Graduation Speech for Ateneo de Zamboanga Grade School, 20 March 2014

28 03 2014

Friends are requesting for me to share this speech I delivered as graduation speaker for my alma mater, a week ago. I intend to post some of the photos I used in the powerpoint presentation that I used with this speech. So this is quite incomplete. But here it is…

To the Ateneo de Zamboanga University President, Fr. Karel S. San Juan of the Society of Jesus, the Grade School Principal Madame Pilar C. Agraviador, Assistant Principal and my older sister’s Grade 4 moderator Ms. Nimfa Fortich-Mabalot, Registrar and Youth for Christ Tita Mrs. Marilyn I. Mariano, Director of Student Services and former English teacher who first taught me that shan’t is a contraction of shall not, Mrs. Marilou R. Drapiza, My Grade 5 Canisius and Grade 6 Ignatius moderator, Ms. Virginia Quilala-Dela Cruz, My Junior Preparatory moderator, Ma’am Fe Delantar, My Grade 4 Berchmans moderator Mrs. Jessica G. Fernandez, and to my other former teachers who are still as vibrant in carrying on the Ateneo legacy: Mr. Simplicio Dela Cruz Jr., Mrs. Emerita Datugan, My Librarian Ma’am Aida Rodriguez, (additional names), to the honorable teachers, educators, to my dear graduating students and to your proud parents, family, and friends, to my very own, beautiful mother, Mrs. Zenaida Canillo Solis, guests, ladies and gentlemen, a wonderful afternoon to us all.

While I was seated uncomfortably as a grade school graduating student, listening to my graduation speaker whom I vaguely remember now, in the now-named Brebeuf Gymnasium, not so long ago, my mind was already drifting way ahead of my time. I remember making a promise to myself that one day, I would also make a commencement speaker in my lifetime. And today, another dream of mine has come true. And for this, I would like to thank the administration, headed by Mrs. Agraviador and Mabalot, for being my fairy godmothers in this considerably a Disney-like occasion in my life. I still wonder how I ended up being chosen to speak in front of you today. I have always perceived graduation speakers to be much older, nay, much wiser than say, I. I thought, maybe I have done something right in my life afterall. Or maybe the graduation committee thought that I had something to say, as I am used to addressing students, as a professor, and a communication scholar and practitioner, at that. In the end, when the time came for me to give my response to the invitation, I said yes, as this was afterall a rare opportunity. I thought it was rather stupid and brave of me to do so. Stupid because I am getting into something “beyond me”; to inspire children transitioning into their teens and eventually adulthood is a tremendous task, it would be arrogant of me to believe I could do it. And brave because I did accept anyway, despite the necessary high expectation to inspire.

The only time I fully embraced this task of “inspiring” you was when I accepted the fact that I don’t know it all and I don’t have it all, and that I never will. And so I am in front of all of you not to be inspired by me, but to reflect with me. And that in your own reflections, you will be inspired even more by what you’ve already accomplished, including your graduation today. And with the experiences of someone like me, who has gone ahead of you, (by just a few years) you will get excited about the fact that life has so much more to offer you as you move forward in your own lives. I guess that’s the only way I can be relevant to all of you today. As a teacher, I will help you learn a bit more, by using my own life stories and lessons. Because as I have gone through this school, so shall you also go through the path of ongoing learning, as I still do.

As a communicator, I will be saying a lot for sure, but as a strategic communicator, in the end, I want you to remember only one message: TRANSCENDENCE. And this is the word that we are going to reflect on together this afternoon.

Transcendence is defined by the great Merriam-Webster as the quality or state of being able to transcend, or “extend or exceed beyond the usual limits of ordinary experience.” To illustrate, going back to saying yes to that invitation to speak in front of you today, that is transcendence. I went beyond my own self-imposed limits to who I can be and what I can do. And having said that, I’m sure that you are also now being brought to those instances when you yourselves had to confront a scenario when you had to choose whether to say no or run away because you felt that you could not do it, or to say yes and accept a challenge because you listened to that force, that energy within you that told you to move forward instead of running away. I am sure that everyday, we all have that confrontation with transcendence. Like that time when you were very eager to recite in class but were afraid your answer could be wrong. Or that instance when you wanted to dance during the Linggo ng Wika, or have that solo line in a choral recitation contest, or to join a talent competition or beauty pageant, but shied away. Or that moment when you wanted to lead in a class activity but got contented with someone else doing it for you. Or to share a great and exciting idea for a Science project but got too insecure that your group mates wouldn’t like it. Maybe that occasion when you wanted to stand up against a bully but did not because you thought you were a loser. Or when you felt that you are not beautiful, that you are dumb, and that your skin is too dark, or that you’re fat (refer to senior preparatory photo, joke about how I looked but was the most handsome for my mom). My dear boys and girls, these experiences did not just happen just for no reason. These things happened because life is preparing you for even bigger problems and challenges. Remember these times in your life. We will go back to these later.

