When will it end?

After weeks and weeks that seemed to stretch forever, it was the brods singing to my batchmates and me that made us realize:

It’s over!

“Here’s to Alpha Phi Omega,” and there we were, new loyal brothers we, being asked to join in the APO fellowship circle for the first time. The Toast Song brought us tears of joy for having passed the initiation. And it dawned on us:

We’re APO now, and APO is forever.

Forever started on December 16, 1925, when APO was founded at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, USA. It was not until 1931, however, when Brother Dale Bartlett of Iowa adapted the tune “Alma Mater” for the first verse of the APO Toast Song, and it was not until the 1965-66 edition of the Pledge Manual that a second verse was published.

“Alma Mater” is a traditional school hymn in the United States. Many an American educational institution — from high school to university — has adopted “Alma Mater,” albeit with custom-tailored lyrics. Many a film on college life — including fraternities and sororities even — has featured the strain of “Alma Mater” as a paean — a song in=2 0praise of the institution and the loyalty and gratitude it inspires.

The Toast Song is sung differently by members of APO-USA and APO-Philippines, necessarily so because “Alma Mater” is part of the American cultural life, but it is alien to Filipinos as any other imported product. Brother Solomon George “Sol” Levy of Gamma Alpha chapter at University of Washington in Seattle might have sung it in tune when he introduced APO to Philippine Eagle Scouts in 1947, but could we fault him if he didn’t or if the first Filipino APO members had tin ears? Of course not.

Women were accepted as full-fledged APO members in 1968 in the Philippines and in 1976 in the United States. Up to now, even female members of APO-USA are called brothers, and the word “brothers,” the phrase “men of Alpha Phi Omega,” and the word “fraternity” remain unchanged in spite of spirited discussions and formal attempts at the biennial conventions to make the Toast Song gender-neutral, if not gender-specific.

All this time, Filipinos never give it a second thought: Males are brothers, females sisters. So, brods sing “loyal brothers we,” and sis sing “loyal sisters we;” brothers sing “men of Alpha Phi Omega, our fraternity,” and sisters sing “women of Alpha Phi Omega, our sorority.”

There is not one (1) set stage direction in singing the Toast Song. Just the same, since we sing in a fellowship circle (it is less of a circle if we leave our hands hanging down on the sides), putting one’s arms over the head and shoulders of members at either side makes sense. Then lowering one’s arms to clasp the hand of the members at either side makes more sense. The Filipino version makes less sense, since the position of hands already clasping hands does not change. But as far as genders go, we have it right: A brother or sister clasps the hands of brothers or sisters, as the case may be, or whichever word makes one comfortable if a brod and a sis are at either side.

And I like the Filipino finale a lot when we shout “ALPHA PHI OMEGA” and release our hands and lift up our right arm to form the Scout sign with our fingers as we sing “may we always be.”

I ‘fess up (although this is hardly news) that I tear up whenever I sing the Alpha Phi Omega Toast Song within a fellowship circle. I sometimes think people are affected differently by the same institution, but it’s when we sing the APO paean that I somehow know we’re singing a song in praise of the same institution that means a lot to the lives of many men and women, Americans and Filipinos alike, forever.

As a native-born Filipino and a naturalized American citizen, I feel blessed by the blend of the East and West within me, and I am privileged to learn the differences and similari ties of the two cultures that used to be Twain not meant to meet. It is not my eastern upbringing or western training, either. It is learning. For example, I learned “Philippines, My Philippines” or “Pilipinas Kong Mahal” was an adaptation of the carol “My Christmas Tree” only after I came over to the United States. Then I thought, was I patriotic when I sang “I love my own, my native land, Philippines, my Philippines” or “Ang bayan ko’y tanging ikaw, Pilipinas kong mahal” all the time I did not know it was an American Christmas song? I hope I was.

I have learned, to paraphrase the words of Carlos Bulosan, that America, the Philippines, and Alpha Phi Omega are in the heart. Let’s drink to that. One more time, with feeling: “Here’s to Alpha Phi Omega. . . . “

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