Patron Saints of Nothing author Ribay speaks to school about love

As the students and faculty of St. Louis U. High gathered in their Advisory classrooms Tuesday, they were met with the sound of the intercom calling classrooms down to the Commons. It was time for their summer reading to come full circle. Randy Ribay,  the author of Patron Saints of Nothing, had arrived at SLUH and was going to give a presentation to the whole school on various themes and topics surrounding the book. 

Ribay speaks to students in the Commons. Photo | Sean Cajigal

“It was a meaningful experience, more than just, ‘This book I read over the summer to take a quiz and be done,’” said Library Director Lynne Casey.

Once everyone had found their seats in the Commons, Ribay was introduced by junior Herbie Villaflores before taking the stage to get a selfie of himself and the entire student body holding up U’s. After that, he launched directly into his presentation, giving background about the former president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. He explained the Philippine War on Drugs, and showed several sobering statistics that estimated deaths relating to the drug war to push 30,000.

After background information had been squared away, Ribay came to the central theme of the presentation: agape love and how it is being limited. Ribay then identified the three major factors he believed were holding agape love back: materialism, colonialism, and toxic masculinity.

Ribay began by defining agape love as the love for all living things in the environment unconditionally, which differs from everyday love in that it extends beyond a circle of friends or the community to encompass the entire world.

Materialism, he said, drove wedges between people when the dollar was valued over other humans.

“Materialism trains us to value objects, to value material things, to measure our success by how much money we make,” Ribay said. “Materialism ultimately causes us to devalue people.”

He also talked about how materialism affects schools, and how the modern school has been structured to fit the materialist ideals—the process has been refined to put students through education as quickly as possible before bouncing them out to get a job where they labor until they retire.

Ribay then shifted his focus to colonialism, which opposes agape love because it perpetuates the idea that the colonizer’s culture is superior to the colonized. The Philippines itself was colonized by the Spanish for over 300 years, and European culture made irreversible changes on society, like the skin-whitening cream that is still prevalent in stores because of the belief that lighter skin is better. He also touched on how colonialism was interlinked with materialism through the extraction of resources for the colonizer’s gain.

Finally, he discussed toxic masculinity. Ribay said that toxic masculinity outlined harmful gender rules for both men and women, and that the very core of toxic masculinity didn’t work with agape love because men are expected to dominate, and one cannot love another unconditionally who they are trying to dominate at the same time.

Finally, Ribay talked about how these ideals have been baked into our culture so deeply that often we don’t even realize they’re there. 

“A lot of times these ideas (materialism, colonialism, and toxic masculinity) are perpetuated by stories by the media that we consume,” Ribay said. “A lot of times we don’t even realize they’re happening.” 

He closed by talking about how these ideas could be fought in many ways, but one he felt confident talking about was the reading of diverse literature. 

“If you actually look for (books with diverse topics), sometimes they’re pretty hard to find because they don’t make the bestseller lists,” Ribay said. “But they’re there and find them, read them, watch them, or play them. I think you’ll start to notice things you didn’t notice before.”

The event was closed by senior Chandler Brozovich as students were dismissed back to Advisory rooms for Studium. However, Ribay was far from done with speaking.

After his all school assembly, Ribay continued his conversation with members of the One World Club, Asian Student Alliance, and Ongoing Conversations during Studium. The idea behind this conversation was spearheaded by One World Club moderator Magdalena Alvarado. As part of the summer book committee with Casey and many other faculty and staff, she was in charge of choosing Patron Saints of Nothing as the all school summer reading book and keeping the themes of the book alive throughout the school year. 

“Once we got Randy to come, Mrs. Casey asked what other things we could do and I said the One World Club would love to have a conversation with him,” said Alvarado. “Little by little, the idea developed that we would ask him questions and meet during Studium.”

It was decided by fellow One World club moderator María-Paz Erker and Alvarado that each club would ask Ribay questions specifically related to that club’s identity. The One World Club asked questions about human rights, the Asian Student Alliance asked questions about cultural identity, and Ongoing Conversations asked questions about sexual identity.  

“The clubs handled the whole thing very professionally,” Alvarado added. “And it showed that the students listened to what he said because their questions were modified if he had already answered them partly.”

The conversation with Ribay continued further with members of each club sitting down for lunch with him. In between bites of sandwiches and potato chips, students talked about their SLUH experience, English reading lists, activism, and their faith.

“We were able to really break off from the questions that we had prepared already and hear his opinions on things like literature in the classroom and his experience with teaching at a high school. I think that it would have been a lot less fruitful for me if we wouldn't have had that conversation,” said junior Courtney Lucas.

Finally, Ribay popped into English teacher John Kavanaugh’s classroom for his D period’s Senior Capstone course. Already experienced as both a teacher and a writer, Ribay was able to give students a deeper understanding of the writing process and what it looks like. As seniors move towards writing about ideas and events in St. Louis, Ribay gave them new skills and mindsets for how to approach their specific topic and input on the stories they are telling.

“We ran the class like a writers workshop. We sat in the shape of a circle—an arch, really—and did an exercise in class that he contributed to and then he talked a little bit about his process as a writer,” said Kavanaugh. 

Whether it was an all-school presentation, being an open book for student’s questions, a cameo in English Capstone, personal conversations over lunch, or Patron Saints of Nothing, Ribay has provided a unique story and perspective for the SLUH community. 

“Parts of what he said you may agree with, and others parts you won’t. But that’s the beauty of being open to growth, to new perspectives,” concluded Erker. “You have to exercise that. And I think it's good that exercise takes place in situations that are more intimate like Randy’s.”

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