My dear Class of 2018,
First and foremost, on behalf of the FEU Community I congratulate each and every member of your graduating class for this achievement of a lifetime. Even in this day and age, only a small minority of Filipinos who are 20 years or older have college degrees – 17.1 percent, if you care to put a number, according to data from the October Round of the 2015 Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority. This accomplishment thus ushers you into the elite ranks of our countrymen, priming you to succeed in both the world of work and life – all the more so because you are graduating from one of the top academic institutions of the country.
For this milestone feat, you have yourself to thank for all the hard work that you’ve put in as an FEU student over the last few years. But be mindful as well that you owe debts of gratitude to the people who supported, accompanied, guided, and mentored you in your learning journey: your parents, guardians, and benefactors; your family and friends; and the staff, faculty, administrators, trustees, and even the alumni of FEU. Be thankful to and for your teachers especially. In reference to them may be appropriated the following verse from the Book of Daniel (12:3): “Those who are learned will be as radiant as the sky in all its beauty; those who instruct the people in goodness will shine like the stars for all eternity.” Be appreciative, too, of the generous gift that FEU has bestowed upon you – your college experience in all its dimensions, which will reach its apex when you receive your college diploma next week.
I don’t know if you’ve given it much thought, but what makes your college experience distinctive and unique is that it occurred during one of the most disruptive and tumultuous periods in recent memory for the country, in general, and the Philippine education sector, in particular.
Recall the following events and developments of the last four years:
- When you came in as freshmen students in June 2014, the country was still reeling from the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
- In January 2015, 44 troops of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force were killed in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in a firefight with the Bangsmoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in the aftermath of a police operation to neutralize Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli Abdhir (better known by his nom de guerre, Marwan).
- As a side note, in 2015 FEU won the UAAP Season 78 men’s basketball championship.
- In 2016 a tsunami wave of populism swept the world, as evidenced by the Brexit vote and election outcomes in different countries. Post-truth politics, which does not value facts and reasoned inquiry and which eschews intellectual rigor, has since become the order of the day.
- 2016 also saw the emergence of the misuse of social media in shaping public opinion. Misappropriations ranged from the deployment of troll armies to exploiting social-media algorithms to influence the narratives of issues or promote fake news.
- Since mid-2016, the country has been emotionally wrenched by drug-related extra judicial killings that now number in the thousands.
- In November 2016, the remains of former President Ferdinand Marcos were transferred to the Libingan ng mga Bayani with full military honors, to widespread protest.
- Due to the enactment of Republic Act 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, which increased the number of grade levels of basic education, you are the second to the last class that went through the ten-year basic education program of the post-World War II years. As a consequence, in your junior and senior years, FEU had fewer college students than usual, because Grade 10 completers were required to attend senior high school.
- In your junior year (AY 2016‒2017), FEU shifted its academic calendar, and the school year started in August.
- In May to October last year, Marawi City in Lanao del Sur was ravaged by armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
- As a consequence of the Marawi crisis, martial law was declared in Mindanao in May last year and will continue to be in place until at least the end of this year.
- Eight days ago, a team of scientists reported in the journal Science that 150 million lightyears away, in a pair of colliding galaxies known as Arp 299, an unfortunate star strayed too close to a black hole and was being ripped apart, with half of it being sucked into the black hole and the other half being spit outward in a fiery blaze of energy at one-fourth the speed of light.
- Two days ago, the Supreme Court affirmed with finality its decision to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on the basis of the quo warranto plea of Solicitor General Jose Calida.
With all these occurrences forming the backdrop of your time in FEU, I hope that they brought on the realization that you had to take FEU’s curricular and co-curricular offerings more seriously, because your FEU education would empower you to more deeply discern the signs of the times and their consequences for you personally and for our country. Perhaps more importantly, I hope that the aforementioned events were instrumental in instilling in you a deep desire and a lifelong commitment to persistently improve yourself and contribute positively to the state of affairs of our country.
Of course, what is more certain, given that you share it with all other graduating classes of FEU, is that, armed with your FEU education, you are leaving the sheltered life of the university student well prepared to ably navigate the rough seas of your life ahead. You simply need to fully embrace the core values, symbols, exhortations, and emblems of FEU to whom you will be sealed as her alumni in your commencement exercises next week. So always practice our core values of fortitude, excellence, and uprightness. When facing adversities, steel yourself and be brave as our founder earnestly urged. Be a tamaraw, admired by our founder for its intelligence and aggressiveness. Value intellectual pursuits and our nationalist ideals as projected in our university seal, in which a sarimanok heralds with nationalistic pride the academic disciplines of the university, which are represented by an eight-pointed star in the coat of arms. Be respectful of our university motto, Sapientia Regnat, which means Wisdom Rules.
Beyond this, may I suggest that you explore the philosophy of Personalism and consider adopting it as the way of conducting yourself? I myself have just read about it in an op-ed column of David Brooks that was published in the June 14, 2018, issue of the New York Times. Brooks says that personalism is about acknowledging the “infinite uniqueness and depth of each person” – that “there is a depth, complexity, and superabundance to each human personality that gives each person unique, infinite dignity.” In turn, because “infinite worth is inherent in being human, … [e]very encounter is a meeting of equals. [Hence,] [d]oing community service [for example] isn’t about saving the poor; it’s a meeting of absolute equals as both seek to change and grow.”
Brooks goes on to say that to be a personalist is to take on three responsibilities: First, one must “see each … person in his or her full depth” rather than in caricatures or as data points, even “the security guard in your building or the office worker down the hall.” Second, one must be “self-gifting,” an idea drawn from the philosopher Jacques Maritain who wrote that “[t]he reason for life … is ‘self-mastery for the purpose of self-giving.’” Third, one must make oneself available to others; one must give time to give the gift of self to and receive the same from others.
I am making this appeal because, ultimately, we cannot be alone unto ourselves. We are meant for others. We are meant for each other.
Indeed, we are transcendent beings. We are meant for more than this sensible, physical universe, more than the here-and-now. We can aspire for greater things. We can set ourselves to answer to a higher calling. After all, I’m sure that we have each sensed, at certain points in our lives, the stirrings of angels’ wings, which, though unseen and unheard, left their marks nonetheless in the depths of our soul.
Given all the foregoing, as you take leave of your alma mater, my prayer for you is: May your lives be filled with goodness, love, happiness, and fulfillment. Go forth and be brave!
Dr. Michael M. Alba