The End of “Act Manfully”

Damien Memorial School held commencement exercises for the Class of 2015 on Sunday. The Class of 2015 will stand as the last all-male class to graduate from the school.

4Last Friday Mrs. Lewis (The Graduation Weekend Czar) asked if I would be interested in helping pass out pins to the graduates during Saturday’s Baccalaureate luncheon. I accepted. She mentioned something about other alumni in the faculty also passing out pins, then I forgot about it completely.

On the Saturday morning, Mr. Lewis (The Graduation Weekend Czar’s husband) reminded me of the task and gave me the list of tables I would be responsible to cover. “Sounds good,” I said. I thought nothing of it.

After lunch, near the middle of the program, Brother Casey (Principal) began talking about the pins. I had them in a bag resting in front of me on the table. He spoke of how the class of 2015 would be the last all-male class. Then Brother Casey began describing the pins, finishing with something like “…the bottom of the pin recognizes the Class of 2015. At the top of the pin is the school’s motto, Viriliter Age, which is translated – for the last time – as Act Manfully.

I felt a wetness in my eyes and a familiar stinging at the base of my nose. My primary emotion was confusion. What was happening? I turned to my left to look at Mr. Limos. I could see it in his eyes, too. My head pivoted to the right and I made eye contact with Mr. Asuncion. He looked away and did the slow nod. I looked down at the pins. In a few seconds I could no longer see them. The alums were released to pass out the pins and it was awful. I was handing out pins, shaking hands, congratulating seniors, trying not to cry, and wondering why I wanted to cry – all at the same time.

For a time, I considered not writing about this experience because I don’t understand what it means. I have spent parts of the last four days trying to explain my response to Brother Casey’s speech, but I cannot come up with something that completely satisfies my curiosity.

Things I know for sure:

1. When the school announced its intentions to go co-educational, I was not concerned with any kind of traditional issues. I only cared about what that might mean to my teaching style.

2. I never thought that the all-male environment played a critical role in my formative years – in fact, it hindered my social skills if anything.

3. Right up until Brother Casey finished his last thought about the translation, I was totally fine. I was in no emotional state at all.

The only thing I can think of is that sometimes we don’t understand ourselves as well as we think we do. What I say to myself about Damien and my job is “I don’t want this place to become my life.” I know what I mean when I say it: I don’t want it to consume me. But in a manner of speaking, it might be too late. I’ve grown up at Damien twice. First from the ages of 14-18, then again from the age of 22 until right this very moment. In many ways, Damien (and more importantly, all of the friendships I’ve made there) is my life. There is one way my crying fit makes sense, but I’ve never experienced quite like this before. It was a visceral reaction to a significant change – to the finality of that change – that I had honestly never given much serious thought to.

Once again, the contents of my head have been shown foolish by what’s inside of my heart.

Class of 2015: Best of luck in the future. Take care of each other.  Stay in touch. Love, Phil

Class of 2016: Are you ready to make history of your own? I can’t wait to see it. Hopeful, Mr. Higa


7 comments on “The End of “Act Manfully”

  1. Nate Jones says:

    Aloha from Chicago! As a member of the graduating class of 1989, I understand that Viriliter Age, is something we Damien alumni will carry with us for all of our days.

    While these are new beginnings, the path behind will lead to a promising future for all who walk through Damien’s halls.

    • Phil Higa says:


      You are right. No matter how many changes take place across untold years, some things will always remain. Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

  2. Elijah Souza says:

    Phil, amazing article. Thanks for taking the time to write it and share your experience.

    As I was reading it, I’m not going to lie, I teared up a little myself.

    Viriliter Age is not just some saying I take lightly, it’s a motto that has been deeply engrained in me. From my father, my uncle, my godfather and of course my years at Damien.

    I am glad to see that there is still a core group of Alum leading all of those privileged to walk through our halls!

    Viriliter Age,

    Elijah Souza

    • Phil Higa says:

      Thank you for reading. I have to say, it is something. I don’t think about my connection with the school very often (probably because I’m there all the time), but standing with my fellow alums on Saturday really hit me hard. Whenever non-Damien friends ask me what it Damien is, I struggle to communicate to them the combination of loyalty and humor, but I know it when I see it and I try very hard to foster it to this day. I hope you are well!

  3. Thank you Mr. Higa
    As a parent of a senior in the last all boy class and an aunty to someone in the co-ed class. it is very special. Thank you for teaching John and he would take things that you say to heart. He probably was in the wrong class and all his friends were in the 2014 class but he still is very proud of his Alma matter. no other school can every understand what Viriliter Age is and the brotherhood that these boys have. I have to admit when I read this I was crying and so glad that I forced my son to go to Damien. Have a great Summer….

    Lee Anne Dela Cruz

  4. Ivan ibana says:

    WOW.. class of 1996.. that’s an end to an era.

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