Sometimes I imagine speaking in behalf our graduating class. But since this is not going to happen, I might as well share with everyone what I would like to say:
Mr. President, members of the Board of Regents, distinguished guests, members of the faculty, students, parents, my fellow graduates. It is my distinct honor to be standing here today. As an undergraduate, although that description will no longer fit me once this ceremony comes to an end in three or four hours -- giving this speech is not only a difficult and monumental task, but also a thinking process.
My presence here is an irony in itself. I've never really believed (and I still don't to some degree) that a college diploma is the ticket to success. Or to put it differently, that a college diploma would guarantee one's survival on the rocky road of life. I have survived some difficult ordeals in my young life, without a degree to help me through.
Come to think of it, some of the most successful people earned no college degrees. Thomas Edison was one. He went to school for a total of three months, but was brilliant enough to invent the light bulb and phonograph, among other important inventions.
There is Bill Gates, a Harvard dropout who went on to found Microsoft and has become the world's richest person for more than a decade now.
In this country, we have more than a handful of examples. I'd leave out our 13th president and his dead best friend, although they both carved a niche in Filipino movies. But I do remember a prolific writer, who was so prolific that his poems, plays, novels, short stories and historical essays made him a National Artist for Literature. There was also the journalist-turned-senator-turned-diplomat whose name may ring a bell to our generation, thanks mainly to a Manila-based rock band.
But we are a people who have become so obsessed with diplomas that they have become fixtures in average Filipino living rooms. This no longer surprises me. After all, we live in a country where more than half of the population lives in dire straits, a stark reality that our leaders deliberately ignore, especially that narcissistic woman at the Palace by the river. To put it simply, we've been stuck in poverty for as long as anyone cares to remember and we've pinned our hopes either on the heavens or nonsensical noontime game shows.
It's all about resilience, many people say. Yes, we are a resilient people, and we have shown this time and time again. I do not only mean by Lapu-Lapu, who defended Mactan Island against Ferdinand Magellan and his minions, or Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio and their heroic sacrifices. I also am not referring only to Ninoy Aquino, who came home from exile in 1983 only to be greeted by bullets, or to those who cast off 14 long years of tyranny and made it possible for us to breathe the air of freedom again. Neither do I limit myself to the thousands who survive the flashfloods and landslides, or to those who live near railroad tracks or underneath bridges or sleep on cardboard boxes.
I am not about to put down our people's resilience, but resilience these days means exile -- banishment from our 7,107 islands! For the last 30 years, we have something in common with the wandering Jews -- the Diaspora.
The statistics are shocking. One out of every three Filipinos wants to leave this country and try his luck in lands far different from our own, be it Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, England, Australia, or the United States. Worse, he is ready to trade his citizenship in a jiffy.
A friend once called this phenomenon a "negative exodus." I don't have to look very far to confirm it. From where I'm standing now, I see more than 500 of graduating students from the College of Nursing. I don't know how many true Florence Nightingales are in your batch, but I'm certain that, with one or two exception, your reason for taking up the course is financial security. And I bet that in three to five years, most of you will be working in other countries.
Sadly, those who will go will never look back or even want to look back. I've heard so many say, "This country is hopeless. I'm leaving soon."
This remark captures the apathy and cynicism that have overwhelmed our people. But then considering what has been happening to our country since the woman occupied the Palace by the river five years ago, who can blame anyone for not giving a damn? I mean, here's someone who claims that it is the will of God that she be the leader of our country. But how on earth -- or in heaven -- can God accept a cheater, liar and thief? That clearly contradicts the core teachings of Christianity.
But why are we all here for this occasion? Why have we sacrificed at least four years of our lives to get our diplomas? Why have our parents spent thousands and thousands of pesos for us? Well, our very presence here only shows that we are not pinning our hopes totally on heaven or some nonsensical noontime game shows. Rather, we are pinning our hopes on this thing called college education. There must be something miraculous or magical about it.
There is a common belief among us that education can lift us from our sorry state. Or if we are not that miserable, that it will allow us to enjoy a better life than what we already have.
Fellow graduates, it is not easy to step into "the other world," where there are no walls to protect us. But very soon, we will find out that we have left our comfort zones. There will be hundreds, even thousands, of occasions when we will wish we were still in our comfort zones, that we do not have to face so many responsibilities.
Our education should help us see and prepare for the responsibilities we will face in the years to come. If we want to deserve to be called graduates, we should never run away from responsibilities. And I do not only mean our responsibilities to our jobs or families, but more so to our people and our society. When we receive our diplomas, we should not only take it as a personal triumph but consider it as an opportunity to heal and rehabilitate our wounded nation. Let us do our part. Let us not give up on our country.
Congratulations to each one of us! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!
Tara Yap, 25, is a research assistant at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas. She's also a freelance writer and photographer.
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