4 questions to the graduates of 2015
This speech was delivered by the author during the commencement exercises of FEU Silang, Cavite on April 8, 2015.
Last year, when I gave the commencement speech in the graduation ceremonies of my alma mater FEU FERN, I shared some of the most moving stories I’ve encountered as a young journalist, hoping that the graduates will learn the lessons I acquired. Today, instead of merely telling you stories, I will do something that is integral to the job of a journalist – I will ask you questions – 4 questions that will hopefully make you uncomfortable, questions that will disturb you and make you think twice about your future decisions.
Why do we journalists ask questions? We ask questions because people deserve the truth. Because not everyone is honest enough to tell the truth. Because half truths – whether they be about the academic credentials of a senator or a government conspiracy to cover up a police operation in Mindanao – are also lies. We ask questions because the truth will help the public make informed decisions and hopefully, act against the injustices in society.
Ultimately, the job of a journalist is to tell the truth – no matter how devastating, shocking, and overwhelming the truth may be. From the poorest worker to the most powerful person in the country – we ask questions because it is our conviction to do so. Because journalism is a public trust.
Today, with the questions that I will ask you, I hope you’ll find the truth in yourselves so you can make better decisions and act toward the greater good.
1) Are you pursuing your passion?
The first question comes with the story of a volunteer named Girlie Lorenzo. When she was pursuing her masters degree in psychology in the Ateneo, Ate Girlie, as we fondly call her, worked with pediatric cancer patients for her thesis. After she graduated, Ate Girlie and her partner Icar Castro realized that they couldn’t let go of the experience, they couldn’t let go of the kids.
Because of this, they started an NGO called Kythe Inc. For the past 22 years, the organization has been practicing and advocating the Child Life Program, a method that uses play therapy and education to alleviate the anxiety of young patients with chronic illnesses like cancer, heart conditions, kidney disease and blood disorders. They started with two hospitals and now, they are present in 12. (READ: 'Seeing kids fly' – battling cancer with a smile)
Before the two founders left the Ateneo, they started the NGO’s student arm, Kythe-Ateneo, where they get their pool of volunteers. Kythe-Ateneo is really close to my heart. It was one of the organizations I supervised when I was an officer in the Council of Organizations of the Ateneo. What I love most about this organization is that it builds its members’ characters, preparing them to face the realities of the “real world” while affecting genuine change in the lives of kids with cancer.
It’s not always about playtime in Kythe-Ateneo. From time to time, the organization is faced with the question of death – especially when cancer or other chronic illness would beat one of our kids. The members would get depressed – some would question God, some would get angry at life, and some would even leave the organization. Ate Girlie would always come during debriefing sessions and remind the members why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s about giving hope to the kids and their families, she would say – hope that they can beat cancer and that life would get better.
Kythe has given hope to thousands of kids and their families in the past years. And it all started when two women decided to pursue their passion. When they decided that kids should get the treatment they deserve, when they started questioning the status quo in hospitals.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of pursuing your passion. As one legendary Ateneo teacher always tells student-leaders, “passion gives meaning to your life.” Your passion will give you the drive to wake up every morning and conquer the challenges you face. Passion will decide your future. It will make the difference between becoming successful in your career or waking up in your office desk 30 years from now, asking what you did with your life.
This is the first question I want you to ask yourself before making your college course/career choices: Are you pursuing your passion? Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life?
Are you passionate about the arts? Pursue that. Is it your passion to write stories? Then be a writer. It will never be easy at first. But your happiness and future will depend on it.
When I graduated from high school, my mother and my teachers wanted me to pursue Chemical Engineering. But that was not my passion. I wanted to write and become a journalist. If I had pursued chemical engineering, I would probably be in a better economic standing but I would not be happy. I probably wouldn’t be speaking to all of you today.
Some parents might not agree with me. Of course they want the best career for you and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in the end, it’s your happiness that matters. I’ve seen a lot of my batch mates quit their jobs and pursue further studies in a totally different degree just because they weren’t passionate about their courses in college.
