Learning from Lydia Yu-Jose

Completely clueless about how the world works, I did not realize I would need the help of my former teachers for a reference letter and, more importantly, for a support system. 

Dr. Yu-Jose was often serious and did not mince words when talking to her students. She called a spade a spade. But it was her focused dedication to teaching and research that made me appreciate political theory from Plato to Marx and the insightful use of history to understand contemporary political affairs. 

Dr. Lydia Yu-Jose listened to my prepared spiel for 10 minutes. I am not sure if it was my imagination, but I thought I saw her frown and sigh more than once as I re-introduced myself and asked her for a recommendation letter. My hands were clammy and I was bracing myself for a classic straightforward reply that would no doubt pierce through me. I told her the mark she gave me, thinking this was the only thing going for me. You see, she had high standards in her classroom. I had my transcript in case she could not recall me as a one of her students.

Instead of the dreaded scenario, however, I was witness to something else. Professor Jose asked me about which universities I was going to apply in, which professor could supervise my research, and other questions that made me feel very at ease. She told me to come back after two weeks to get my reference letter.

I was not mistaken that she saw through me. She later wrote about me: “I did not see her after graduation, until she appeared one day in my office, for the purpose of asking me to be a referee for her application to the graduate school in your prestigious university.” She added that “with precision and clarity, she was able to explain to me what had transpired since she graduated, and what her plans are for the future. As I listened, I was sure that I would like to play a role in the career development of this young lady.”  

I am convinced that it was the strength of Lydia’s reference letter that got me accepted in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. And it was her gracious gesture that made me strive to do better even as the challenges of studying abroad at times wore me out. 

Reason and compassion

Lydia was your old school type of mentor. Someone who listened, who was happy to bring out the best in you sans political correctness, and someone who served as your advocate.

In the predominantly male-dominated field of political science, I was very fortunate to have Lydia as my mentor. Not so much because she was a woman but because she showed me how to combine hard reason with soft compassion. Even though she was one tough cookie (and for the record, I would never dare describe her that way if she were around). 

When I told Lydia the good news that I was accepted and leaving for graduate school, she gave me a generous farewell gift of books written both by her and her husband Dr. Rico Jose. Each one signed with a warm note. 

Finally getting my foot in the academic door, I went on to do further studies in other countries. While in the US, I received a Christmas card from her every year. She would ask me about my studies and when I was going back to the Philippines. She often shared how her years was, the trips she and Rico made and the conferences they attended.  

And when I did come home, I asked her for advice about my professional plans.  Whenever I was in dire need of good advice we sat for lunch and talked about ways to arrive at a professional decision. With years of experience tucked under her belt, she offered various solutions but always keeping to my perspective and personal considerations. 

One afternoon in April 2012, I was pleasantly surprised to find an invitation to the home of the Japanese Ambassador for the conferment of the Order of the Rising Sun on Dr. Lydia Yu-Jose. It was a small gathering of family, colleagues and friends, and I felt honored that she invited me to a very special occasion. A couple of weeks later, we met for lunch to celebrate. At that jaunt, she was so thrilled to have and use her senior citizen card. She was determined to used it for our parking and for our meal. As she entered my car she bellowed, “why do you keep your car so clean?!?” To date I am not certain if it was the voice of bewilderment or reprimand. What was supposed to be my treat became her treat and I promised her the next lunch was on me.  

Unfortunately, I never had a next time. I left the country again, and Dr. Yu-Jose likewise travelled for various conferences and seminars. And while we were in touch via e-mail, we did not get a chance to meet again.   

Today, I mourn the passing away of a mentor and friend. Not all professors and senior colleagues take on the role of a mentor. Even fewer are those who cross over and become your friend.

Dr. Lydia Yu-Jose was one. She gave me the hard truth. She gave me her time. And more importantly, she gave me encouragement whenever I needed to take a leap forward. The best lessons I learned from Lydia were not in the classroom.  The best lessons I learned from Lydia were in the way she dealt with me as a person – completely respecting my freedom while coaching me each time I took on a different challenge.  

Lydia, thank you for letting me learn from you. Until the end, you had a teaching moment for me. Despite your seeming objections I will keep my car clean. And I still owe you lunch. - Rappler.com

Dr. Lydia Yu-Jose taught at the Department of Political Science at the Ateneo De Manila University since 1967 and served as Chair of the Department and the Japan Studies Program for many years. She died last August 3, 2014. Her remains lie in state at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. The author is her mentee.