Up Close and Personal with
Fr. Johnny C. Go, S.J.
Robina G. Pe, parent
I first met Fr. Johnny C. Go, S.J., School Director of Xavier School since 2001, at the Xavier Junior Prom. No, I was not fetching my son as I'm still too young to have a son in high school (harhar), nor was Fr. Go attempting to watch over the party behavior of his students. The truth is, we met over 25 years ago when we were both in high school. I was then the date of his batchmate and he, of course, also had a date with him. The junior prom was held right inside the gym. Who was his date? C'mon guys, that's another story.
Fr. Go graduated from Xavier School in 1979 and was a Xavier Awardee along with three others in his batch. He finished AB Psychology at the Ateneo, and has an MA in Philosophy and Theology from the same school.
At the time of the interview, Fr. Go was reading "Imagining the World through the Language of Mathematics," a book by Robyn Arianrhold and published by the Oxford University Press. "I can't pronounce his name," he said. "I bought it at the Harvard University Coop when I was in Boston last July."
"I can't pronounce his name either," I said. "What's it about?"
"It talks about how Math is not just a language that allows you to describe nature in a precise manner but also allows you to make predictions about nature," he said.
"Whew! You will have to explain the whole thing to me as soon as you finish it," I said. "Shall we start the interview?"
Is it really "Johnny?" It's not a nickname?
Yes, that's it. Once I walked through the Chinese Cemetery, and I saw three tombs with the name "Johnny Go." It seems to have been a common name before. Not to forget the song "Johnny B. Goode."
Are you Johnny Be Good?
I try (laughter).
You studied in Xavier School all the way?
No, from Grade 3 up to High School fourth year. From Nursery to Grade 2, I was in Chiang Kai Shek.
Why did you move from Chiang Kai Shek to Xavier?
My father's friends told him about this school called Kuang Chi. So my dad said "Let me try it." He just decided at his whim. And it changed my life. It was my first Catholic School. The whole method of teaching was not only about academic development but the total, including spiritual, formation of the person. Xavier opened a whole new world for me. I got to know the Jesuits. This wouldn't have happened if I didn't end up in Xavier. Looking back, I suppose it was all part of God's plan.
You got the Xavier Award when you graduated.
Along with Frederick Tiu, our Treasurer. He has a full name, something I don't have (laughter); Joaquin Yap, who now teaches Theology at the Loyola School of Theology in Ateneo. He has a PhD in Theology from Oxford University. But he's not a priest. And Baldous Lee.
How does one get a Xavier Award?
The award is given to a student who embodies the ideals of Xavier School. He is chosen by the teachers, administration, staff and students.
It's not just the grades?
No, your grades don't have to be outstanding. It's the total character of the person that's important.
Why do you think you got the Xavier Award?
I was a nice guy. I was a good student. I wasn't particularly threatening to anyone.
Why and when did you decide to become a priest?
I decided to become a Jesuit four years after college. For two years I taught in Xavier. We were a group of classmates and we all agreed that after college we'd come back to teach for a year. We had so much fun that some of us decided to extend for another year. After two years, I worked as a Brand Manager at the Fruit Drinks Division of Magnolia. It was a great job. It paid pretty well but I wasn't happy. I was thinking about what I should do. Maybe take my MBA? Maybe go into Organizational Development? Then I thought maybe I should become a priest. But I felt it was corny and boring. Besides, I guess, I rebelled against the idea because a lot of people hounded me to become a priest. But I told myself that if I don't find out once and for all, I wouldn't have peace of mind. Now I believe that if it's meant for you, God will knock on your door and remind you.
Did you ever think of becoming a parent yourself?
I think being a parent is one of the best vocations that God calls us to. Even if I don't have kids, I run a school, so in my own way, I try to be a father to my students.
How different are the Xavierians now from during your time?
They're very different. They're more sophisticated now. They have access to many things - technology, the internet. The kids today are so complicated and different from before. I'll give you one example, something that caught us completely off-guard - text gambling. This was happening not only in Xavier but also in many Chinese schools, but for some reason the media focused on Xavier. We don't allow cell phones in school so the betting happens elsewhere. So our challenge is --- how do we respond to this? What kind of preventive measures should we take? Fortunately, thanks to the help of the parents, we have been able to address this problem successfully. We all learned from the experience. Kids today are also smarter. If you used the PSAT (preliminary SAT) as basis, the mean score of the students of Xavier today is above the international mean much more than during our time.
Let's talk about Xavier School's 50th anniversary celebration this year. What do you hope to achieve?
There are two things we hope to achieve. The first one is that we just want people to be grateful for the gift of a Xavier education. This is doubly significant for me, being both a former student and now a school director. I am grateful for having been part of this community. The Xavier community is a special network. Even if you bump into each other and don't know each other from Adam and Eve, you get that instant bond and special chemistry between you. You find out that you share the same values.
Secondly, we hope that the golden jubilee will renew ourselves in three ways: First is academic excellence. Second is spiritual formation. The third one is service - helping the poor, sharing the Xavier education with those who can't afford it. Fortunately, people have been very responsive and happy about it.
How is Xavier School facing the challenge of teachers leaving for overseas?
We've set up an in-house teacher training center so we can train our teachers more systematically. This way, when a teacher leaves, we can train the new one properly. We've been able to attract the best teachers so we're quite happy with our recruitment process. Our compensation is very good since most of our revenues go to salaries. We believe that a school is only as good as its teachers.
What do you think are the most important programs you want to implement in Xavier?
The first one is the Chinese program which I'm happy about. It's the shift to conversational Chinese so that all the quarterly tests in high school are now oral. I thank my teachers for their openness and cooperation because we're seeing the effects already. This is something I never really had during our time. During my time, those who spoke Mandarin were those who joined the Chinese Drama Guild. I lived in Taipei for two years as a Jesuit. I saw how difficult it was for me to speak in Mandarin. It was all in my head but I wasn't trained to talk. So we're hoping that our efforts both in the grade school and high school will result in a more effective Chinese studies program.
The second program is the overall curriculum reform process. It's a major and ambitious but urgent project. Every year each department evaluates what they've done. But we are attempting a more holistic review of the entire curriculum. To do this, we try to learn from educators all over the world - UK, US, Singapore, Australia.
When I accepted the job, I thought that I'd be here for only one year. But I'm now on my sixth year, and so far, it's been very challenging and fulfilling. I've grown and learned a lot, and I hope that somehow Xavier has moved forward because of our work.
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