by Ronaldo A. Motilla
Miriam College, Quezon City
If there is one word to describe my meeting with the world renowned social cognitive psychologist, Albert Bandura, on May 17, 2010 at 2:10PM, Jordan Hall, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, it is “serendipitous”. In the lexicon of Bandura, it is a “fortuitous event”, an unplanned and unexpected meeting.
After arriving from a 13-hour grueling Philippine Airlines long haul trip from Manila to San Francisco on May 16, 2010, I settled in a modest hotel called Travelodge, which is relatively near Stanford University, the site of the 10th annual Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Conference (SUPC). Despite my struggle to get a decent sleep on the first night, I decided the following day, May 17, to walk around Palo Alto and looked for Stanford University. I asked the hotel receptionist and instructed me as to where I can take a free ride (the Marguerite bus) going inside the school campus. Although I found my way to the bus station, I became impatient waiting for bus. So I decided to continue my walk until I finally found the Jordan Hall where the psychology department is located. My entire walk took me about 50 minutes but I neither sweat nor gasp for air. It must be the cool spring weather and the unpolluted environment.
Inside the department building, I asked the receptionist (a Black lady) about Ms. Kyonne Isaac, who was the organizer of the conference because I had so many questions to ask her related to the conference and to personally thank her for granting some of my requests, specifically in extending the payment of the conference fee. But the receptionist informed me that Kyonne could only be reached through the email. I also asked the receptionist if I could sit in the classes of their psychology professors during my stay in Palo Alto City, particularly Albert Bandura’s, for my own professional and personal enrichment. She told me that I need to email the professors whose classes I want to attend.
Quite frustrated because I could not get in touch with the conference organizer nor talk personally with the Stanford professors, I decided to loiter around the corridors of the building, and started reading the researches of some Stanford psychology students, whose work were posted on the walls. Then a few minutes later, my heart leapt. I saw Dr. Bandura coming to my direction. I immediately approached him and introduced myself as the head of the Miriam College delegation to the SUPC. Seizing this rare opportunity, I hastily requested for the typical Pinoy “photo op”. As he did not expect me, however, to ambush him for a photo session, he said he will come back for me because he urgently needed to get something from another room. While waiting for his return, I immediately took out my digicam and prepared for any eventuality. In a few minutes, he came back to see me and he asked his secretary to take a picture of us outside the Jordan Hall building. We had two photographs of us taken together and a solo picture of him.
I was damned “star struck” during those brief photo moments. He asked me what my area of interest is in psychology. I said I am a clinical psychologist, but very much interested in health and positive psychology. Then, he invited me to his room inside the building because he will give me some reprints of his talks, lectures and speeches. That jolted and surprised me. He has a beautiful room, filled with a lot of books on the shelves, and many other books and papers on his table, which is a typical set-up of professors. Then, he started pulling out one of his drawers and started giving me some reprints. He gave me a lot. To name a few, he gave me reprints on Going Global With Social Cognitive Theory: From Prospect to Paydirt, The Primacy of Self-Regulation in Health Promotion, An Agentic Perspective on Positive Psychology, The Growing Centrality of Self-Regulation in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Impending Ecological Sustainability Through Selective Moral Disengagement, and The Evolution of Social Cognitive Theory, among others.
In one of the reprints that he gave me, A History of Psychology in Autobiography, which I immediately read when I reached Travelodge, I learned that we have the same birthday, December 04. (He is presently 85 years old). Isn’t that another fortuitous event?
While still inside his office and continued to be “star struck” by him, I requested for a videotaped message for my colleagues and students (graduate and undergraduate) of Miriam College. He obliged and his message ran for 3 minutes. Essentially, he said we need to continue to have a “resilient belief” in ourselves, in our own efficacy to surpass and transcend the “lousy” realities of life”. This self-belief will serve as the “foundation for our aspirations and goals in life.”
As I thanked Dr. Albert Bandura for this very precious moment with him, I could not help but thank the Universe and God who orchestrated everything for me, as well as for my students. Honestly, my two week trip to the United States was all part of a divine plan. There were some challenges along the way but everything went well. As I wrote on my journal inside the plane a few minutes it took off from Manila to San Francisco:
“On several occasions, I doubted the success of this trip. I even prayed that it will no longer push through so it will unburden me… But a reassuring thought and feeling kept on surfacing. This is fulfilling God’s plan. God has designed this trip and will see the success of this event. God will protect all of us and He will provide for everyone’s needs.”
I could only describe my first USA trip as wonderful and meaningful, filled with a lot of surprises, plenty of “fortuitous events”, one of which is my Bandura encounter. There were many other serendipitous events that came during my trip, which tremendously surprised me. (This will entail another story to tell.) But I sincerely embraced these events and meaningful experiences with love and respect, albeit with initial hesitation, for they were all part of the Greater Design.
Indeed, there is a Higher Power that love, cares, and guides all of us at all times.