Here's a copy of my speech which I delivered today (March 22, 2013) in the graduation ceremony of St. Anthony School in Singalong Manila. There were 153 high school graduates. Due to the afternoon downpour, the ceremony was consequently moved inside the church just beside the open air quadrangle, where it is traditionally held. I thought I'd post the transcript here so that I can share it with all of you as well!
St. Anthony School Director, Rev. Fr Benito B. Tuazon,
School Principal, Mrs. Susan S. Canlas
Academic Affairs Coordinator, Mrs. Azucena Inalisan
Student Affairs Coordinator, Mrs. Carmelita R. Mamorno
Prefect of Discipline, Mr. Jason Madamba
Mrs. Mars Belo of CCF
Mrs. Bernadette Manansala, HR Head
Subject Area Coordinators
Alumni Association President, Mr. Virgilio Centeno
Dear teachers, graduates, parents, friends: good afternoon!
First of all, I would like to congratulate all of you, graduates of St. Anthony School for having accomplished this milestone in your lives! Congratulations as well to your parents, who worked extremely hard to make this day possible, and to the school’s administration, faculty, and staff for their dedication in imparting their knowledge and wisdom to you.
Believe it or not, this is the very first time I am giving a graduation address. I’ve had many requests which I’ve had to turn down due to my chaotic schedule, all except this one that Fr. Benny sent. Why? I was truly amazed with the persistence and resourcefulness of Father. He took the extra mile to get in touch with me. For the record, he contacted a friend of his, who contacted another friend, who happened to be the head of the Ateneo Alumni Association, who sent me an email, which I happened to receive despite my flooded inbox. And viola! Here I am standing in front of you today. Sometimes my dear graduates, it helps to be persistent! And I believe this is meant to be; there are no accidents in God’s plan or in other words, in God's providence, nothing happens by chance. So thank you again Fr. Benny! It is an honor to be your guest speaker today. And it is my pleasure as well, because this brings back fond memories from 10 years ago, when I was sitting in your place, listening to our graduation speaker.
[Freedom in University Life]
Now, let’s talk about university life, which you all are excited and worried about at the same time! And I can’t blame you. Surely you have heard people say that college life may bring about unpleasant moments to which you will have to adapt. But also, you will be on your own, with nobody to babysit you or tell you what to do or who to hang out with. You will be “free.” I had the best time of my life in college. I did an exchange program in France. I started my first ever food stall business in campus. I joined the basketball team. I met lots of interesting people and beautiful women as well.
Freedom in university life is like setting out on an adventure. Think of Columbus or Magellan. And the most important thing to know about this adventure is that whether you do it in Ateneo, UP, La Salle, UST, UA&P (or even Harvard or Stanford for that matter), the name of your school will not guarantee the discovery of new lands, or the achievement of success or happiness. You may wonder, so what will help you achieve true success and real happiness? The answer is: a life of virtue. More than titles, achievements or financial wealth, it is only when you use your freedom correctly, in committing yourself to do the good and pursue the truth, and thereby living a life of virtue, will you really be happy!
That may have sounded a little complicated but it’s really not that difficult to understand. In simple words, the only way to use the freedom which university life can give you is to choose to live a virtuous life, virtues such as hard work, modesty, honesty, perseverance, and sacrifice. Let me add here the core values of the St. Anthony award such as charity, humility, simplicity and love for creation. Regardless of the school you will find yourselves in, the important thing is to develop these age-old and timeless virtues, which you have already begun to know here at St. Anthony. Thus the last thing you want when you are in college is to be complacent, and to think that you have “made it” just by making it into college. If this is how you think, then you are setting yourself up for failure.
Tulad ninyo, nung nag-aaral pa ako, marami din akong mga tanong. “Why do we have to solve such frustrating and difficult math and science problems? ‘Di naman natin gagamiting ito sa labas ng paaralan! (I’m not going to use these after college anyway!)” Tama ba? But then later on, I understood that they were actually training me to think logically, critically, and with clarity. I was being trained to be disciplined, to persevere under stress and time pressure! And whether you believe it or not, I have learned to apply those things on the basketball court and when I go out battling in the real world called life!
[Going Against the Wind]
Now some of you might ask: “Why is it not okay to cheat? I’m just ‘double checking’ my work anyway! Besides, everybody is doing it!”
I’d like to share with you a simple advise constantly repeated by my mom. It goes like this: “Just because everybody is doing it, it doesn’t mean it is right”.
Francis Kong, one of my favorite columnists and speakers, wrote about how truth is absolute. Here’s a simple analogy he gave: “If you are at a streetlight and it turns red, what do you do? You stop because it’s red and you’re supposed to stop. But, when the light turns red, and you look at the car next to you and it’s moving, you become unsure whether to stop or to keep moving as well. So what do you do? You become unsure. This is what we call - relativism.” This is when truth is twisted -- and even destroyed -- to suit one’s preferences.
Unfortunately, this relativism is now evident wherever we look. Many times, photos, videos or conversations that portray violence, sex, adultery are now portrayed so casually. We see them when we are on the road everyday on billboards, when we flip through magazines, turn on our TVs, computers, or mobile phones. They are everywhere! Thus, we fall into the danger of becoming desensitized. Now, what does that mean? To be desensitized is to become numb. What really is wrong becomes acceptable because we see it all the time.
