(Delivered by FEU President Michael M. Alba during the 87th Baccalaureate Mass on April 24, 2015)
Chair Emerita Dr Lourdes Reyes Montinola, Chair Aurelio Montinola III, our main celebrant Ateneo de Manila University President Rev Fr Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ, our co-celebrants Rev Frs Rainnielle Pineda, Stephen Mifsud, MSSP, and Der John Faborada, FEU trustees and administrators, faculty and staff, parents and students, distinguished guests, friends, ladies, and gentlemen:
First and foremost, on everyone’s behalf, I congratulate our graduating students of 2015 for this milestone achievement of completing their academic programs and commend them for their hard work and discipline over the last four or five years, which has culminated in this high point of their young lives.
I also thank the students’ parents, families, and friends for the love and support that sustained and motivated the students in their quest to earn their college degrees. Surely, the students will agree with me that their diplomas and medals are due as much to their parents, families, and friends as to their own efforts.
And I thank the faculty and the academic services staff as well for unstintingly sharing their expertise and wisdom, and indeed their very selves, in the work of transforming our students from the girls and boys that they were four or five years ago to the women and men that they have become.
With your permission, allow me now to direct the rest of my remarks to the graduating students.
Dear students, if FEU has been successful in its degree-conferral function, then you are graduating with learning outcomes that signify both your productivity and life skills. Not only do you have the requisite skills of your discipline or profession, the FEU curriculum has also developed your critical thinking and self-directed learning skills, which should put you on track to be a committed lifelong learner. Moreover, the curricular and extracurricular offerings of FEU have sharpened your moral sensitivity and challenged you to be a well-informed and engaged citizen of the country.
By now, however, you know that how well these outcomes have been formed in you ultimately depended on you. As our founder Nicanor Reyes Sr. once said, “All that we [the administrators, faculty, and staff of FEU] can do to help you is only half the process of training you. In the long run, the most important factor in your … education will be how hard you yourselves work for that education.”
This is so because, to draw from economics, which is my academic discipline, education is an experience good. What that means is that education is a good or service whose quality is not known at the outset. Recall your situation when you first enrolled in FEU. Perhaps you did so because you had heard good things about FEU from family and friends or read nice features about FEU in the newspapers or social media. Still, you really didn’t know how your FEU college experience would turn out.
A peculiar attribute of an experience good is that its effect on the consumer depends on the extent of the consumer’s engagement with it. Consider a movie, for example. Its impact on the viewer depends on how attentively the viewer watches the movie and how receptive the viewer is to the movie’s premises, perspectives, and ways of telling the story.
So it is with your college experience. The more engaged you were with the curricular and extracurricular offerings of FEU, the more FEU was able to fulfill its mission and the more you were transformed by your college experience.
Well, here is news for you: Life is also an experience good. At this juncture, when you consider your future, you again cannot tell what the quality of your life will be. But drawing from your college experience, you know (or ought to know) that your life will be lived more fully the more engaged you are with it.
So the question you will need to answer is: What does it mean to fully engage life?
Obviously, you will have to find your own deeply personal responses to this all-important question. But let me give some pointers.
First, to engage life is to engage life-for-something. In other words, you cannot just go and seize the day without knowing what for. Hence, you will need to continue your journey of self-discovery and of understanding the world in order to find your life’s purpose. In effect, you cannot tune out the way Macbeth did in Shakespeare’s play when he rues:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Second, to be engaged in a life-for-something is to be entrepreneurial and opportunistic about it. Since to live life fully is your most important life-project, you have to use all the talents, skills, and resources at your command, and unleash your imagination and your creativity to achieve your life’s dreams and goals.
But you cannot do it according to Frank Sinatra’s signature song My Way, the singing in karaoke bars of which has caused lives to be violently snuffed out. Because: although asserting the indomitability of the human spirit is admirable, biting more than you can chew and generally living by your own rules unmindful of how others are affected are actually disdainful.
All that said, however, and since we are at Mass, let me direct you to a faith-based response. The Christian faith tells us that the highest purpose of life is to follow Jesus Christ, who, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “precisely because he is God, descends [and] empties himself all the way to the Cross.”
And in the Last Supper discourses in St John’s Gospel (15:5), Jesus himself says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
So to live a fully engaged life is to live for God and to have a relationship with him. It is to constantly pray (because we are such hard-headed creatures), “Incline my heart according to your will, O God.” And then it is to earnestly plead the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread,” that is, give us all the material and spiritual resources that we need, so that we can help to “let Thy kingdom come [and] Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” whether these be to earn an income that will help with family expenses or with sending a sibling to school; to establish a business that will give employment to workers; to visit and comfort the sick, the infirmed, the elderly, or the abandoned; to console the sorrowful who have lost a loved one; and so on.
In any case, the necessary condition for an engaged, faith-based life is to develop a deeply personal relationship with God and to seek and to be open to his will in your life.
On this point, let me relate a Hasidic tale that I recently heard (in the conference of Rev Fr Mariano Agruda III, OCD, during the Congress on Prayer), which captures the correct disposition toward God:
Late one evening a poor farmer on his way back from the market found himself without his prayer book. The wheel of his cart had come off right in the middle of the woods and it distressed him that this day should pass without his having said his prayers.
So this is the prayer he made: ‘I have done something very foolish, Lord. I came away from home this morning without my prayer book and my memory is such that I cannot recite a single prayer without it. So this is what I am going to do: I shall recite the alphabet five times very slowly, and You, to whom all prayers are known, can put the letters together to form the prayers I cannot remember.’
And the Lord God said to His angels: ‘Of all the prayers I have heard today, this one was undoubtedly the best because it came from a heart simple and sincere.’
To close, let me extend my congratulations once again and wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Always remember that my deepest hopes are that you live fully engaged lives in accord with God’s will.