Pursue your passion wholeheartedly. Master it. Be the best in it and success will just follow. That is my first question to all of you graduates: are you pursuing your passion?
Let me quote this legendary professor from Ateneo again. “Love your calling with passion. It is the meaning of your life.”
2) Are you doing your part in building the nation?
I’ve covered my share of disasters as a young journalist. We are, after all, living in the disaster capital of the world. Name a natural hazard and we have it, from earthquakes and tsunamis to typhoons and storm surges.
One coverage I will never forget is during Typhoon Maring in August 2013. My editors embedded me in one of the volunteer rescue teams that responded to Rosario, Cavite – one of the hardest-hit towns that was under a state of calamity then.
The leader of the response team was Eugene Boco, who hailed from Mindanao. Every time there’s a disaster, he and his team would mobilize and heed the call for help from their fellow Filipinos who are suffering. They are volunteers so they do this for free. If they get injured, they rely on donors to help them with their hospital bills. (WATCH: Volunteer rescue team)
And it’s not just these volunteer teams. Did you know that disaster responders in the Philippines don’t get hazard pay? That most of them don’t get tenureship for their positions, meaning, they don’t get regularized as employees? These people put themselves in harm’s way but they don’t get the benefits they deserve.
I’ve talked to many disaster responders experiencing this. Despite the financial challenges, they always say that they continue their job because it’s their passion and their part in nation-building.
Nation-building. Do we know the meaning of this phrase? It’s not merely confined to building houses for the poor or doing social work. It’s finding your place in society and doing your part to help raise the Philippines, our Philippines. You can build the nation by being a film director, and doing your part in raising the standards of Philippine cinema. You can build the nation by being a civil engineer and making disaster-resilient infrastructure. You can build the nation by being a doctor and responding to far-flung communities that don’t get proper healthcare.
Personally, I became a journalist because I wanted to tell stories like that of Eugene Boco and his team – true Filipinos who put their lives on the line even if they don’t get anything in return. Despite the temptation to take a managerial job in the corporate world – not that there’s anything wrong with that – I chose to pursue a career in journalism because I saw it as the best way to contribute to society. I want to tell stories that will inspire and provoke the Filipino people to act.
This is the question I pose to you: are you doing your part in building the nation? In building our Philippines?
3) Are you rooted in your realities?
Can I have a show of hands – who among you are Catholics? Did you get to see Pope Francis when he visited the Philippines?
I’m not a Catholic but the papal visit was one of the most important coverages I’ve had as a journalist. I studied in a Jesuit university so I'm naturally a fan of Pope Francis.
In the 5 days that the Pope was here, I covered mostly the Catholic devotees who followed him. I talked to devotees who traveled all the way from Mindanao, Catholic faithfuls who endured the bad weather and crowded streets just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis. I was as inspired by the Pope’s messages as I was inspired by the millions of Filipinos pursuing their faith.
For me, however, the most striking message during the 5-day visit was not from Pope Francis. It was from Cardinal Tagle, who happened to be my college commencement speaker. In the Pope’s Mass in Luneta, Tagle challenged Christians to go to the peripheries, to go where no one has gone, and spread the love of God.
What does that mean? In theology, there’s a study called Liberation Theology – that the knowledge of God should move Christians to oppose unjust social and political structures. This stems from the belief that God is in the margins, in the peripheries of society, with those who need Him most. Nasa gilid daw ang Diyos. The movement of Liberation Theology started in Latin America so you can see why Pope Francis puts strong emphasis in this area.
When Tagle gave that speech, I was moved to tears. Sometimes we live our lives thinking that we’re at the center of the universe. But what about our countrymen living in poverty? Do we even think about them? We live in a developing country, we only need to look outside our gates to see how many of our countrymen are suffering.
Sino ba yung mga nasa periphery? Yung mga pulubi na kumakatok sa ating mga pintuan pero hindi natin pinapansin. Yung mga dating OFW na ngayon walang matirhan, natutulog na lang sa mga kalye ng Maynila. Yung mga kababayan natin sa Leyte na tuwing malalamang may paparating na bagyo, nanginginig sa takot at iniiwan ang mga bahay nila para makaligtas.
