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    Going Where We Most Need to Go

    Message at the 2018 Commencement Exercises Our Lady of Fatima University

    PICC, Pasay City

    Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.

    Dr. Caroline Enriquez, University President; Dr. Yvonne Guevara, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees; Dr. Ramonita Salazar, Quezon City Campus – Administrative Dean; members of the Board of Trustees; administrators; faculty and staff; candidates for graduation from the Our Lady of Fatima University – Quezon Campus and Graduate School; honored guests; parents: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat! [applause]

    Thank you very much for inviting me here today as you mark another chapter of your life. To all the students who are crossing this milestone, congratulations! [applause] You have made it this far, and we are excited to see how much further you will go. To every parent, every sibling, every teacher, every school staff, every person who ever helped with schoolwork—you have stood behind our graduates. Without your care, love, and support, they would not be here today.

    So today is your day, too. Congratulations to you as well! [applause]

    Even as we all move forward, let us look back to the happy days you spent in this university. Look around you: these are the people who have seen you in your best and worst days. Through the sleepless nights and the daily grind, friends and teachers have become your family. Our Lady of Fatima University was a home for most of you, a safe space and sanctuary where you found yourselves.

    We know also of the anxiety and apprehension that comes during graduation day. There is fear of the unknown. We question ourselves: What does the future hold for me? Will I succeed in my chosen profession? Am I ready for the outside world? This uncertainty forces us to cast doubt and overthink the smallest things.

    Having all these mixed feelings is normal. When I was your age, I also had these lingering questions. The truth is: No one is really 100-percent ready for what comes next. As adults, we may seem like we know how to navigate through life, but in reality, we are figuring it out along the way. We may face challenges here and there, but what matters in the end is how we get back on our feet to continue the journey.

    My dear graduates, no matter what the future holds, we remain hopeful for better days. There will be times when the path seems too difficult; when the darkness may seem to swallow you; when those who seek to lie, defraud, or take power that is not theirs may overpower the world; and worse, when it seems that you are all alone and no one is willing to help.

    When these things happen, remember this: stay on the side of truth and right. Do what needs to be done, and be prepared to put in the hard work needed to survive. Sacrifice convenience, overcome your fears and reservations, stand in your authenticity, and believe in the strength inside you. When you do, the darkest times in your life are only a prelude to a brighter future.

    Hope is always around us. We only need to open our eyes. In fact, I believe that each of you is a story of hope. You are all vessels of love and light to the people around you.

    I myself had help from many such vessels of hope. My personal journey has been a long and winding road, with many crossroads here and there. When I was in college at the University of the Philippines, I was very apolitical and very uninvolved at first. My only concern then was to finish my course in Economics on time and proceed to Law school after. My father was a long-time judge in my hometown back in Naga City, and as the eldest in the family, I was expected to follow his footsteps.

    But when I was in my sophomore year, something extraordinary happened. Then opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was assassinated at the airport tarmac. That started my political awakening.

    And perhaps so did others’, because since the violent death of Ninoy, demonstrations started to happen more often until they culminated in the EDSA People Power Revolution, where students, nuns, priests, and the rest of our people demanded the restoration of our freedom. Seeing firsthand how our people succeeded to overthrow an abusive regime with flowers and prayers lit a fire in me. I knew I had to do something to be part of our nation’s restoration. So when I graduated, I set aside law school at first and applied for government work. I found work at the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office, which was where I met my husband.

    Later on, I would finally pursue law. But I had to juggle my law classes at night with my day job. By then, I was already a mother, a Mayor’s wife, and an Economics professor. When I passed the Bar, I chose to be the kind of lawyer that not a lot of people know about. We were called alternative lawyers. We were not the usual lawyers who wore suits and waited for their clients in airconditioned rooms. Instead, we were the ones who went to them. We trekked mountains, crossed rivers, and slept in huts and boats. Our clients were the poorest of the poor: laborers, farmers, fisherfolk, women and children, and indigenous people. We taught them about their rights and how they can use them to protect themselves, even when we were no longer there.

    That was my work for more than a decade. And that was where I found myself. And I thought that was how I would spend all the days of my life. But then, a fateful plane crash took the life of my husband Jesse a few years ago, which turned my world and that of our children upside down. In his passing, I had to be both mother and father for my three daughters, run for Congress to continue the reforms he began, later on run for Vice President to serve our people and our country, and now defend the Vice Presidency from those who would suppress the voice of the people in the name of power and political ambition.

    Has it been easy? No. But the lessons I have learned along the way shape the person I am now.

    Any dream worth our time will never be easy to reach. The road will be filled with cliffs and tall mountains, and sometimes the biggest barrier may even be ourselves. Fears and doubts can cripple anyone, but you must never let them ever be the reason why you stop. This is where hope steps in—that despite the harshest of realities, we have it in us to overcome the greatest adversities in life. We must believe that we are truly capable of something extraordinary.

