30 April 2017
Commencement Speech at the 13th Commencement Exercises of the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities (FAITH) Colleges, Tanauan, Batangas, 29 April 2017
Mr. Saturnino Belen, Chairperson and School President; Mr. Juan Lozano, Managing Director; Dr. Brian Belen, Managing Director; Dr. Lalaine Manalo, Vice President for Academics and Research; Ms. Cherry Cesario, Vice President for Student Life and Student Services; Mayor Thony Halili; members of the Board of Directors, Vice Presidents, Directors, College Deans, Chairs and Coordinators; faculty and staff; awardees and graduates of FAITH Colleges and their families; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.
It is such an honor to be here with you, not just to celebrate your graduation, but to see you start a new journey in your lives. As excited as you must be to begin that journey, I can reassure you: we are all as excited as you are. Your teachers who helped you through the years, your friends who have always stood by you, and your families who have supported you all the way. Allow me then to congratulate you, the graduating class of 2017, for making it to this day. Congratulations sa inyong lahat!
You are graduating from one of the academic institutions that the Department of Education trusted to pioneer the senior high school program under the K-12 program. Because of the strength of this school’s technical vocational track, with the Information Technology strand, and the excellence of your school’s teachers and professors and academic programs, FAITH Colleges is seen as a reliable institution in providing skilled entrants to the labor force. Stand proud that you are graduating from this school. You can be hopeful that companies not only in Tanauan, Batangas, but companies all over the country – which has many industrial zones – as well as companies in and around Metro Manila will be looking forward to employ you.
There is a lot for you to look forward to. You can finally make use of all that you’ve learned in your classes. You will find that all the hours you dedicated to learning and studying are all worth it. You now have the chance to enter the fields you love, and to excel in them as you wish.
For some of you, graduating from college is even more meaningful because of what you can do for your families. A number of you will enter the work force with dreams for your siblings and parents, with the hope that you can finally help them.
That is why this is no ordinary day for you. Your graduation is not only a mark of your academic achievement. It also represents a bright future, one that you should make the most of.
I understand that some of you might be nervous now. The world outside is not so orderly or predictable. As students, you have learned that if you study hard and meet your requirements, you will get good grades. If you work well with your groupmates, you can expect the project to succeed. If you earn high enough marks, you can graduate with honors.
But life beyond these halls cannot give you the same guarantees. You may have high marks, only to find that you are not even getting your job interviews. You may hope to find work in your industry of choice, only to see that there are no jobs you can apply for. You may want to go to med school or law school, only to discover that you may have to put off these plans.
These are just a few of the challenges that fresh graduates like you meet once they leave college. It is easy to feel discouraged in the face of these difficulties, even if you performed very well in your studies. But wherever challenges arise, take heart in your ability to recover from adversity. Have faith that the future will bring you to where you need to be. Have faith in a better tomorrow.
I had to learn this lesson myself. You see, when I was your age, I was so sure about my career plans and what I could expect from them. I was the eldest among three children, and my father was a judge in our hometown. I was determined to follow in his footsteps, and I promised to him that I would go to law school right after graduating from Economics.
What I did not expect was that being in college would change me profoundly, that my experiences as a teenager in UP would change the course of my life. Before I went to UP, I shied away from political discussions. I didn’t think I had anything important to say. That is, until I saw exactly what was happening to our country under Martial Law then: the abuses and plunder perpetuated, and the worsening poverty among Filipinos.
That was when I realized that I needed to get involved, that I should do my part as a Filipino to fight the oppressive regime. As a student who participated in the People Power Revolution, I saw firsthand what the Philippines could become: a country of brave men and women willing to fight for what is right, a people that could work together to make great things happen for the country.
In the wake of the EDSA revolution, I realized I could not follow my original plan of going straight to law school. I wanted to begin a career immediately in public service, where I could, in my own small way, help other Filipinos towards a better life.
I was nervous then, because I was not sure how my father would react—after all, I did make a promise to him—but I needed to trust my instincts. I needed to have faith that I was making the right decision.
You will need to make that same leap of faith at some point in your lives. As your career unfolds, you will find yourselves at crossroads, where you will need to make difficult choices. When confronted with tough decisions, always return to the values and principles that are central to your character. Always ask yourself: “Am I doing what is right, not just what is easy?” Ask yourself: “How will my choice affect the people around me?”
I have faced more than my fair share of these crossroads. The biggest, of course, was my choice to run for Vice President. After much reflection, I realized that to run for the office was necessary—not because I thought the Filipinos needed me, not because I thought of myself as our country’s savior, but because of the opportunity to help. I had learned much about public service from my husband, Jesse, and I was willing to fight for his legacy of good governance.
Now, as Vice President, I can tell you that the work I am doing is not the easiest. Our country is beset by many problems, many of them persisting through the centuries, many of them unsolved to this day. Most pressing of these is the poverty of millions of Filipinos. It is that poverty that leads to hunger and neglect, injustice and inequality, corruption and crime.
This is why my office and I are focusing our efforts on fighting poverty in the Philippines. Since October last year, we have been hard at work on our flagship program, the Angat Buhay initiative. It is a program that seeks to uplift the lives of the poorest Filipinos by empowering them with long-term solutions. If we are to fight poverty, we must address all the ways it affects our families: poor medical care for mothers and infants, insufficient education for Filipino youth, hunger and malnutrition, rural areas that do not enjoy progress, and violence and discrimination, especially against our women.
Under Angat Buhay, we have joined hands with key partners in government, civil society, and development groups. We understood that if we wanted to make real change happen—change that our people truly need—we could not do it by ourselves. So we spoke to the poorest municipalities and communities and listened to their stories, found out how we could help each other, and enlisted the support of our partners to implement our programs. It is a collaborative effort, where Filipinos unite for a common dream of a better Philippines.
When we launched Angat Buhay in October last year, we focused on 50 LGUs where the poorest Filipinos live. At the same time, we chose these local governments because of their progressive practices. These are local leaders who have proven to be honest, capable, and efficient. We made them our partners, because we think that all local government units should be like them: truly caring for the people.
Together, our goal is to make Angat Buhay a vehicle of empowering the poorest Filipinos. Yes, we want them to get the help they need. But more importantly, we want them to help themselves, so they can live a life free from poverty and dependence. We need to restore our sense of empathy for the poor and the vulnerable. We need to restore integrity in the Philippine government. Ultimately, the empowerment of the people is the change that we all need.
I never thought, when I was your age, that I would come to this point in my career. I never imagined that I would be Vice President, that I would be given this chance to serve our country. But that is what the future is: you cannot foresee it, now matter how sure your plans may be. Who knows? Maybe here among you is our country’s next leader. And while you can never predict what life may offer, you can make the most of every opportunity for you to grow and prosper, to become the men and women that FAITH Colleges made you to be: men and women with a talent for innovation and creativity, men and women with a deep sense of faith, compassion, and service. And when, one day, you come to a crossroad in your life, make the choice that benefits not only you, but also the greater good.
Congratulations muli sa inyong lahat. Magandang hapon, aking mga kababayan!