesos per month pero nadadala ko naman yung buong class ko, whom I love very much, to Manila on excursions,” Dr. Torralba fondly recalls.
Since he fell in love with teaching children on his 1st year in Quezon, he decided to stay for two more years. On his second year in the province, he fell in love with a Mathematics teacher named Vicky who later on became his loving wife. “Vicky, my wife, came along and so she would take care of choreography while I would take care of direction of the plays,” says Dr. Torralba about his experience in forming a student theater group, one of the many projects he started in Mt. Carmel High School. “Doon nagamit ko yung nakuha ko sa San Beda na co-curricular activities,” he adds.
HERE IS WHERE I STAYED
After three years of teaching in Quezon, Dr. Torralba taught for a while at San Jose Seminary in Novaliches, which eventually closed. In 1972, he started working for the Center for Research and Communication (CRC, now UA&P). “Dr. Villegas was looking for somebody who can write about Philippine Economic History without knowing Economics. The purpose is that the ordinary man on the street would understand Philippine Economic History na hindi technical ang pagkakasulat,” he says. “That’s how I came here, and here is where I stayed,” he happily recounts.
In CRC/UA&P is where he stayed. It was where he taught Master of Arts in Values Education (MAVE) students, obtained Master of Arts in Economic Education, became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and delivered several lectures and talks. It is where he got involved in I am S.T.R.O.N.G., a values formation program that aims to equip the young with values and help them make responsible decisions regarding family, sexuality, career and studies, friendship and social conscience.
One of the many reasons that made Dr. Torralba stay in UA&P is unity. “I’ve been exposed to many universities, to many schools, but dito talaga lahat aligned,” he shares. He says that the unity in the University must be attributed to divine inspiration and the intercession of St. Josemaria Escriva.
Dr. Torralba definitely has achieved many significant things as an educator, but there is one thing that he considers greatest. “Yung mga naturuan ko, we remain very close friends. That is the strongest fulfillment — remaining friends with the people you have taught,” reveals the lighthearted professor. “Yung 1st advisory class ko (in Quezon), up to now, I meet up with them and we’ve been very good friends for 44 years,” he adds.
His view on teaching explains the joy he gains from sincere friendships shared with students. “I’d always like to know my students. Yung mga students ko after they graduate they still talk to me about very personal things,” Dr. Torralba says. His gift is the ability to create beautiful friendships with his students without forgetting the need to be firm in making them learn. “It goes beyond classroom. How you are in the classroom should be how you are outside, but I can also fail students and be very firm. Even the teachers, I have fired a number…but we remain friends because it’s based on friendship and confidence, na makukumbinsi yung tao na it’s best for him not to stay,” he shares.
And what do you think happened after the movie actress replied to the schoolboy from Sta. Cruz? Dr. Torralba smiles and says, “We became very good friends. She and her mom came to the Philippines and stayed in our house for two days.”