How Fr. Joseph A. Galdon, S.J. scolded me when I got an F in math

I was a Freshman when I first met Fr. Galdon.  I was lining up in his office, the Office of Admissions and Aid.  It was the end of the first Semester and scholars who failed in a subject or who were not able to meet the required Q.P.I. (Quality Point Index) must meet the Director.  A student left his office, crying.  It was my turn.

Fr. Galdon was looking at my grades and records.  He asked me to sit down.

“Why did you get an F in mathematics?”  he asked.

“Our teacher gave us a beautiful math problem on linear diophantine equations,” I replied.  “I spent the whole semester thinking about it.”

Linear diophantine equations are equations of the form ax + by = c, where a, b, and c are integers.  The problem is to find integers x and y that solves the equation.  Our teacher taught us how to solve it using the Euclidean algorithm for finding the greatest common factor.  I sought a general formula and I ended up playing with concepts like ordinal factorials and fractal combinations.  Fascinating.

Fr. Galdon looked at me.  “You know what you are? ,” he asked and wrote down on a clean bond paper six large letters: S T U P I D.  “You are stupid.”

Fr. Galdon knows how to write well.  He is a professor in English Literature and has written several books.  I have seen one of them: “The Mustard Seed: Reflections for Daily Living.”  He also wrote a primer on English for Freshmen, which was given to scholars before the semester began.

“I am not stupid, Father,”  I calmly said.    It didn’t yet dawn on me that my future hangs in a balance at that moment: without my scholarship, I could be out of Ateneo for good.

“Oh, yes.  You are stupid.”

“I am not stupid, Father.”

“You are stupid.  You should have worked on that problem without neglecting the rest.”

“I am sorry, Father.”

It was a humbling experience.  As a Freshman Merit Scholar, I should have skipped a Mathematics and an English course, because my entrance test results are good enough.  But only Ma 11 can be skipped.  I took Ma 18 and I flunked it.  I should also have skipped En 11.  But on the first day of class, we were asked to write two paragraphs describing a friend.   I flunked it, too.  So I was sent to Remedial English class.

“Ok.  I will give you one last chance.  That is L A S T  C H A N C E.”  And he wrote it down below S T U P I D.  “Do you know what grade you need to get next time?  You should get a C.”

I looked at the letter.  A C is better than an A.

“Thank you, Father.”

Fr. Galdon dismissed me and I left.

Math 18.  I repeated it one year after and got a C+.  Because Ma 18 is a prerequisite course, all my major subjects were moved.  And because all my English subjects were also moved–En 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 26–I ended up staying in Ateneo for five years instead of four. .  I promised myself I will never ever go back to Fr. Galdon again.  I learned to take notes, read books, and solve problems.  But I still never got an A in math, only a series of B’s.  Then I took two math electives on Number Theory and Group Theory: both are C’s.  Creative repetition.  Heroic couplet.  At least, I did not fail Fr. Galdon.

Maybe Fr. Galdon is 80 years old now.  I heard that he cannot remember much anymore.  He would surely not remember me.  But I remember him.  I cherish his memory.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

7 Responses to How Fr. Joseph A. Galdon, S.J. scolded me when I got an F in math

  1. Jay Balza says:

    Oh yes, I remember reading Fr. Galdon’s Mustard Seed columns in the Inquirer years ago. Fascinating stuff!

  2. hay espiritu says:

    i own one Mustard Seed buk by Fr. Galdon….. it’s a must have!

  3. Andoy Chavez says:

    Fr. Galdon is now 82 and is suffering the late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He is currently living in the infirmary of the Jesuit Residence, permanently bedridden. The nurse told me he doesn’t remember anything anymore, and is now, sadly, as dependent as a baby. If you have time, maybe you can visit him.

  4. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    Hi Andoy,
    Thanks for the info. I actually saw him in the Jesuit Infirmary in a room across that of Fr. Badillo. I visit Fr. Badillo once a week. I’ll try to drop by Fr. Galdon.

  5. Albert the Lesser says:

    Back in ’76 Joseph Galdon was the most feared creature in The college of Arts and Sciences.his shadow could melt down a freshman English student at a flick of the wrist. I miss those days. I will try to visit him when I can. I hope he is not too uncomfortable in his Old Age…

  6. acquiambao says:

    Please pray for Fr. Galdon who may go anytime. Fr. Balchand said he has severe pneumonia, internal bleeding and his breathing is labored.

    Came across your post and thought other Ateneans should be able to pray for him during this trying time.

  7. Louie Chavez says:

    Same experience in Math :)

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