My high school would have turned ten today.
It was September 19, 1999 when the Second Philippine International School got a permit from the Saudi education ministry to teach Filipino kids in Riyadh. Then, six Philippine schools operated there.
More schools have opened a decade since. But SPIS has dropped from that list. And it’s not celebrating any 10th anniversary.
Instead, on its old locale in Suleimania District now sits SIS, or the Sovereign International School.
There the same buildings remain, the colors maybe a bit different–before green, white and gold, now I don’t know. Many of the same students still attend, a number of the long-time teachers too.
But they’re no longer called SPISians.
The banner of school pub SPIS Insights now reads The Sovereignian. What new name our champion varsity team Flying Dragonz goes by, I still have to know.
Gone too is Insights’ signature character SPISian, the “cute kid with an ‘SPIS’ on his forehead” created by the 2005 staff. In his place is a “son” named (what else?) Sovereignian.
SPISian, the “official” back story goes, graduated with batch ’05, finished college and fathered a son all in those four years.
But the two characters are practically the same kid. Both don round glasses, white polo, black slacks, and a mark on the head. Sovereignian’s up-styled hair, though, imitates the current student trend.
Much like the two, the school’s outer looks may have varied little, but fundamentally it’s not the same.
What happened then? It depends on who answers. Unless you’ve been there, the story only gets muddled.
The change had to startle the nine batches of former students and teachers who have left Saudi and lost track of the alma mater.
Their surprise should not surprise though.
SPIS had become a prodigy among Philippine schools in the Middle East. Its population multiplied year after year from 344. And it led the regional inter-school academic and cultural contests.
It had challenged the longest-running International Philippine School in Riyadh (IPSR), where many of its originals came. Basketball bouts between IP and SP became the community’s Ateneo-La Salle.
Partly it was the influx of talent brought by transferee students. Partly it was the experienced teachers who held to high standards. And partly it was the strong parent-teacher-admin association.
A large part though had to be SPIS’s branding, its focus on faith and family. It called SPISians “God-loving, nationalistic, enlightened, self-reliant, productive.” It first celebrated “Family Days” and called itself the “SPIS Family.”
Many alumni then assumed that SPIS would last as long as OFWs there.
Maybe they thought the change might throw SPIS to the memory bin. Somehow former SPISians would feel that an SIS must consider SPIS–and themselves–as part of itself.
Alumni, after all, only want the best for their school.
It’s only in tune with what we’ve sung every Saturday in those flag ceremonies–a song now also gone:
“We owe a lot of thanks to you
Fame and glory we offer you
We shall praise, remember you, S-P-I-S!”