Below is the speech delivered by AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros during the Commencement exercises of the University of the Philippines – Cebu College on April 29, 2009.
UP President Emerlinda Roman, Members of the Board of Regents, Officials of UP Visayas, Dean Enrique Avila and Associate Dean Ireno, faculty members especially to Prof. Felisa Etemadi, Dr. Rhodora Bucoy, Dr. Madz Dela Cerna, Ms. Claire Jabines, Prof. Zeny Ligan and Ian Manticajon, alumni, to the graduates of UP Visayas Cebu , to proud parents, maayong hapon sa inyong tanan! Ako si Risa Hontiveros ng AKBAYAN Party-list.
Thank you very much for inviting me to your graduation. It is a great honor to be part of this important event. You cannot imagine how refreshing it is to be here, to speak outside the House of Representatives, and to talk before a crowd brimming with excitement and optimism – after several session days in Congress, of Palparan being sworn in, of various hocus pocus to block the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, I am truly glad to be here: finally, a sense of hope.
At your age, hope is not yet a luxury. Cherish this moment, not only because you’ve accomplished your own expectations or the expectations of others, but more importantly because today marks a fresh start. You will fully understand what I mean once your parents or guardians have announced that beginning today, your allowance would be cut by half, or that you won’t be given any allowance at all.
In fact, the moment you step out of this hall, you’d be told many things: you would be reminded of the grand words of Rizal – that you are the hope of the motherland – and that you hold the future of your family. The fate of the country is in your hands.
Do not, however, feel burdened by this. Take these generational expectations with a grain of salt. I, for one, and with NO apologies to Senator Miriam-Defensor Santiago, believe that the forty-something, menopause or no menopause, is the beginning of one’s life. You wake up to your forties full of hope, in the same manner that you are itching to get your diplomas so that you could complete your plans. In our case, though, our diploma comes in a package: the daily newspaper, the early morning news, with each bad news screaming in bold red, the everyday realization that there are things that we can still do, that we can still change things, and that our sons and daughters are about to wake up and help us finish what we can no longer accomplish.
But that’s for the forty-somethings. You know for a fact that each generation will always stake its claim – the thirties being the new twenties, the twenties as the prime age, and the teeners as the de facto future generation. The fifties and sixties claim that they are in their golden years.
The point is in staking your own claim. Whatever your age is, and whichever generation you belong to, you forge ahead and you keep on walking. There is nothing like apathy to kill the soul of a generation, and with it, the soul of a nation.
Today, I want you to remember two tools that shall prove to be important in your life. Handle them with caution.
The first is your passport. Remember that the passport that you hold or crave to have is a two-faced symbol. Remember that it is a tool of travel. Whether you want to work abroad or as a stepping stone to leave our impoverished forever, use it for its original purpose. Travel, and broaden you worldview. Absorb the grandeur of other civilizations, not to compare or to lament what we lack, but to discover empathy and see things wearing other people’s shoes or chinelas. Use it as a way to learn that the world has different shades, and you’d only notice that when you use the lens tolerance. Make use of it as a gauge of what we must universally reject as wrong – poverty, dehumanization, abuse – and what we must embrace as universally true and right, such as human dignity, truth and freedom.
Remember, too, that the Filipino passport symbolizes a nation in flight. That thousands of young Filipinos like you line up before the Department of Foreign Affair, or in the embassies of rich countries to get their visas, is the most heart-rending proof that the status quo is not working, and despite government propaganda, it must be changed.
The other thing is the internet. We have all become, regardless of age, the Google generation. Google has become our oracle: you need a job, you search Google, and it is far more efficient that the Department of Labor. You need the right spelling for a word, the right syntax, or the correct construction of an idiom, you ask Google.
But Google has its own quirks, its own complexities. In the same way that you need to ask the right question to the Oracle in many Greek tragedies, you need to know the right keywords when using Google. Your fate, your options, your opportunities depend on the keywords you have chosen to use.
What’s true with Google is somehow true with life. There are certain keywords that we must learn to live by. The more we hone our keywords, the better the search result is.
Let today be a day of keywords then. I may not be able to impart wise words or employment tips for the newly grads, but let me share keywords that help all of us survive these days of chaos, uncertainty, and yes, days of Gloria.
The first is this: DOTA, or any role-playing game for that matter, may be fun, but it won’t be able to teach you the skills you need for your first job, or for higher education. Treat it for what it is – an addictive game. You may protest and extol the virtues of being Mogul the Axe for five hours, but unless you are in the brink of developing another gaming software and needs the game to test your theories, then play DOTA or any RPG in moderation.
Better yet, if you need the rush or the entertainment, take up an outdoor sport. It is at least good for your health.
Read. Never underestimate the power and importance of the written text. Our nation owes its independence to two books, Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Do not dismiss the classics just because you’ve been told that they’re boring; read classical works because the life-changing questions you have asked yourselves have already been asked before.
Read Harry Potter if you like: it also has its own wise words to impart. Dumbledore, in the Sorcerer’s Stone, told Harry Potter that “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”. Today, on this important day, you must believe him. But discard him the moment you need to dream for grander things.
Read the 1987 Constitution to understand that despite its flaws, it is at least owned by the Filipino people. Read it before it gets bastardized by those who have believed in nothing but their own interests. Read it, own it because it is yours, too, and improve it.
The point, however, is to read, because reading would help you recognize the fine prints of human existence and discover what truly lies between the lines.
Always bear in mind that GIGO – or “garbage in garbage out” – has universal application, except perhaps in the case of solid waste management. Use it in your homework, in doing your job, or raising your family.
More importantly, remember GIGO in 2010, so vote wisely.
While we are at it, your generation must master the art of segregation. Your own survival, as well as your children’s generation’s survival, depend on the following keywords: recycle, re-use, and clean, renewable energy. Google will be able to fetch the definition of these words, but it can’t teach the values that we must imbibe in order to protect the future – the denunciation of greed and over-consumption, environmental justice, and sustainable living.
Learn these values, and save the world.
What will not save the world, and what will not save your future, is ignorance. You will be told, and I presume that you have in fact already been told, that sex is bad. This is not true. What is wrong is perpetuating ignorance, the willful denial of certain facts about human existence: that sex is a beautiful aspect of human life, that it can actually be enjoyed with responsibility between consenting adults, and that in the end, ignorance kills.
Again, travel. The point about traveling is the discomfort of being uprooted just to get that chance to see the world in a different light, and in the process, recovering certain universal truths about the human family: that despite our diversity or our lot in life we are equal in dignity.
Work abroad if only to rediscover what joblessness, poverty, and an incompetent government have deprived most of us to appreciate – that there is dignity in work, that we are not a nation of servants but a nation that values hard work.
We, too, are a nation not ashamed of our poverty. We are not embarrassed by it, and we reject the notion that it can be changed because we know that it can be remedied. The strength your generation, and of each and one of you, is not your passport. It is the fact that you are young. Your power does not only lie in your tenacious rejection of the status quo, it rests on your ability to imagine that a different future is possible.
That future begins today, your last day in school. You have been freed, let your imagination loose.
Magandang hapon muli sa inyong lahat at mabuhay ang mga iskolar ng bayan!