19 April 2017
Commencement Speech at the 90th Commencement Exercises of Bicol College, Daraga, Albay, 19 April 2017
Dr. Maria Luz Macasinag, president of Bicol College, Dr. Pedro Marcella III, Executive Vice President, Board of Directors, administration officials, faculty members and non-teaching staff, dear graduates and parents, ladies and gentlemen, marhay na aldaw saindo gabos.
Bago ako magbasa kan sakong speech, dakulang pasalamat na naimbitaran nindo ako. Sarong dakulang onra na makaibanan ko kamo gabos ngunyan na aga sa saindong especial na selebrasyon.
It would be nice if every day feels like graduation day. It’s a day for nostalgic endings, but also powerful beginnings. It’s a time to bury old hurts and forgive past mistakes. Isn’t it interesting how graduation days make you feel amused at problems that seemed so difficult in the past? Like perhaps your undergrad thesis or dissertation perhaps? A very strict professor? Or maybe a college ex? But today…today everything stretches before you like a blank canvas, and what happens next is all up to you.
I will share with you a short message only, because I know you cannot wait to get your diplomas and celebrate with your families. On this day of triumph and jubilation, I encourage you to remember only three things: Number one: Do not stop learning. Second: Build bridges of understanding and never walls of distrust. And third: Create a world that does not forget the last, the least, and the lost.
Way before I became Vice President, I worked for more than a decade as a lawyer for the poor. Normally, lawyers wait in their offices for their clients to come to them. But we who called ourselves alternative lawyers… we went to where our clients were instead. We visited them in their farms or in their coastline communities.
We rode padyaks, bancas, or walked in our slippers, sometimes even barefoot, through muddy footpaths. We went in our jeans and t-shirts, instead of suits and high-heeled shoes. I thrived in this environment. I loved my work.
We gave them paralegal trainings, which will give them the tools and knowledge to protect themselves, without having to take up law or pass the bar exams. The training took several days.
One time, we were giving paralegal training to a remote fishing community. But when we got there, there was no place for us to sleep and rest for the night. I was pregnant for six months then with my third child.
So when one of the fishermen said we could sleep in their boat, we gratefully accepted. Because of my line of work, I became an expert at sleeping in the weirdest of places—a hut without walls in the middle of a rice field, or a boat used to fish. As long as I could rest my back on something, I was okay.
But at two o’clock in the morning after our first night there, someone was waking me up. Apparently, the fishermen needed the boat to fish in the ocean. It was their usual schedule, perhaps because at two in the morning, perhaps it is that time in the day, when the bright moonlight attracts the fish and the wind is favorable to those who use non-motorized boats.
You may say that the work and the life we embraced was difficult. It was indeed a difficult life, but it was the life I chose. And now as Vice President, this is still the life that I choose, no matter how difficult.
You see, there is nothing in our job description that says we must visit the poorest, farthest communities and find out from the people themselves how the government can intervene and make their lives a bit easier and more humane.
There is nothing in any government contract we signed that says we are accountable for all those who suffer from calamities, live in inhumane dwelling places, experience hunger, or unable to get education.
But at the Office of the Vice President, we choose to go where the need is, and not wait for the need to come to us. We choose to go beyond the call of our duty, because the suffering of our people deserve urgent attention.
We choose a life that is difficult and inconvenient, because walking where the people walk and sleeping where they sleep, are the keys to empathy. We find fulfillment in that moment, when the people we visit realize, that the government is not as unreachable as they think it is. These are the metrics by which we measure the success of our work.
Tomorrow, you will wake up to the reality that your professors are gone and you will no longer be measured by your grades. What you do and how you behave is all up to you. Those around you are the ones who will measure your success. And usually, the world’s yardstick for success will be how much money you make, how much praise you get, how many cars you drive, or the size of your house. This is why since time immemorial, individuals, professions, industries, political and economic institutions were extractive, instead of inclusive. They took, rather than shared.
I look at you and wish with all my heart that you will turn around, face the world, and say: “Today is the time to change how the world measures success. Today, I will change how I will measure success.”
Of course, this is also the time to build wealth, to defy existing expectations, to innovate, and to create. Never has there been a time in the history of the world, when what economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destructions”, solved so many of the world’s problems.
Think of the Internet, telecommunications, smart phones, electric cars, technologies in medicine, engineering, and finance. You are entering the workforce at a time when knowledge and information — not money and power alone — are anyone’s most powerful assets.
That is a huge equalizer. It means even if you were born poor, if you are able to get a great education and put all of your attention on being excellent in all that you do, you have a chance to make the world notice you.
Take advantage of these trends in whatever profession you find yourself or whatever business you end up creating. You owe this to the years you spent studying so hard, to your teachers who kept their faith in you, and your family who stood by you.
But success, as the world defines it, is not an end in itself. Our greatest value is not just the wealth we create, but how we use it to help uplift the rest of humanity. In the end, we will be measured not just by what we know, but by how we use that knowledge to serve others.
To do these, here are the strategies I urge you to adopt: keep on learning, because your education is your best asset. Build bridges of understanding, never walls of exclusion. Be inclusive, rather than extractive. Find ways to live together in peace and unity—even when you are faced with the most difficult opponents.
The future is given to those who are dreamers. As British archaeologist, military officer, diplomat, and writer Thomas Edward Lawrence once said:
“All men and women dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” Close quote.
In my message to you today, I urge you to use the right dreams for yourself and for our nation—and act on your dreams with open eyes.
Remember the fishermen who owned those boats we slept on? They were guided mostly by the light of the moon, the layout of the stars, and the knowledge of the sea they learned from their fathers and their grandfathers. Every time they went out to sea, there were no guarantees that they would find fish. Everything they did was filled with faith. They lived a hard life, but they woke up every day and went to work with a determined heart because there was nothing else to do. Their greatest tragedy was that they had no options.
By contrast you have all the options. I know that some of you come from families that are also challenged financially. Perhaps some of your family members are working in a faraway land, in an effort to provide for the family. I know that life has not been easy for many of our graduates today, and that is why you have my sincerest admiration. But believe me you are still blessed: with a great education and a future ahead of you. Not many of our people are as lucky as you are.
So, I hope and pray that your faith is as strong as those fishermen’s faith. Your resolve need to be as hard as their arms that cast down their nets. Your knowledge needs to be as sure as their minds that knew how to look at the sky and determine their exact location, even if there was no land in sight.
Even from those fishermen who had no degrees or even a high school education, you can learn something, too. From the person who lives in the biggest mansion, to your College Dean, to you, and to the janitor you see every day whose name perhaps you forgot to ask, and to the fishermen—we are all part of the same net.
So live well…and find ways to fish for others so that they can live well too.
Thank you for sharing this moment with me.
I hope to hear about the results of your great work soon.
Mabalos saindo gabos!