Cory at the Mount was an ‘intelligent, lovely’ student

College of Mount Saint Vincent President Dr. Charles Flynn. Photo: Ben Asen

By Maricar CP Hampton

High school senior Marjorie Martinez, a bright, wispy girl of 17, has three choices of where to go to get a nursing degree: Hunter, Rutgers and CMSV: “CMSV? You know, the school of Cory Aquino.”

Among Filipinos, the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx is known as the school where Cory Aquino earned her Bachelor of Arts in French and minor in Math in 1953. In 1986, she became the 11th president of the Philippines after leading a bloodless revolt against dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“She was a quiet, intelligent, lovely student,” college President Dr. Charles Flynn said when interviewed by The FilAm.

According to college records, Cory took tennis, swimming and a wide variety of classes, including Russian History, Roman and Gothic Art, and History of Philosophy. Asked how Cory did as a student, the school demurred. Said Erin Walsh, director for College Relation, “Without her family’s permission, we cannot comment on Cory’s grades.”

Like other Filipinas born to significant wealth, Cory could have taken the path oft traveled by the socialites of her time. But instead of going to a finishing school or taking up business to prepare to take over the family’s sugar hacienda, she studied Russian History and mastered in French, presumably an influence of the French nuns at Assumption Convent where she began her high school. She finished high school at the Notre Dame Convent School in New York City, where Cory and her sisters were bundled off after the war.

The three presidents: Sr. Agnes Connolly (former president of the Sisters of Charity), President Corazon Aquino, and Sr. Doris Smith (former president of the Mount)

President Benigno Aquino chats up Samahan students during his September 22 visit to the school.

As President in 1986 and riding the crest of her People Power popularity, Cory came to visit the Mount to show her “unwavering affection for the college.” The college awarded her its highest honor, the Elizabeth Seton Medal, named after the founder of the Sisters of Charity.

“She is a remarkable person who embodied the highest ideals of our college, including faith, service, modesty, and moral courage,” said the college in awarding her an honorary degree. “We’re very proud to have been an influence in her life.”

The Mount today has a significant Filipino enrollment. A Corazon Aquino Scholarship was established for Filipinos who excel academically. Said Flynn, “Over 10 percent of our students self-identify as Asian or of Pacific Island descent. Most of these students are Filipino. Another group of students self-identify as Other/Multi, many of these students are of Filipino descent as well.” Hispanic students at 34 percent and Caucasians at 30 percent remain in the majority.

The Cory Factor notwithstanding, the Mount remains popular among Filipinos for its Catholic education and its nursing course, as touted by potential students like Marjorie. “What am I taking up? What else…nursing?” she broke into laughter.

The school was founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity of New York initially as a women’s college – the first in the city. In 1974 it opened its gates to male students. Today, its sprawling campus at the Riverdale section of the Bronx is being supported by two additional college locations in Manhattan. Nursing is offered at Riverdale and also at the Grace Institute in Manhattan.

The strength of the nursing program is a dealmaker for some Filipino students, said Walsh.

“Our nursing students complete their internships and preceptorships at some of the nation’s finest hospitals, including Mt. Sinai and NYU Langone Medical Center. They are taught by professionals who work in the field, and get hands-on training and experience,” Walsh said. “Our students achieve impressively, and our Filipino American students are no exception.”

“Filipino students are very involved in co-curricular activities, including Samahan,” said Dwayne D. Jones, director of Student Activities and Leadership.

Samahan is a club that assists Filipino students in getting in touch with their roots and exposing other students to the Filipino culture, he said. “They present projects and events that have both social and educational value, ultimately bringing the Filipino students and others closer together by promoting and understanding of our common humanity.”

Subjects in Philippine History and Tagalog are offered, said Flynn. It is almost safe to assume that a FilAm from the Mount has a better understanding of Jose Rizal and his incendiary novels Noli and Fili.

“Our Department of Modern Languages and Literature is one of the few language departments on the East Coast to offer courses in Filipino/Tagalog,” he added, joining French, Italian and Spanish languages in the curriculum.

With pride, he said the chair of the department of Business and Economics, Teresita Ramirez is a native of the Philippines. “She is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Award for Scholarship and Travel in Asia and Eastern Europe.”

When President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino came to New York in September to speak before the United Nations, a visit to his mother’s school was one of the highlights in his tight schedule.

“He wanted to honor the place that was dear to his mother and to his countrymen,” said Walsh.

Maricar CP Hampton is a freelance journalist. She was awarded a 2010 New America Media fellowship on Ethnic Elders and Caregiving.

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