Until now, I remember how my high school moderator of two years, Fr. James Gascon (refer to photo from Fr. James’ ordination), called me a minimalist. It was the time when I was discerning whether or not to pursue College in Manila and choosing which university to go to. My instinct was to take my College in Ateneo de Zamboanga as they were starting the Medical School then and I was invited to be one of their first students there. I felt flattered and was happy with the invitation. But Fr. Gascon wasn’t. He told me: “There you go again with your minimalist self. How would you know your full capacity if you stuck to what is comfortable to you?” The words were considerably hurtful, and like a huge slap on my face, worked as a wake up call to me. I realized I was too afraid to move to Manila because in Zamboanga, I have begun to establish a good reputation of myself, that I was already something. But Fr. James, with those hurtful lines, taught me that I could still be so much more.

A couple of nights ago, I counseled a troubled friend on Twitter (refer to Twitter account; you may add me…) by saying this: “They say it’s darkest in that instance right before the first sun ray appears. So if you feel like giving up, don’t. Light is imminent.” Transcendence is that moment when you take a leap from that dark to the light. That line that separates night and day is very thin; all you have to do is take that first step. Only that taking that first step is the hardest. But I promise you, by the second step, you will realize that taking that first one was all worth it, as the rewards are endless.

So I did take that first step and applied for Ateneo de Manila University. And God was happy with that step and rewarded me with a scholarship that made my parents so proud (and, yes, relieved). I finished College without requiring my parents to spend any money (well, of course, I nagged them for a little more allowance, all the time). The universe also gave me a pat on the back for pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. It came as a note from a classmate during my freshman year (refer to Ring’s handwritten note). She saw me as someone who could be somebody. I thought to myself, “why couldn’t I see it too?” If I didn’t take that first step, I wouldn’t be proud to have lived a dream of going to THE Ateneo de Manila University, as that seems to be the dream of every Atenean from the provinces. Not only did I finish my college education there, I also took my MA studies, and finally found my vocation of teaching there. One thing led to another. By some divine providence, because God knows that teaching doesn’t pay very well, I was shoved into opportunities of extension work and pay outside of the university, which led me to development work, and another dream come true, to work for the United Nations Children’s Fund (I would only read of UNICEF in greeting cards as a kid and promised myself to work for them in the future). But maybe God really wants me to follow in my parents’ footsteps to be an educator (incidentally, my parents developed their love affair here, in Ateneo Grade School, as teachers way back in the 1970s), and I know that this really is my calling, and so I went back to the academe even if I was already earning thrice as much in international development organizations. And each moment in those turns and redirections in my life, I had to confront transcendence because it was so much easier to resort to my comfort zone. But my main realization in always braving these challenges was the fact that opportunities were being presented to me, and it’s true that I’ve also worked hard to be given those opportunities, but I always saw every challenge as God-given. Coming back to the academe almost four years ago is now more meaningful because I have taken many first steps in my life. Certainly, reflecting on where I am right now is always a reflection of transcendence.

As I am also a lover of the performing arts (I dare not call myself an artist though), I see transcendence also as an audition process. Going through that audition process is the hardest for me, as it brings out all of the insecurities in me, that I am not good enough. But right after every audition process, I feel very invincible and victorious. And the joys of being accepted to a play or a dance performance and being able to perform on stage afterwards, by far, outweighs all the anxieties, fears, and insecurities that would eat me up before an audition. In the end, you realize that you wouldn’t really be able to feel that immense joy, if you do not take courage to go through that very small occasion called the audition.

