Joey Pengson is a Business and ICT Management Consultant and an alumnus of the Ateneo de Manila (AGS69 AHS73 BSME78.  This piece is written on the occasion of Ateneo’s sesquicentennial.) This was published in the BusinessWorld’s December 14, 2009 edition, page S1/4 to S1/5.

December 2009 is an eventful and historic month for the Ateneo de Manila University. There is the 60th anniversary of the Blue Eagle Gym, the 70th anniversary of the song “Blue Eagle the King”, the 25th silver to 75th diamond jubilarians and the 150th anniversary of the Ateneo. And now, the 500@150 scholarship drive.

Some have said that 500 is a really big number and suggested maybe we should have targeted 150 instead. But after 150 years, there is nothing too big, nothing too adverse, nothing too challenging. For the Ateneo, the Limit Does Not Exist.

Last August 1 marked the 40th anniversary of Management Engineering (ME) at the Ateneo De Manila University: 40 years, 40 batches of ME graduates. I somehow feel a stronger link to our 40th year of ME because it is also the 40th of Grade School 1969. Little did I imagine that a milestone was being achieved with the first batch of ME graduates together with my finishing Grade School. I was also probably too preoccupied then by the painful one-point loss to La Salle where scoring machine Chito Afable missed two free throws in the dying seconds of a low-scoring game. I thought it could never happen but it did.

But then that was just another example of how The Limit Does Not Exist (to borrow the title of our ME souvenir program). After procrastinating for the longest time to write this article, I feel I have finally breached, eradicated and erased that limit.

Life continues to challenge us, and in many instances, we encounter people who bless our lives with a helping hand, give us a second chance and erase our limits. For me, those significant persons included ME department chairperson Marijo Ruiz and basketball coach Baby Dalupan.

After a highly successful freshman year, I struggled through a terrible sophomore year in ME. It was not because of the new subjects or the professors but a deliberate reversal of my efforts. I started questioning myself again why I was in ME. I had dreamed of taking up Humanities, Urban Planning and Development or Oceanography. Well, the answer immediately popped into my head—because my Dad wanted it for all the best reasons.

Marijo called me to her office and told me what I expected—I should shift courses. It seemed that I could not cope with the workload and that I could end up finishing a course a few more years than I should, if I finished any course at all. That was my cue for a change.

When I got home, I probably had the longest conversation I have ever had with my Dad regarding school. After going through the pros and cons of whether or not to shift courses and its consequences on my life, he left me to make the decision.

I started playing basketball again that year, which was a major part of the equation. After an eternity of thinking and soul searching, I chose to try and present my case to stay in ME. I was not completely sure why I decided to stay in ME. Probably gut-feel, maybe to prove it could be done…maybe. Could ME and varsity basketball really mix?

And so I went to see Marijo. I popped into her office with my decision and why I should be given one last chance, another opportunity to prove I could make it. But I expected she would not agree because my grades were just horrible.

I was completely caught by surprise, however, with her reaction. She asked me just two questions:  “Do you fully understand the consequences of your decision?” and “Are you sure?” I stayed in ME.

After injuring my knee in a basketball game against Jose Rizal College, a one-year “knee rest” and subsequent knee surgery, I began painfully recovering and playing again with the varsity team. Arthroscopic surgery and scientific sports therapy were not yet options then. The strips of scar tissue on my left knee and a grueling recovery period were evidence of that Jurassic but excellently performed procedure. It was also a difficult year for the Blue Eagles.

Because I had such a difficult year physically and academically, I approached Coach Baby and told him that maybe I should not play for another year. There were other players who could join the team and make a bigger contribution and my left knee was still only 70 percent at best. Once again, I was stunned by Coach Baby’s reaction with his two questions, “Papa’no lalakas ang iyong kumpyansa sa tuhod mo kung hindi ka maglalaro?” and “Sigurado ka ba?” I continued to play varsity basketball.

Limits erased, my next three years in ME were the most fulfilling. In addition to the required subjects, I took electives in French and Pilipino. And in my fourth year, in the back of a bus on the way to the Hundred Islands with friends, it just came to me, why I was in ME. No particular reason came to mind; just a feeling of calm.

Limits erased, we also won the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) championship that year with a 13-1 record. That same core team went on to win another championship the following year, back-to-back. Though many of my teammates urged me to stay on the team another year, I chose not to play again. I felt a need for a new adventure to further expand my experiences and test those limits. I decided instead to join the Aegis and Track & Field throwing the discus and javelin. No second thoughts; again, just a feeling of calm.

ME and basketball continue to serve its purpose to this very day. I never dreamed I would be a part of ME’s 40th anniversary and continue to play basketball together with my GS  1969 idols. They also went through their own pain and frustration that year which strengthened their resolve to erase their limits. After those painful missed free throws, Chito Afable and his Blue Eagles won their NCAA championship the following year.

I will always be grateful for those life-changing experiences of 1975 and being blessed with Marijo and Coach Baby. They showed this Eagle how to spread his wings and fly high and that limits do not exist.