    The earlier we realize this, the sooner we begin to ask the harder and most important questions: What is the bigger picture and who am I doing this for? How can I contribute to make this world a better place for others? American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner once said, and I quote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Close quote.

    And so we must all ask: Where am I needed now?

    Your institution, I believe, has prepared you well. From the very beginning, it has been Our Lady of Fatima University’s promise to “improve man for man,” molding and teaching students’ holistic values and skills. By instilling excellence, compassion, and selfless service in every student, you become instruments of hope and light for others. But what your school can do for you ends there. The responsibility of living out these principles are all on you.

    It is my hope that you take these values wherever you go, no matter your profession or the paths you end up taking. In your heart of hearts, may you always have in mind the last, the least, and the lost of our brothers and sisters. May they be the reason behind your every “why.”

    For us at the Office of the Vice President, the dream has been simple from the very beginning: it is to uplift the lives of our people, especially the poor and marginalized. And so, the Office of the Vice President launched an anti- poverty program called Angat Buhay. It brings together the public and the private sectors to address the needs of families in the farthest and poorest of our communities. Since its inception, Angat Buhay has served almost 100,000 families in 176 areas through P182-million worth of projects.1

    Partnerships, participatory policy-making, and collaboration are messy, difficult, and time-consuming strategies. But if we keep our focus on things that matter, this is where we can make a great difference, and in the end, make all our sacrifices worth it.

    But this day—it is a day for wonderful beginnings. The future is a world of endless possibilities. More than anything, we are still surrounded by love and hope—and each of us here today is proof of that. Stories like yours, characterized by your sacrifices and triumphs, pains and wins, show us that our struggles in life do not define us, but they are what make us come alive.

    In fact, among you here are some of the brightest lights we have seen, a true inspiration that we can look up to. Allow me to share with you the story of Istorya ng Pag-asa, one of the programs of the Office of the Vice President, designed to create positivity and hope among our people during a time of extreme division and distrust. We have launched Istorya ng Pag-asa in more than 10 key cities nationwide, getting to know hundreds of Istorya ng Pag-asa champions along the way.

    One of those champions we got to know was Girlie Lorenzo. It was Girlie’s dream to bring together volunteers and indigent children who are terminally ill of cancer, to play, grow and develop, even while under hospital care. Together with a colleague, they founded Kythe Foundation, Inc. in 1992. I am told that Kythe volunteers are forever changed by their experience. Now, Kythe has almost a thousand volunteers, caring for tens of thousands of indigent patients nationwide.

    And I mention this particular story because one of today’s graduates has been transformed by Girlie’s work: Rudy Labata. [applause]

    Rudy spent his teenage years dealing with cancer. Iyong hindi po nakakakilala kay Rudy, nandoon siya. [applause] At 13, instead of playing with his friends or focusing on his studies, Rudy had to figure out how he can survive his sickness. Money did not come easy for their family—his father was a tricycle driver and was the only breadwinner—so it was a struggle to make ends meet.

    Just when Rudy thought that he had reached a dead end, a Kythe volunteer approached him and his mother at the charity ward of the hospital, and offered them help. Although Rudy suffered from his treatments, what he would remember were the summer camps hosted by Kythe that allowed him to play with other children who were sick like him. Through Kythe, individuals and organizations were able to help Rudy shoulder the costs of his treatment. Sometimes, he said, the doctors themselves would loan them money for medicine, or they would “borrow” medicine from a fellow cancer patient. Simple acts of generosity such as these bound them closer together, and it restored Rudy’s faith and hope in life.

    In 2010, Rudy was declared cancer-free. Palakpakan po natin siya. [applause]

    As a way of paying it forward, Rudy became a volunteer, as well as an employee, of Kythe Foundation. He also got to finish high school, and took a two-year vocational course on a Kythe scholarship.

    It has come full circle for Rudy. Now, he is graduating with you, with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. [applause] He was able to finish college through the help of Liza Fonacier, a fellow Kythe volunteer. Liza died of cancer last 2013, but her family created a memorial fund to support the education of young patients who survived cancer. Rudy was one of her scholars. Palakpakan po ulit natin. [applause] Congratulations, Rudy, at congratulations sa iyong mga magulang!

    May we be enlightened by stories of hope, like Rudy, to face our struggles in life with strength and hunger for a life well-lived. We are living in extraordinary times, and we will be called on to do extraordinary things. Do not be afraid. Be emissaries of hope, not darkness. Spread love into the world, not anger. Include, not exclude. Remember what your teachers taught you: strive for excellence and commit to selfless service. Have compassion, and be living examples of how Our Lady of Fatima would have lived.

    My dear graduates, today is your time to shine. Go where you need to go, and where you are most needed. Wherever life takes you, be proud of where you came from, and always remember that we all take pride in you.

    Thank you very much again for having me today— [applause]—and congratulations! Mabuhay po kayong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Apr 16, 2018