Sunday, July 10, 2011

Holy Family Academy Reunion, Las Vegas

Some events in life are unforgettable and memorable.

On June 24-26, 2011, 18 girls met for a high school class reunion in Las Vegas.
We were from Holy Family Academy in Baguio City, Philippines,  HFA Batch 1976.

Memorable because:
---We came from a private, all-girl Catholic high school in the Philippines.  A boarding school.
---There were only about 80 of us in our entire graduating class.
     We were divided into two classrooms (4A & 4B, approximately 40 in each class)
---We didn't rotate classrooms for different subjects.
      Our teachers rotated into our classrooms for different subjects.
      So many students remained with the same classmates, for 4 years
     (Holy Family Loyalists were together from Kindergarten through graduation ... 6 were with us).
---I remember being taught by french-speaking nuns from Belgium, who lived on school premises
---Holy Family Academy is no longer in existence (renamed to St. Louis School Center)
     It is still owned and administered by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM).
---Most us haven't seen each other in 35 years.

This is will be my longest post ever.  Warning: a lot of pictures, so here goes:

A group picture at the home of Dr. Nacion (one of our benefactors)

The room Susan (my high school BFF) & I shared at the Palms, Las Vegas (with view from our window)

Exploring the Aria Casino
Joni, Susan, Bles (who traveled all the way from the Philippines for this reunion) and Irene

Fondant-decorated mini-wedding cakes and chocolates from Jean Philippe Patisserie (Aria Casino)

Luxurious gelato from Jean Philippe Patisserie (Aria Casino)

We were treated to a visit here (can you say playground for girls?)

A beautiful and luxurious playground for girls

The Aria uses lots of empty sweeping expanses to create openness and airiness in their spaces.

Ladies-in-waiting checking the spa amenities

Bles & Joni laughing at pictures on the camera

Bles, Susan, Irene & Joni

Susan ignored me when she saw a camera pointed at her.  Then, she gave me ... this face!

But, Susan gave me a warm beautiful smile immediately after.
I met her my junior year when were were 14 (but, 16 at graduation). 
She is a godmother to both my daughters.

Bles & Susan busily chatting and "catching up" on the escalator at the Aria

Bles & Joni strolling down one of the beautiful and wide hallways of the Aria

Visiting a spa is hard work, so we needed to stop for appetizers and drinks to quench our thirst. Merienda time at the fabulous Lemongrass Restaurant, Aria Casino

Beautifully wrapped and handtied prawns and fish cakes

Savory gyoza and salmon satay

Bles, Susan, Irene & Teresa at the waterfall wall in front of the Aria

Later, we all watched The Beatles LOVE | Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage, Las Vegas.  Great show!

Julie, Susan and I at the show entrance

The crowd presses as we wait to exit The Beatles LOVE | Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage, Las Vegasa

Group picture at the All-American Bar & Grill, the Rio (From bottom left: Puchit, Josie, Angie, Irene, Joan, Joni, Angela, June, Cecile, Pinky, Winnie, Susan & Teresa/me)

We shared platters of these mixed appetizers ... meaty sliders (sirloin & boneless short ribs), garlic shrimp scampi, spicy buffalo wings, tasty cheese quesadillas, seasoned potato skins and fresh mixed veggies.  More eating = more waistline!

From left to right: Pinky, Josie, Puchit, Cecile, Susan, Joan & Winnie
All-American Bar & Grill, the Rio

Cecile, Pinky & Teresa

I love this picture of Pinky.  Pensive.  Pondering this day.

View of Dr. Nacion's living room (Jojo graciously offered us the use of one of his homes).
It was empty until 3 days prior to our gathering.
See that flat-screen tv on the left picture?
He bought that flat-screen tv so I could play my movie-gift for the girls! Incredible generosity.

Objects around Jojo's home

The entire weekend, groups of girls gathered to tell stories and catch-up on the missed years.
Angie chatting with Angela, Pinky, Rachel and Tess.  Ay, maraming kuwento!

Lots of laughing and catching up on each other's families.
Bles, Julie, Puchit and Cecile looking at June's photo album.

Angie, Pinky & June practice the Holy Family Academy school song before we all sing together

Lots of gifts in the gift bags (each person brought a gift to share)

My personal gift to everyone was a dvd movie with info I collected beforehand about classmates attending the LV Reunion.  I had a week to prepare it (and it's unlikely I'll ever do it again!)

To watch my dvd movie gift, click here.