But as in auditions, there are and will be rejections too. After almost a year of working in UNICEF, I had to discontinue my term with the organization because a new boss said that I was not skilled enough for the job. Jobless after that, I had the time to spend a wonderful winter in Norway, and Paris, and Barcelona with my Aunt before she passed away. And then that perceived weakness in the previous job was seen as a strength in the next job I was offered in a USAID project, which gave me bigger responsibilities and a lot of growing up too (this was where I learned how to say no even to my superiors). I tried to pursue a job in UNICEF New York but got rejected after the final interview. But had I gone to New York, I wouldn’t have found my first love, who, unfortunately, was also the person to give me the biggest heartbreak in my life. But that heartbreak made me focus on my career, which gained me my permanent position in UP and also the trust of my colleagues that earned me the position as College Secretary. After leaving USAID, I wanted to return to my true blue Ateneo de Manila but they hired someone else. Without that, I wouldn’t have found my new home in UP who has welcomed me with so unconditional acceptance and much excitement (recruit them to join UP in the future. But also consider Ateneo. Haha!).

Overcoming and leaving behind the rejections and barriers to greatness is part of transcendence. Life has a grand design that you only tend to see backwards. For me, this life design only got clearer when in 2009, I was operated on for a ruptured appendix (Refer to photo of birthday in the hospital with bestfriend since grade 2 in Ateneo, Macoi). Everybody in the hospital, as I was recuperating after the operation, always gave me that relieved look and told me that I was lucky to be alive. Apparently, a swollen appendix ruptures in an average of three days and would release poisonous substance in the body that could kill a person. Because I had high pain tolerance, it took me five days before I went to the emergency room and was told that I had to go under the knife right away. Indeed I am blessed to be given this second lease in life and to be able to speak in front of all of you right now. And so believe me when I say that at some point in your lives, if you just open your eyes wide enough, you will realize that there is that invisible hand that holds ours as we go through the motions in life. For me, I see God as the architect of my life. So never be afraid to take risks in your life because God only wants you to be better than who you are now. Transcendence is only a natural movement in life: as we are created in the image and likeness of God, we are born to be God-like, but not gods.

So, let’s go back to you: did you take that first step to recite in class, to dance, to be a soloist, to join a talent or beauty competition, to be a leader, to come up with a creative idea, to stand up against a bully, to feel beautiful just as you are? If you did, didn’t you feel glorious, that joy of accomplishment, that sense of pride? If you did not, don’t you feel now that nagging feeling that maybe you should have? If you did not, do not fret, for you have so much more time ahead of you. Consider these past experiences and the many ones to come, as your own audition, especially as you enter this crucial moment of your life, the biggest transition to adulthood. When that occasion presents itself again, remember TRANSCENDENCE.

Open yourself up to many experiences. Find your own strengths, learn from your weaknesses, and then develop your confidence. Allow yourself to commit mistakes as they are meant to be experienced so that you will not do them again.

Ask questions. Do not stick to the norms as dictated upon you. Society is a living organism; it evolves. Do not make it static because sticking to the status quo only makes us lazy and makes those few who take advantage of the lazy ones determine how we should live life.

Do not be afraid to go crazy because all geniuses started as mere crazy ideas. Be in touch with your feelings, as intelligence is not just about what you think but also your capacity to feel, intuit, and do.

Find love in everything that you do. And find what it is that you really love doing. It will make living easier and more exciting.

Parents, allow your children a certain extent of independence. They are the best judge of who they can be. We can merely discern with them, observe with them, but never impose an identity and future for them. As Khalil Gibran wrote: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”

Transcendence is not hard to understand, as it is afterall, simply, doing more. And in our Ateneo education, following the ideals of St. Ignatius, we know it as the Latin word Magis from Ad majorem Dei gloriam, or “For the greater glory of God.” And this is where we shall take pride of our Ateneo legacy, which I tell you, you will be carrying for as long as you shall live.

As I end this reflection with you, I am reminded of Elsa, in her winter kingdom in the animated film Frozen (ask if they have watched it), because even she believes in transcendence and Magis. To end, let me leave you with these excerpts from the popular song (try to incite from them) Let it Go (but I’m not about to sing it to you):

I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage on… It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small and the fears that once controlled me, cannot get to me at all. It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free. Let it go, let it go… Here I stand and here I’ll stay. Let the storm rage on… I’m never going back. The past is in the past. Let it go. Let it go. The cold never bothered me anyway.

And so leave all your past behind. At this point, there are no limits! Let it go and transcend!

Thank you very much.

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2 responses

1 04 2014
Migsy

Galing, randy! I’m inspired!

4 04 2014
rjsolis

Thanks, Migs! :))))

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