Office of the Vice President
2 June 2017
Commencement Address at the University of Northern Philippines 2017 Graduation Exercises,Tamag, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur,01 June 2017
Mayor Juan Carlo Medina, Mayor of Vigan City; Dr. Gilbert Arce, UNP President; Dr. Ferdinand Lamarca, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Mr. Albert Tejero, Vice President for Finance and Administration; Dr. Edwin Cadorna, Vice President for Research and Extension; Dr. Mario Obrero, Vice President for Student and External Affairs; Members of the Board of Regents, academic deans, department chairpersons, directors, faculty members, administrative personnel, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat!
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you on your very special day. Today marks an important milestone in your lives – when all hopes are high and the future is filled with promise. So, congratulations, Class of 2017 for making it this far!
But before leaving the hallowed halls of this university, take this moment to look back and be grateful. Remember those sleepless nights, those grueling exams, and the endless readings – these are hurdles that have shaped your character. Remember your parents, your teachers, your classmates, and your friends – people who have given their unconditional love and support throughout your journey. Remember those difficult moments – when you held on to your faith and never gave up. All of these memories have made your day – today – possible.
My dear graduates, today on your graduation day, is the time to make crucial decisions: How are you going to spend the rest of your lives? Are you going to take that leap and create ripples of change in our society? Or are you going to cower, turn away, and be paralyzed with fear?
Today, your generation faces a difficult challenge: that of nation building during extraordinary times. Here and around the world, there are massive changes in the structures of power. The world of business is changing right before your eyes. We sit here with all our comforts, but in other areas of the world, families cower in terror at the constant sound of gunfire. In Marawi City, media reports show that thousands have been displaced by the fighting. Let us be watchful, but calm. Let us be prayerful, and poised for action at the same time. Let us choose to believe that our government will be judicious in the use of power, and use it well to improve our people’s lives.
Let us also not forget that great things are happening as well. Technology will allow those of you with mothers and fathers overseas who cannot make it today, to watch you during your graduation real time through the use of Facebook Live or video calls. Doctors can save lives more often now than before, teachers can touch the lives of someone living in another country through distance learning, and social media has raised awareness for many different causes and spurred individuals into action.
Be brave and ask yourself the most difficult questions: What will be your role in these extraordinary times? How can you turn the world around for our people—little by little, in our own way—and lead them to live better lives? How do you give back to them the confidence and hope that they may have lost due to adversity?
Genuine service demands that we always come from a place of understanding and empathy. It means walking among those whom you serve and listening to their stories. It means reaching out to those who have long been forgotten. Turn your gaze on these communities. The simple act of listening uplifts their spirits—that for once, there is someone who is willing to be their voice in a time when theirs are too weak to be heard. It means empowering them and making them realize their full potential, no matter where they come from. It means helping them find the audacity to dream and turn their dreams into reality, that they too can rise and succeed.
If we are to truly change how things have been, we must constantly retell and highlight narratives that chronicle the everyday struggles of our people. Only then can our conversations spark hope, inspire action, and spread light in the darkest, farthest corners of our country.
This is something I learned during my days as an alternative lawyer for an NGO called SALIGAN. For more than a decade, I spent countless days, traveling to the most unheard of barangays, traversing the most unfamiliar of paths. There we would organize communities and give free legal services to marginalized groups. We would eat and live with farmers, fisherfolk, rural women, and indigenous peoples. There we would hear their stories of struggle and fear. We would counsel them and go against big, powerful companies. Even in those far-flung areas, we saw that change need not take place in big, majestic gestures.
As future leaders of this nation, you are in a powerful position to inspire fellow millennials to take on the challenge of serving our people. But keep in mind that we are given the opportunity to serve not because we want to lead and take power into our hands. We are here because people have placed their hope in us. To be there for them in service. To share in their joys, in their pains, and in their struggles. At times, serving may seem like a thankless job, but leadership demands this very responsibility.
But remember: it is a shared responsibility, a work that is not shouldered by only one, but by all, in achieving our collective goals.
This is the anchor of the Office of the Vice President’s Angat Buhay initative. We are piloting our programs under Angat Buhay in more than 127 very poor local government units in our country. These local government units are being linked with much-needed aid and resources from our various partners.
I know that many of you here dream of making a difference. You want to create a mark in this world by making a positive impact. And at times, it will not be easy; the world may tell you that your ideas are too idealistic or too ambitious. People may question your ways and ideas and you may feel discouraged. Do not let these stop you. Do not be afraid. The world needs your creativity and fresh eyes; it needs your energy and rigor. It needs your imagination and determination.
In the coming years, many of you will lead organizations. Some of you will be doctors, some of you will be lawyers, and CEOs of your own companies, teachers, nurses, businessmen. 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 belly.
Today, we face a broken nation. Especially in many parts of Mindanao, where differences in political beliefs and ideology continue to tear communities and families apart. But these threats against life and property have never crushed the Filipino spirit. Instead, they have given birth to everyday heroes, to acts of generosity and kindness. Time and again, we have proven to the world that trials and adversities only make us stronger.
On the other hand, we have seen how quest for power and position bring out the worst in people. On social media, many turn to propaganda to sow seeds of hate and anger. Everyday, we are bombarded with lies and character assassinations. Being angry seems to make people pay more attention. Let us not allow this culture of hate and animosity define us as a people.
In the face of all these challenges, we are called to be bearers of light; to choose light over darkness; to choose hope over hopelessness. You, my dear graduates, can do so much in changing the conversation from anger to hope.
Do not let noise and negativity dampen your dreams. Focus on your vision for a better country. Never think of an easy way out. Find meaning in your work and let your work give meaning to others. Do not be afraid to swim against the tide. Huwag tayong matatakot na panindigan ang ating mga ipinaglalaban. Tandaan po natin, hindi ito kailanman idinidikta ng ating pinanggagalingan o katayuan sa buhay.
Paalala ni Lualhati Bautista sa kanyang nobelang Dekada ’70, and I quote: “Ang payapang pampang ay para lang sa mga pangahas na sasalunga sa alimpuyo ng mga alon sa panahon ng unos.” Close quote. Gusto pong sabihin: Peaceful shores are only for those who are brave enough to face the raging waves during storms.
As you face bigger waves and rise above them, I hope you will always choose to fight with love and kindness. Now, more than ever, we need leaders who will serve our people with passion and excellence. Leaders who will lead – not with brute force and intimidation – but with empathy and compassion.
So, go forth and be living symbols of hope for our people. Illuminate every corner of this nation with faith and transformative action. Believe that, one day, all the pain and sacrifice will be worth it. That one day – we will look back and smile, because we never lost hope in our cause.
So, go forth, Class of 2017, and seize the day. Set the world on fire with passion and love and make us all proud.
Maraming salamat, congratulations sa inyong lahat, at mabuhay po kayong lahat!