Now, more than ever

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 22, 2009

Late last week, I attended the 155th Commencement Rites of De La Salle University, which marked the formal graduation of my daughter and-according to university officials-1,099 other graduates. Over the years, I’ve sat through quite a number of commencement speeches. This time, I enjoyed them all. But one truly moved me, which I am-with permission-reproducing in abridged form, here. It was delivered by Nicole Marie R. Villarojo, the outgoing student council president.

“A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending time with 31 brilliant Filipino minds-the future movers and shakers of this country. I went there thinking I was well above everyone else-a city girl who came from a well-to-do family who studied in one of the most expensive private universities in the country. However, the experience proved to be humbling. The stories I was told were burned into my heart.

“One of my roommates is an aspiring accountant from Tuguegarao and the humble daughter of a tricycle driver. Another is an education major from Bohol and the proud daughter of a carpenter. We had a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who, despite having only 30 days a year to spend with his family, used that time to recruit volunteers from PMA to build houses for Gawad Kalinga .

“A particularly touching story was from a Physics graduate from Dumaguete who came from an extremely poor family. His home had no electricity and in the evenings, his home was lit by two crude lamps. When they malfunctioned, he would be forced to leave his bed (which he shared with his three siblings) and study under the nearest street lamp. He used his first winnings from a science competition not to buy his prized cell phone, but to buy his family their first toilet. He finished Summa Cum Laude and devotes himself to research for our country.

“I felt so insignificant hearing their stories, knowing how they battled their personal demons and how, despite them, they remained steadfast in their faith in their God and their love for this country. I realized that while we don’t choose to be born poor or rich, what is important is what we make of what is given to us,” Ms. Villarojo said, and she suggested that she and her fellow graduates face a great challenge.

“More than ever, our country needs us. Too often we are confronted with news of massive corruption; of unexplained deaths and disappearances of farmers, of students, of journalists, of leaders who have placed their personal agenda above the needs and aspirations of our country and our people. We hear of (obsolete, draconian) laws that are conveniently resurrected and made menacingly real and of lawmakers who continue to make a mockery of our government.

“We have a responsibility to reverse the tide of injustice and mediocrity,” Ms. Villarojo concluded. “My dream for our country is simple: DREAM AS ONE; for all of us to work tirelessly, together, to BUILD THIS NATION.

“I hope our future educators can significantly help shape the young Filipino minds of the next generation; our future engineers to help house our countrymen who continue to squat in their own country; our future businessmen and women to create products and provide services to make Filipino lives better; our future artists to continue preserving and enriching our Filipino culture; for those in the field of IT to become the bridge between us and the rest of the world; and for our future scientists to provide groundbreaking research for our country.

“Let me end with some words from Jose Diokno : ‘We Filipinos are a variegated people. We live in seven thousand islands. We profess no less than five major religions. We pray in no fewer than seven native tongues. But all of us-Muslims or Christian, Tagalog or Visayan or Ilocano or Kapampangan, all of us are Filipinos not only because we are brothers in blood-many of us are not, but because we are all brothers in tears; not because we all share the same land-many of us are landless, but because we share the same dream. Whether we like it or not we are one nation with one future, a future that will be as bright or as dark as we remain united or divided.’

“I hope to see all of you in 2010 casting a vote for our country, casting a vote for our children; so that the next generation can inherit an even better Philippines,” Ms. Villarojo challenged her fellow graduates. It was wonderful to hear a young graduate intelligently call on her generation to rescue the Philippines from the malaise that has kept it an economic dwarf in a region of prosperity.

Our hope now is that the fire in her heart won’t be extinguished by the realities Ms. Villarojo and her fellow graduates now face as young professionals. And, we hope that the Philippines can hold on to them despite the lure of overseas opportunities as they build families and careers. Ms. Vallarojo is right. Her country needs her and her fellow graduates more than ever.

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