Jojo, a friend of our classmate Irene, offered his home and catered all of today's food for our lunch.
Home food. Traditional Filipino comfort food.  Oh my.

For me, desserts first.
Sweet rice cakes topped with toasted coconut and sapin-sapin on top left.
Toron (plantains dipped in brown sugar, wrapped in egg roll skins then fried until caramelized and crispy) on top right.  Pandan and macapuno fruit salad on bottom right.

Desserts of leche flan and ube on left and chicken afritada on right

Pork Lechon on left and Kare kare on right

Bisteak on left and menudo on right

After our meal, we started our program.  Eyes moistened as we listened to letters written to us (specifically for this reunion) from four teachers in Baguio City, Philippines.  Then, we watched the movie I presented, to quickly update one another on our current lives. 

Bles now lives in Pasig City, Philippines. She had a tarp made, imprinted with our senior class picture.  At an earlier reunion in Baguio City on January 2011, each attending classmate signed their own photo.
Bles handcarried this tarp to Las Vegas and each of us signed our own photo, then said something to the group (some recounted high school memories or thoughts about lessons learned from those years).

Below, I signed my photo.  I then related how my high school experience taught me about my own ethnicity.  Born in America and moving to the Philippines as a young teenager, I acquired a first-hand understanding of being a Filipina and of the importance of connecting with and embracing one's heritage and culture.  Proverbs 27:17 reminds us, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Bles talked to us about the recent class reunion she attended in Baguio City. She also discussed the two students our class is sponsoring through scholarships to Holy Family (now St. Louis School Center). Their entire high school tuition (room, board, tuition for private Catholic education) will be funded by our class. Tearfully, she told us how our classmates in the Philippines miss those of us here in the US and abroad.  She encouraged us to stay in contact with one another.

When we first saw one another, we studied each other faces, looking for the young girl we remembered behind the weathered, experience-lined face of the woman in front of us.  Then, recognition hits with lots of screams, hugs, and tears.

Group shot! The tarp with photos of young girls behind the now-grown women in front of it.  The years have passed, but the heart and mind do not forget.

From bottom left: Rachel, Angie, Pinky, Susan, Cecile, Winnie, Julie, Bless, Joan, Irene, Puchit, June, Tess, Josie, Angela and Teresa (not in picture: Joni, Cia & Rosana)

Jojo, a friend of our classmate Irene, offered his home and catered all of today's food for our lunch.
Below is Irene with Jojo, with our small offering to him for his extended kindness and graciousness.

Joni and BF Kevin at the evening's dinner hosted at Bistro Buffet, Palms Casino.
She brought this gathering together: covering rooms, meals, libations, rides, club, spa, airport shuttle, unique humor.  Can you say, over-the-top?
Joni, we love you for being distinctly you ... thank you for your unexpected openhandedness to us.

Joan shot a photo at tonight's dinner with 17 of the 18 classmates attending.
I was missing (below, top photo).  Angie and Tess needed a picture with ALL of us.
Joan then provided a photo of me to match her camera images (below, middle photo)
I photoshopped a new photo, combining two photos together.
Now, we have a group picture of ALL of us after I added myself at the end ... ha! (below, bottom photo)

Ta da! Here's the final edited image after photoshopping myself in at the right.
From bottom left: Irene, Rachel, Winnie, Pinky, Puchit, Joan, Cecile, Angie, Susan, Tess, Bles, Josie, June, Angela, Julie, Joni, Cia and Teresa (me)

With every cast, there's a quiet, behind-the-scenes crew so things run well (to drive, snap pictures, move chairs, be supportive)  Here's our awesome crew of men: Jojo, Paul, Joe, Efren, Matthew, Joseph & Michael

After breakfast snapshot: Julie, Puchit, Pinky, Bles & Teresa (me)
Bistro Buffet, Palms Casino

Another shot, in black-and-white (Julie, Puchit, Pinky, Bles & Teresa/me)

Pre-spa Bles, Susan, Teresa & Pinky at the bird chairs in front of the waterfall entrance at the Aria Casino

I'm not a gambler but these poker players at the Aria Casino were trying their hands at these tables

The United Airlines gate at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Going home now so I shot this from my seat as I waited for the boarding call.  We all had a great time here for our reunion ... see you all next time.

From Holy Family Academy in Baguio City ....

... to our 35th high school reunion in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.  Ladies, love you all.

My personal gift to everyone was a movie with updated info about everyone attending the LV Reunion.
To watch it, click here.