20 April 2017
Commencement Speech at the 22nd Commencement Exercises of the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture, Sipocot Campus, Camarines Sur, 20 April 2017
Dr. Georgina Bordado, president, Prof. Rico Almonte, campus administrator, Board of Regents, University Vice Presidents, Academic Deans, faculty and non-teaching staff, dear graduates and parents, ladies and gentlemen, marhay na aga saindo gabos (good morning to all of you).
Primero sa gabos dakulang orgullo na makaibanan ko kamo ngunyan na aga sa okasyon na labi na importante, bako lang saindo gabos, kundi lalo na saindong mga gurang, na nagsakripisyo tanganing makaabot kamo sa aldaw na ini.
(First of all, it is a great honor for me to be here with you this morning, on an occasion that is very important not just to all of you, but most importantly, to your parents, who have sacrificed a lot for this day.)
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you on this special occasion. I am sure that many of you have been waiting for this day – when your life turns a new leaf and face a bright future. But more than just ushering in a new beginning, graduations are also a time to look back at some of the most wonderful years of your life.
Moments like these always bring to mind one memorable passage from the novel, The Little Prince. Siguro pamilyar man kamo sa Little Prince, ano? As the little prince is about to part ways with the fox, his newfound friend says these powerful words and I quote: “It is the time you have wasted on your rose which makes your rose so important.” Close quote.
My dear graduates, your years in this university have taught you the value of patience, hard work, and perseverance. It is what has made your rose – your education here at CBSUA – valuable. It is what shaped your character. When times get tough, when you are about to give up, remember this day when you conquered the many hardships and obstacles that came along your way.
Look back on those sleepless nights, those grueling exams, those endless reading of papers. Remember when you generously gave your time and effort and be the best that you can be. Believe me, you will be surprised with how much of your future decisions, are shaped by your past actions.
This is something I learned from my own college days. Kan nagpuun po ako sa UP, masusupgun akong marhay. (I was a painfully shy probinsiyana when I entered the halls of the University of the Philippines.)
Quite naïve and unassuming, since I was still adjusting to life away from home. I decided to take up Economics, and my plan was to follow my father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. Everything was set in stone, so to speak: I was to take up law and practice back in my hometown.
Isi po nino ako ang matua kan mga aki kan sakung mga magurang. Dahil abugado ang sakuyang ama, sinabihan na ako sadit pa ako: Ma-abugado ka man. (You see, I am the eldest of my parents’ children. Because my father was a lawyer, I was told even when I was still young: You will also be a lawyer.) So the plan was, after I would take up economics I would take go to law school.
But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men go often awry. Things suddenly took on a hundred eighty degree turn when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated during the Marcos regime. Second year college ako kaito. (I was in second year college then).
I can still remember seeing photos of his lifeless body on the airport tarmac. It was a moment of political awakening for many of us. It shook our generation and the whole nation. There were times when we had to let go of our books, skip classes, and take to the streets our to make public our dissent and dismay with the administration.
So by the time I graduated, the news was out all over the world: the Filipino people have booted out a dictator and restored democracy. We proved to the world that peaceful transition was possible in a world marred by war and political crisis.
Those years would prove to be very influential on how I would proceed with my life. The revolution that transformed the whole nation, also transformed my ambitions. It gave me a glimpse of the world outside of school. It disturbed our generation. But more profoundly, it empowered the youth and gave them a voice.
Looking back, the triumph of EDSA would not have been possible without the participation of students – like you – who dared to fight and be heard. The message was clear: no matter how young, everyone had a role in defending our country’s democracy.
After graduation, aram po nindo si EDSA nangyari, fourth year college ako. (You know, EDSA happened when I was in fourth year college). After graduation, I decided to postpone my plans and instead, work in government. I applied for a job in the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office where I would meet and eventually marry my boss – Jesse.
The years that followed would prove to be some of the most challenging, yet equally rewarding years of our lives. Jesse would eventually enter politics and become Mayor of Naga. I, on the other hand, would take on several roles – both as a wife to Jesse and a mother to our daughters – while teaching Economics in the morning, and nagdesisyon man giraray na mag law, (still decided to study law), studying law at night. All throughout those hardships, Jesse was there to support me, giving me space for growth. Ours was a relationship based on mutual trust and our passion to serve our people.
After passing the bar, I joined a group called SALIGAN and served the poorest of the poor in many far-flung barangays. Every week, we would meet with farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous groups, and rural women – giving them free legal advice and seminars. We would translate laws into the local dialect and represent them in court.
Tigibo mi po kato, gabos na batas tigtranslate me sa Bikol, para maiintindihan, maski kan mga sadit na dai nakapag-adal. (What we did then is to translate all laws to Bicol, so that it can be understood even by those who were not able to get an education.)
We would go against large companies and powerful personalities, aiming always to defend the voiceless, and give them equal and fair access to our country’s justice system. That is how we tried to help transform and empower one community at a time, a vision that began when we were chanting for democracy on the streets of EDSA.
When Jesse was taken away from us, in August of 2012, I had to – once again – rearrange my life. Amid all of the pain and sorrow, I had to stay strong for our three children. If there is one thing that experiencing tragedy taught me, it is that even in the most difficult and harrowing of days – we must turn to our inner strength, embrace ourselves, and learn to get up for others.
Being a single parent has its bad days, but knowing that Jesse would also remain strong, if the situation was turned, inspires me to do better. The example of love and leadership Jesse gave us, is where I derive my strength in my current role as Vice President.
In the coming years, many of you will also become leaders in different organizations and perhaps in different companies. You will take on bigger roles and responsibilities, making decisions that will affect the lives of many. When that time comes – may you keep the fire of idealism burning in your hearts.
Nowadays, many of our youth have been subjected to noise and negativity, especially on social media, where fake news and trolls abound. Do not let all of these hate and anger get the best of you.
Focus on your work and get the job done. Whenever you lose sight of your purpose, remember your values and your principles. Fight for them – even if it means going against the tide of popularity and fame.
My dear graduates, today marks the beginning of yet another adventure for each one of you. As you face bigger challenges and conquer new heights, I hope you will never falter and stay true to yourself.
During these extraordinary times, there is much need for individuals who will fearlessly stand for truth and genuine service.
Leaders who will go the extra mile and serve our people with passion, excellence, empathy, and integrity.
As more opportunities come your way, may you never forget to serve the poor and the marginalized.
Use your knowledge to spark change in your communities. Employ your talents to create and to innovate. Now is the time to transform your dreams into reality.
Remember that you are never too young to create a difference. Each day brings a new opportunity to try and test out your ideas. Be brave. Fight for what you believe in. Make each moment count. The world out there is full of endless possibilities. Conquer it with your passion.
Lastly, never lose your sense of wonder. It will be your greatest weapon in the face of disbelief and negativity. It will be your shield in times of self-doubt and fear.
Let your idealism lead you as you make your way into the real world.
And in everything that you do, make each moment count and make your school proud.
Thank you very much and congratulations once again, Batch 2017!