Twelve years ago today, I gave this cute speech at my college graduation. Wait. What? Twelve years ago?!! #ThrowbackMonday
There was a cute little boy who, at night before going to bed, would pray to God that when he grows up, perhaps he could become Ultraman Ace, or maybe a member of the Power Rangers, or perhaps God could simply give him some superpowers so he could fly. Often, that little kid would stare at the sun, close his eyes, open them, and would try to catch the patches of colored lights that he would see, because his grandmother told him once that if he could snatch those lights and wrap them in a handkerchief, he would get some superpowers. The lights would give him magic.
Years passed and the kid grew up and the prayer changed a little. The little kid would ask the Lord to make him a brilliant lawyer someday and become the country’s president. Or perhaps God could turn him into a newscaster or an actor, so he could make great films and win some Oscars. And so the kid kept on growing; and the prayer kept on changing. Until finally, the things being asked by the little kid became even bolder, but more realistic. Instead of toys, he would ask the Lord to give him good grades. Instead of praying that Ginebra win the game, the kid started to pray that he win in the essay-writing contest he had joined. Instead of becoming a Power Ranger, he would ask the Lord to help him become a better person. Instead of an Oscar trophy, he would ask for guidance so he could make his family and loved ones a little proud.
Who would have thought that the little kid would grow up to be the College of Mass Communication’s first Summa cum Laude?
Who would have thought that the probinsyano from a small school in the remote town of Tayug, Pangasinan, who entered college as a computer illiterate and felt like a fish out of water to see his blockmates in great clothes, most of whom came from exclusive schools, speaking in English during the first class meetings; that that promdi who submitted his Comm 1 papers typewritten while the rest of his classmates had theirs computer-printed with fancy fonts, would graduate as his college’s valedictorian?
Many people were surprised. In the first place, I don’t have the looks of a supposedly intelligent student. I am seldom serious. I am talkative and noisy. I am a little crazy. I rarely go to the library. In fact, most of my library cards are still unused. I cram a lot and I don’t wear thick eyeglasses.
The great thing is, what mattered was not so much what people thought, but what people did.
So what did I do? I enjoyed every minute of learning. A lot of times it got really hard for me, but now all I can remember is the fulfillment and happiness I got each time I survived. Contrary to what most of you think, library and books were never my best friends. I want to be a journalist, not a human encyclopedia. But I have a dream. I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary dream. And every school work that came my way was never an obstacle, but a step closer.
The great thing in this College, especially in Journalism, is that being intelligent is not measured by the number of words one can memorize per minute. Intelligence meant ingenuity, sensitivity, and determination. In this college, we did not study numbers or atoms. We studied people, our problems, reality, and how to make people see what they refuse to or cannot notice.
We did not just study life; we lived it. We captured reality in our articles and in our videos. And it is through living that we learn—that we become better people. Lives can be saved, changed, and even destroyed by the power of the media. This power is what we sought to understand and acquire.
Now, we have that power to touch the lives of many people. And the training we had in this College has prepared us to use that power with great responsibility. The world is rapidly changing, and it is the media that help people catch up. In this country, journalism, through its various channels—print, online, television, and even text messaging—has guided the decisions of our people by providing them with the things they need to know. Soon, we will be a part of that noble profession.
College life was easy—easy to describe: It was very hard, very difficult, very challenging. This is the University of the Philippines. Getting into UP was never easy. Getting out of it, I mean by finishing one’s course successfully, is even harder. That we are all here today is indeed one reason to celebrate, because we all have survived college life in the country’s best university, even during those uncertain times.
Remember the movies and telenovela episodes we missed because we had to review for an exam? The parties we did not attend because we had to prepare some reports? The thick STS readings? The sleepless nights and our zombie looks because of our theses? The terror teachers? The boring classes? The extremely difficult, mind-boggling, I-wanna-drop-this-course types of exams? The insufficient deadlines? The sums of money we spent to watch the required plays and to photocopy the needed readings that could have provided us with three meals a day instead of one banana cue?
College life was tough. But it was also rewarding. Beating a deadline was a sweet success. Every exam passed was a gold medal. Every nod by our professors, or a simple pat on the back, was a jackpot. Every conversation we had with our friends made us wiser. And we were able to meet a lot of wonderful people, most of whom became our great friends, who taught us, in one way or another, a lot of amazing things that no book can ever teach.
Our batch saw and shaped a lot of important events. We marched from UP to EDSA and ousted a president. We saw terrorism grip the whole world with fear, but we never allowed that fear to consume us, and instead it made us more vigilant. We saw and understood how ugly war is—that we fought and are still fighting for peace.
These events have, in turn, shaped us to become better individuals. We learned how to become more critical and vigilant. We learned to assert our rights and fight for the right of others. We learned to fight for our principles and to stand up for our beliefs. We learned to survive amid a dwindling economy, but at the same time we learned to assert our right for a government working for national interest. We learned not only how to speak, but how to speak for the proper reasons, and be heard. We learned that, as students of the country’s premier university, we have a responsibility to our country and even to ourselves.
Now we see the fruit of those four long years of hard work and sacrifice. But learning is an endless process. Outside the university there awaits another exam in the bigger classroom of society, where the question of passing and failing becomes more important. Outside the university, there awaits a new curriculum where the courses cannot be dropped if they get too hard, nor can be repeated after a grade of 5; where excellence is not determined by medals but by happiness and fulfillment, not only our own, but also those of the people around us.
It is indeed a great responsibility ahead of us. Yet these are uncertain times. Life after college is an ocean full of doubts. Let us not be afraid to dream. And let us not be afraid to achieve them.
One of the greatest things I learned in college is that nobody is a nobody. That I was privileged to deliver this speech does not mean I am in any way better. Academics is just one simple category; and life is complex. Each one of us has his own greatness. Everybody can be a somebody.
My father always teases me that he and Mama are still better than I am because they have a son who is a Summa cum Laude. But I still say I am better, because I have the best parents in the world.
And so the cute little kid would keep on dreaming. Simple dreams, when put together, allow great things to happen. Surely, the little kid never caught any of those patches of light that he saw. But still those lights gave him magic—the power to believe that dreams do come true, because they really do if we make them happen.
Now, all that kid can see are the bright lights beaming from your eyes. The kid won’t snatch them, don’t worry. These lights are your own. And may they bring you magic, because out there a lot of great dreams are waiting to be achieved.
(Graduation Speech, UP College of Mass Communication Commencement Ceremony, April 27, 2003)
Twelve years later, the little kid’s prayers are still changing, but one thing that has become constant is his prayer for thanksgiving.