Office of the Vice President
31 May 2017
Message at the Gordon College 15TH COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES,Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center, Zambales, 31 May 2017
Mayor Rolen Paulino, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees; Dr. Imelda Soriano, College President; Vice Mayor Aquilino Cortez of Olongapo City; our city councilors who are here this afternoon; SBMA Director Cynthia Paulino, magandang hapon po sa inyo; the Members of the Board of Trustees of Gordon College, good afternoon; officials, faculty, administrators, non-teaching staff, graduates, parents, my fellow workers in government, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.
It is always an honor to be invited to speak at a graduation ceremony, and a joy to be among students, parents, and teachers celebrating the fruits of years of hard work.
Today is a day of many emotions, possibly even conflicting ones. It is a day of pride, not only for you, my dear graduates, but also for your families.
Talking about scientific discoveries, Isaac Newton wrote, and I quote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Close quote. Ita-translate ko lang: Kaya malayo ang aking natatanaw ay dahil nakatayo ako sa balikat ng mga higante. I think it is also an apt expression to refer to how your loved ones have helped you get to where you are today. Because of their unwavering support and their sacrifices, your future is brighter. So, always remember to thank your giants.
Today is also a day of hope because before me, I see the future of our country—and that is not a motherhood statement. I see soon-to-be teachers, businessmen, lawyers, nurses, among others. Men and women of integrity, and optimism for our country. Moving forward, I pray you never lose sight of your values. Your generation will play a crucial role in defining what our country will stand for in a few years’ time. Would we still be a champion of liberty and empathy? Your voice will matter very much.
Today might even be a day of relief. Maybe there were days when you thought you could not possibly survive your “hell week.” Maybe there were sleepless nights. Perhaps, there were fears of failing a class or two. But now, here you are. Those moments are long past, and your success is even sweeter, knowing everything you went through, both the good and the bad.
And understandably, it is also a day of apprehension. In the months leading up to your graduation, how many times have you been asked, “What are your plans after college?” How many times have you wondered if you were ready to be an adult? You are moving on to a new chapter in your life, to the “real world,” but maybe you are not sure if the things you learned in school are enough to get by.
Let me tell you a secret: No one is truly, 100% ready for what comes next. Not me, not your parents or mentors when we were your age. Where we are now, how we seem to have it all figured out—these are products of continuous learning long after we have left our classrooms.
Yes, even after fourteen or more years of education, your learning continues. But in this new chapter, your examinations are questions of choices. About the career path you would follow, about the relationships you would forge and let go, about the principles you will choose to fight for.
The journey ahead is yours alone. The best that those who came before you can do, is guide you with love, and with the lessons we have learned from our own journeys.
Mine is a story of plans altered by a louder call to serve, where I felt I was most needed. My father was a judge in our hometown, and the plan was for me, his eldest, to take up law and follow in his footsteps.
But while I was in college, my political awakening happened. During my sophomore year as an Economics major at the University of the Philippines, Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. I found that my duty as a student and my duty as a Filipino were one and the same. It required leaving classrooms bound by four painted walls, for a different kind of classroom defined by love and concern for a concept as fluid as “country.”
When I graduated, I knew that law school had to wait. Government work was calling for me, and I applied at a government office called the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office where I met the man who would later become my husband. But that is another story.
By the time I decided to finally pursue law, I was already a wife and a mother. I had to juggle my law classes at night with my day job as an Economics professor, and my duties as the wife of the city mayor.
After I passed the Bar, I took a very divergent path. I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer for the poor, for farmers and fisherfolk who needed to be empowered to fight for their rights. My days were spent trekking through mountains, and my nights sleeping in boats, for lack of a place to sleep. But only to be woken up at two in the morning when the fishermen had to take the boat back so they can go to the sea and catch fish. At that time, my job was to teach them about the law and how to use it to protect themselves.
Was it easy? Not at all. Did I know exactly what I was doing? Not really. Many times, I learned on the job as I figured out how to listen well, not just with compassion, but also with empathy.
When the going gets tough, it is easy to get lost in doubt. When that happens, learn to take a step back. Bring your focus back to your goals, to the image of the future you wish to have. Face your hardship and say, “If not today, when? If not me, then who?” Kung hindi ngayon, kalian pa? Kung hindi ako, sino? I assure you this will keep you from wasting time on complaining and venting unproductively.
Today you are called upon to become transformative and globally competitive graduates of your beloved institution. The latter will be easy to remember. The rest of the world will remind you of the value of competitive advantage because the common idea of success hinges on that.
But being “transformative” is what this world needs more of. It means paying attention to what is going on around you, and taking the opportunity to choose empathy. Choosing to be honest in an age of fake news. Choosing to be kind when you are surrounded by hatred. Choosing to care about the people that others have forgotten about. That is how you transform the world.
It is a worthwhile cause, but people are hesitant to respond to that call. There seems to be an impression that if you want to serve others, you have to forget about your own needs. That to be selfless means to leave nothing for yourself. But that is not the case. Of course, you have your own families to support and ambitions to chase. Service does not always have to be grandiose. Its value is not found in its extravagance. Service does not demand you to abandon them. It simply asks you to remember those who have been left behind and find your own little way to reach out.
That quiet, attentive kind of service spells the work we do at the Office of the Vice President, particularly with our Angat Buhay program. We seek to transform 127 of the country’s poorest and most remote municipalities, with the most progressive and accountable leaders. We are in six core advocacies: rural development, universal health care, education, food security and nutrition, women empowerment, and housing.
Chances to make your community a better place will always exist. Whether you seek them out is another one of your choices – the choices you will make in your personal journey. It might not be easy, but what a chance to fight for our collective dream of prosperity for our country.
As you leave the comforts of your alma matter and confront a much bigger world, take heart. Steadfastly hold on to your principles because they will serve as your compass in making decisions in a turbulent world.
Do not make the easy choices just because you’re afraid of making the wrong ones. There is no such thing as a perfect choice, not in matters of life. But there is a choice to be honest, and a choice to be kind. There is a choice to be empathic, and that is more than enough.
Thank you for sharing this day with me. Again, congratulations to you, Class of 2017. Mabuhay po kayong lahat!