A few weeks ago, I attended the blessing and inauguration of Xavier School Nuvali in Laguna. Father Johnny Go gave a beautiful homily which struck me! He talked about the Latin phrase Contra ventum tibi ambulandum est, which was printed on one of the stained glass windows in the chapel. It translates to “You need to walk against the wind.”
There is a need to go against the culture of relativism and mediocrity! We have to rebel against them, like St. Francis Xavier who went against every advice and sailed towards Asia to introduce Jesus Christ and the Gospel to India, Japan, and the Moluccas. And like Blessed John Paul II who also went against popular culture of the modern world and condemned abortion, contraception and the ordination of women, among others.
When I was still a student in Ateneo, I received a lucrative offer to do a TV commercial for a consumer brand. But the problem was that I had to go topless. The problem was not that I didn’t have six-pack abs, because I really don’t… just four (hehe!), unlike Derek Ramsey (who I think has 8 or more?). But it was against my principle to go topless on national television. So I declined the offer, but in the end, they allowed me to wear a body suit. The campaign was done tastefully. I mean, it was a beach setting to begin with. But with the prevalence of so many half-naked billboards and ads all around us, we cannot even determine which are immodest and which aren’t. And because we see them all the time, we tend to imitate them without realizing that we are dressing immodestly. This is because we have become desensitized. And we cannot and should not tolerate that.
[Freedom to Love]
Now, let’s talk a little bit about a topic that you all love, and that is, LOVE! Maniwala kayo sa hindi, I had my first and only girlfriend when I was in high school. How many of you have boyfriends or girlfriends? (No one raises their hands! Ya right!) There’s nothing wrong with being in a relationship. Love is wonderful! It gives us joy. But it is difficult and has consequences. One thing that bothers me when I watch Western movies or TV shows is how casually they portray sex among non-married couples, one night stands, and worse, teenagers and same-sex couples! I hope you guys don’t believe that giving your bodies to your partners at this age is manifestation of true love! Because it isn’t!
When I was playing in the UAAP for the Ateneo Blue Eagles, (you guys were probably still watching cartoons then), I had four years of disappointment and pain because we missed the championship every year. Year in and year out, I would put in so much time and effort working on my game to become a better player and a better leader. I made lots of sacrifices and preserved through the stressful life of a student athlete. And in my 5th and last year when I was team captain as well, we finally won the much-coveted championship to the joy of the entire Ateneo community. What made it so sweet was the fact that we endured so many years of adversity and made so many sacrifices until our dream became a reality! Not to mention that we also defeated our archrivals in the finals (whose name I will not mention J )
Why did I mention that? Because, true love is about the freedom to make sacrifices for one another: in the case of romantic relationships, waiting for love to be blessed in marriage. Besides, by sacrificing, we also develop fortitude of spirit that will allow us to face challenges head on. Sacrifice, as I have learned in my years with the Blue Eagles, also makes the end-goal (which is success) more satisfying.
I know I’ve been speaking too long already. But I just had to add this a few hours ago just after reading in the newspaper about a 2nd year high school student in Batangas who committed suicide because of bullying and more so, cyber-bullying. He took his own life using a gun. This is truly devastating!! Reminder: to those bullied, taking your life is never the solution. To the witnesses and bystanders, please report it right away. Who knows, you might save a life! To the teachers and administrators, don’t take bullying lightly. To the parents, write to the school if your son is being bullied AND make sure to set good examples to your kids because you are their role models.
So guys, make sure to use your social media accounts responsibly!!
[Freedom to Love God]
Let me end this by giving you a story about a boy and a barber having a conversation. I got this from a graduating high school student like you. The boy is named Alvaro and the barber is named Mang Boyet.
Sinabe ni Mang Boyet kay Alvaro, “Alvaro, alam mo ba, hindi ako naniniwala sa Diyos”
“Baket naman po?” sagot ni Alvaro
“Tumingin ka sa labas. Eh kung totoong may Diyos, baket ang daming naghihirap? Baket ang daming nagkakasakit? Bakit ang daming namamatay ng walang kasalanan? Hindi ba kung totoo ang Diyos niyong yan eh isang tawag lang naten at matutulungan niya na tayo”
Sabi ni Alvaro: “Ahh ganun po ba Mang Boyet…….Mang Boyet, tumingin ka sa labas.”
Sumagot si Mang Boyet: “Oh baket, anong meron?”
Sagot in Alvaro: “Baket ang daming mahahaba ang buhok?”
“Kase di sila pumupunta saken para magpagupit.”, sabi ni Mang Boyet
Tanong ni Alvaro: “Hindi po ba pwedeng gupitan mo na lang sila kahet ayaw nila?”
“Syempre hindi.” sagot ni Mang Boyet
At humirit si Alvaro, sabi niya kay Mang Boyet: “Ganun lang din po yun Mang Boyet. Hindi naman tayo pwede pakelaman ng Diyos kung hindi naten siya hahayaan makapasok sa mga sarili natin. Kailangan din naten lumapit at mag bukas loob para mapalapit tayo sa kanya”
If God did not have the chance to enter your lives, my dear graduating students, then you should now think twice. Are you giving him a chance to enter your life in the first place? As you begin your university life, remember to choose HIM first and as you strive to live the virtues, use your freedom well! Study well, get into sports, live healthy, make friends, and enjoy the ride! Remember that He is your real Goal. With that, God will bless you with a happiness that the world cannot give.
Congratulations once again! God bless you all!