(This is an excerpt from the speech I delivered at UP Cebu last March 2. This being graduation month, I thought it would be nice to share it with readers.)
The first time I walked along these halls, I was as naïve as any incoming freshman student would be. Naïve, yes, but full of hope. I was scared. I was excited, too. About what exactly, I did not know. There was just this general feeling of giddiness, so real that it was almost palpable, and the uncertainty of what it was I was hoping for and excited about added to the mystique of it all. I viewed the world in eager anticipation of what possibly lay ahead before and for me. Let me just say, and I am sure most if not all of you will concur, that I also felt more than just a little bit grown up.
Looking back though, I now realize that I was actually a blank slate, not exactly shapeless anymore but softly formed and with enough pliability to still be molded here and there for more definition. I have always felt that it is in the elementary years that the seeds are sown. In high school, they grow. It is in college, however, that these seeds are nurtured so that they bloom the way they are meant to.
I say “meant to” because that is exactly what it is. You are still a work in progress, dear students. And grown up as you all probably must feel now that you are in college believe me when I say you still have lots of more of that to do once you step into the real world. It is never as simple or as complicated as it seems. You will be pulled and stretched in ways you never thought possible, and hopefully come out all the better for it. But that is getting ahead of your journey and your own personal stories.
I consider myself still a greenhorn in the dazzling world that is showbiz. I am a neophyte in my capacity as a legislator and public servant. The roles I am most proud of are that of wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. That said, I am deeply honored that all those have somehow qualified me to speak in front of you, given especially the fact that you are on the springboard of your own dreams, at the porthole of your very own promising futures, on the throes of an accomplishment such as this.
I do not claim to be an authority in the subject called Life or Success or Excellence, but I am doing pretty well on something called Happiness and Contentment, so at best, kindly please allow me to just speak from the heart.
Another thing. Clichéd though it may sound, please never say never. I know that sounds like a James Bond movie but it’s true; it really is. There were three things I said over and over again that I would never do. Number one, join showbiz. Number two, enter politics. Number three, join a beauty contest. I guess you pretty much have an idea how I fared with the first two — thank God it is way too late for the last one to ever happen for me. If you asked me after I graduated college how I pictured my life to be 10, 20 years down the road I would not have described anything remotely close to what it is as I know it, now. Well, what can I say? Life truly is what happens while we are busy making plans.
Nothing is ever truly certain in this world. Structures are there to guide us, but we cannot put blinders on, be stubborn, and insist on following a rigid path towards how we would want life to play out. If you close your mind and limit your options, you lose out on many things. You might miss out on your mission, your passion, your joy. Wherever life finds you, give it your best shot. This is the age of uncertainty for most of you. But know that you will find yourself soon enough.
Being in college is like being in a mother’s womb, where we are nurtured and molded to be ready to face the challenges of the real world outside of the campus. Graduation is the time when we are truly born. Like it or not, we are a sum of our experiences — those we remember and those that settle subliminally somewhere deep inside us. Like part of our umbilical cord, we are bound to the institutions we were once attached to. We never truly sever ties from it till our last breath, just like a tree that has several branches, but is sustained very much by the same roots. That is why institutions are identified by their products, and the choice of institution is very important.
I must not forget to say that enrolling here was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I thank my dad, himself a product of UP, for that. It was the only choice, so much so that he did not require us to take entrance exams elsewhere. Though they were tentative and very baby steps, it is in this campus where I began to find myself. My professors, the friends I’ve made, the administrative and maintenance staff, even the staff at the university cafeteria — you were all my teachers. I thank all those whose careful hands molded this once-shapeless piece of clay.
In closing, I would like to express prayers and wishes. I wish that you never fall into the trap of wasting time doing nothing, just waiting for life to find you. I say find it, grab it by the horns and dance with it. It is beautiful, always, even when it is sometimes sad. Cherish life for the gift that it is. Never be crazy enough to believe wealth is all about money. The fact that you are young is reason enough for you to consider yourselves extremely wealthy. You have the energy to propel your dreams forward, youth on your side. Take advantage of it. Speaking of that — dreams, I mean — never apologize for how big or great they may be. Do not laugh at someone else’s dreams, in the same way that you should not hunch your shoulders in defeat when others laugh at yours. Be inspired by them. No one ever said dreaming is a crime. With arms outstretched and your chin tilted up towards the sunlight, expect good things to happen to your life. Happiness comes in knowing that you need not always be the greatest, or the best. Being happy while trying to do your greatest, your best, even if others do not acknowledge it, is good enough. Remember that the journey matters as much as the destination.
I pray that after you graduate, you never get stuck in a job that, although it pays extremely well, you are unhappy about. I pray you will stay far away from anyone who makes you believe you will never be good enough. Life will throw some hard curve balls but everything is a matter of perspective and you can always choose to roll with the punches. There is no handbook to success and happiness, no hard and fast rules, but it is never lame to go back to what we learned at home from our parents. Sow the right seeds, do what feels right for the heart, and when in doubt follow your gut and do what it is that gives you the most peace. I said this earlier and I will say it again now — never underestimate the power of prayer. Be bullish in that; know that there is absolutely nothing you cannot pray for. For as long as you see God’s hand in all that happens in your life, for as long as you feel His fingers on your shoulders, all should be okay, even if it seems strange, different and new. Even if it is strange, different and new. Your job, always, is to be faithful and committed to the task at hand, whatever that is. And for as long as you believe in something bigger and greater than yourself, hope will always spring eternal.
You should be mighty proud of yourselves. I am very excited for all of you. As you celebrate all that you already are, you have every reason to look forward to all that you are still yet to become. After all, you are products of this mighty institution. Please know that the greatest disservice you can do, both to yourself and to humanity, is to make your success just stop with you. You each have an obligation, like I do, as a Scholar ng Bayan, to pay forward what this beautiful, wonderful institution has selflessly given all of us — the freedom to not only find yourself and your place under the sun, but the gift of being truly, wonderfully happy while doing just that.
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