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Opinion

Marie Yuvienco: They Weren't Afraid to Come Out of the Water

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

In the news last week was St. Theresa’s College’s decision to bar five high school seniors from marching during their graduation last Friday for violating several provisions of the school’s Student Handbook.  

Apparently, the girls concerned had posted pictures of themselves on Facebook wearing bikinis and supposedly engaging in “appalling and revolting” acts, the adjectives employed by STC’s lawyer, Romeo Balili; the “revolting” acts, per photographs that were attached as annexes to a motion for reconsideration filed by the lawyer, consisted of the girls holding bottles of alcoholic beverages and “dirty dancing.”  

Since a motion filed in court becomes a public document, a little detail of the “dirty dancing” can be mentioned here: one picture shows a man’s right foot allegedly placed -- the motion says “inserted”-- between the legs of one of the girls. Another showed one of the girls in a sleeveless top with a bra strap showing. 

These, the school insists, violate five provisions of its handbook, namely: possession of alcoholic drinks outside the school campus; engaging in immoral, indecent, obscene or lewd acts; smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages in public places; apparel that exposes underwear; and posing and uploading pictures on the Internet that entail ample body exposure.

When the school found out about the pictures, it decided to still give the girls their diplomas -- they had earned them, after all -- but took the unusual step of preventing the girls from marching during their graduation. 

Each one of us acknowledges that a high school graduation is one of the most meaningful events in a student’s life, and one that is even more meaningful to one’s parents, so understandably, one mother sued STC and five of its officials over the ban. 

Due to the emergency nature of the suit, the Regional Trial Court issued a temporary restraining order commanding STC to desist from implementing its disciplinary action on the students but in an unusual step, the school decided to ignore the court’s order, and last Friday at 2 p.m., the commencement ceremony began and ended without the attendance of the complaining students. 

Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Wilfredo Navarro was so incensed by the insolent disobedience to his order that he inhibited himself from the case, on the ground that he could “no longer muster the cold neutrality” of an impartial judge.

At its simplest, the controversy involves the enforcement of school regulations versus the students’ constitutional and statutory rights. 

When a student enrolls in a school, he or she agrees to abide by certain policies that the school may impose in the interest of discipline and proper behavior. 

STC is a Roman Catholic school run by nuns, so that fact gives you a fairly clear idea of how the school expects its students to comport themselves inside or outside campus. 

As for the students themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were expected to conform to the Theresian ideal, whatever that may be, but I feel certain that St. Therese will never dress in a bikini or dance “dirty” or upload compromising pictures of herself on the Internet, so probably the girls shouldn’t have either.

I haven’t read the pleadings and neither have I seen the incriminating pictures, but my take on the whole thing is that girls will be girls in the same way that boys will be boys. 

To be even more precise, teenagers will be teenagers and no amount of lectures from their elders will change that fact or alter their behavior. 

My sister and I were educated by nuns and were subject to similar forms of proscriptions except that during our time, there was no Facebook; there wasn’t even an Internet or personal computers. 

But all of us were stupid teenagers who engaged in our little personal rebellions, which took the form of hiking up our skirts an inch or two higher, or wearing lipstick in school, or talking to boys. 

Teenagers find ways to buck authority; it’s all part of growing up and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

But is wearing a bikini all that immoral and indecent? Is uploading pictures of oneself having a good time during private occasions with family and friends “appalling and revolting”? 

I doubt that any reasonable person would conclude that these girls, by engaging in those acts, are evil bitches and rotten to the core. 

I think that when you strip the controversy of all its morality and such, the basic issue is one of image, that is, the school’s image. 

STC is hardly unique in this, but if you think about it, the image that it wants to project is its version of the ideal young lady based on the school’s patron saint. 

The problem is that not all girls want to be St. Theresa.

There’s nothing wrong with image. But the true yardstick is not appearances: if a school has done its job properly, their graduates’ attire and choice of tipple should not be its worries.

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