Sometimes we keep looking but do not really see. Minsan kasi nasisilaw tayo sa mga mukha nila. Hindi natin matitingan. Takot tayong maapektuhan. So we go on with our lives not minding them.
Poverty is a reality in our country. Despite our booming economy, real change has not trickled down to the poorest of the poor, those who need it the most. Millions of our countrymen can’t have 3 meals a day. Most of the poor people are lucky to get even one meal a day.
This is my third question: are you rooted in your realities? Are your feet anchored on the realities of your country?
I don’t get how some people can stomach living in luxury while so many people outside their doorsteps have nothing. It’s okay to enjoy life’s pleasures from time to time. But I hope you are aware of the realities of our country and moreover, I hope you’re contributing to changing them.
4) Are you being the change you want to see in the world?
The last question comes from a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi. It’s a question that’s been asked so many times in speeches and even in pop songs.
But first a quick recap. I asked you 3 questions: Are you pursuing your passion? Are you doing your part in nation-building? Are you rooted in your realities?
All these 3 questions wouldn’t matter if you don’t have the right answer to this last question. Are you being the change you want to see in the world?
One thing I learned about people is that while we always talk about change and development in society, we are the most resistant to change ourselves. We protest against the pork barrel scam yet we refuse to stop cheating in school and in our offices. We want our government leaders to tell the truth yet we like making up excuses about our constant tardiness.
It all boils down to you. What change do you want to see in society? Are you willing to change yourself first?
Change will always come from the individual, from inward out. You want a better country? Start with yourself and then influence others to do so. Change is never easy to accept and never easy to do. But doing so will help you shine in a world that’s so dark. Think of Ate Girlie, Eugene Boco, and Pope Francis – they started with themselves and now they’re changing systems, saving lives and giving hope to people.
Hindi madali ang pagbabago. Isipin niyo na lang kung paano nagbibigay ng liwanag ang kandila. Paano nagbibigay ng liwanag ang kandila? Kasi nagpapaubos ito. Habang nagbibigay siya ng liwanag, nauubos siya. Ganun din sa atin – habang nagbibigay ka ng liwanag, mapapagod ka, mauubos ka pero ang mahalaga naapektuhan mo ang mga tao sa paligid mo at nakapagbigay ka ng liwanag.
(Change is never easy. How does a candle give light? Because it lets itself be consumed. While it gives light, it gets consumed. It's the same process we will go through when we give out light, you will get tired, you will feel bare, but the important thing is that you were able to give light.)
You are graduates of the FEU. You are part of the top 10% of the country’s youth. Huwag niyong kalimutan yung 90% na kapwa natin kabataan. You are Tamaraws. A tamaraw is strong, powerful and agile. But beyond these external characteristics, a tamaraw has a strong core, a big heart, and a will that’s unbendable. Being a tamaraw is both a privilege and a responsibility.
To end, all I wanted to do today was to challenge your perception, to help you find meaning in your confusion about what course you should take or what career you should pursue after graduation.
Anong Filipino translation ng meaning? Kahulugan. Anong root word ng kahulugan? Hulog. Ang ganda ng pagpapaliwanag ng isang Philosophy prof sa Ateneo sa salitang kahulugan. Minsan magulo ang buhay, ang daming bagay na nakalutang sa ere, and you just want things to fall into place – mahulog sa tamang kalalagayan. Though things fall apart, things may also fall in place. Though things fall apart, things may also fall in place.
Pursue your passion and everything else will fall in place. Do your part in nation-building and everything else will fall in place in this country. Be rooted in your realities and see things in their proper place and meaning. “Be the change you want to see in the world” and everything else will fall in its place.
Today is a celebration of the last 4 years you spent in high school. Cherish it and make it memorable. Life will only get harder after this. You will get broken, you will cry, people will discriminate against you and tell you that you’re not good enough. But amid all the challenges and hardships you will face, I hope you will rise from the rubble and find your place in this world, and when everything falls in place, you'll find meaning in your life.
Congratulations and thank you! – Rappler.com