Address to the Graduates
By MS THERESE CLARENCE AC FERNANDEZ-RUIZ
I graduated from high school last 2003 from Ateneo de Davao High School. High school is still fresh in my memory. I remember my freshman year in high school: the freshman orientation, the school dances with Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez songs, my first Nokia 5110 cellphone that refuses to die up to now, my sections 1 Green, 2 Xavier, 3 Pignatelli, 4 Xavier, Rover scouting, being a Military Police, getting a suspension, my ultimate high school crush who I thought I was going to marry, JS Prom, studio pictures with my barkada, my friends, my teachers, my mentors. High School was a very colorful period in my life: it was a time of self-discovery, long-lasting friendship, and a lot of questions and uncertainty. I'm sure it is the same for most of you.
Like you, I had a lot of questions too. Should I go for the course that I want in college? Or should I try out the course that my friends are trying? Where should I go? What job do I want? Is he the one? What is the meaning of life? And to be quite honest, 8 years after high school, some of these questions are in the process of being answered. I do not have the ultimate answers to all of my questions yet. But I know that as I stand before you today, I could confidently say four words that I wish you could all say as well: I absolutely LOVE Mondays. And I found myself repeating this over and over again not as a way to convince myself but because these words reflect what I love about Mondays: a chance to do what you love doing even if it is the most difficult thing on Earth, and a chance for new beginnings. But I am getting ahead of myself. I am here to share with you the actual lessons that led me to where I am now. If I could go back in time and talk to the High School Reese, these are the lessons that I would share to her:
1.) Failures make great success stories!
Have you ever watched a Maalala Mo Kaya episode without the drama, hardships, broken relationships, or burned houses? If Henry Sy started out as a rich heir who had the capital to start his business instead of his modest beginnings, would his story be as inspiring and encouraging as it is now? Not to say of course that drama is always good. The point is, we all have our own hardships, broken relationships, money problems, failed grades, failed expectations, and insecurities. Even the most successful people do. The key is to embrace our situation, acknowledge our insecurities, but take baby steps towards rising above these.
When I was in High School, I thought that I was so different. I tried to fit in with a Jansport backpack that was a big thing during that time, a Nokia 5110, decent grades, and rebelling at times because I thought that was cool. But I knew that I was different. Since I was 3 years old, my mother has been a Missionary worker. We lived around churches for a couple of years and I did not just see poverty from an early age: we were part of it. I had to stop going to school when I was in grade 4 because of health problems that transformed into financial problems. I took the acceleration exam to high school. So when I arrived in high school, I carried with me the experiences that were not common with my classmates and peers. I found myself making excuses before based on my situation. I used to tell myself that I can't get the best grades and I had so many insecurities because we are poor, I am different, I am a victim, and all sorts of excuses. It was not an easy journey but thanks to the encouragement of my teachers, mentors, family, and friends back in high school, I slowly gained confidence and harnessed my situation to make things better. From a rebel student with average grades and a lot of personal issues, I made it to the honors class when I was already in 4th year. I realized then that it is not the situation that you are given that defines you, it is what you do with the situation. We all have our own stories and inevitably, we decide our happy or tragic ending through deciding every single day that we will rise above the things that stop us from becoming the best versions of ourselves.
At the end of the day, the tests and quizzes you failed, the relationships that did not work out, and the other bad things that happened in your life, are not the things that will define who you are. Failures are opportunities. Be patient with yourself if you don't get the right answers right away. These will be part of your success story as long as you bounce back from them and learn from them.
2.) Never forget who you are and what you love
Let me illustrate with a personal experience. When I went to college, I was not very sure on what course to take. I just took the course that attracted and challenged me. But eventually I learned to open my world to new ideas and questions. I joined socially oriented organizations like Gawad Kalinga and initially helped communities with their livelihood program. It was during this time that I got to realize that I would like to pursue social entrepreneurship, or a business that is integrated with a social mission. Thus, in every single decision I made after that realization, I asked the questions: is this what I really love? could this eventually be a financially sustainable career? and could this potentially change the world for the better? These three questions helped me in a lot of small and big decisions that I made.
You may have your own set of questions to help you decide on things in the future. But if you ask me what would be the most important question for me, I would say the first one: Is this what I really love? Because what or who you love will wake you up every Monday morning feeling alive and ready to go, it will make you sleep soundly, it will disturb you to take action, it will make you struggle and strive for goals even if they are so difficult to achieve because you don't just give up on what or who you love. And because you fight for it, it has better chances of surviving and you have better chances of succeeding. I believe that the things that take up most of our brain space, our time, and efforts, are the things that will make a difference. And if we passionately do the things we love for those we love, we become better versions of ourselves.
3.) Our small and big decisions will affect the world in one way or another
The usually forgotten reality is that we live in one world. By merely existing, we are already touching others and impacting the planet. And as Ateneans who are existing as part of the privileged few, we have been blessed with more and thus, more is expected of us. We belong to the educated class. We have been given the tools to excel in whatever field we choose, we have the capacity to dream for higher dreams, and thus, we have the capacity to dream beyond ourselves.
I have personally experienced the power of decisions. I am a scholar in Ateneo de Manila
University. I still don't know who gave me the scholarship but I will be forever grateful to him or her or them for giving me this chance. They too decided to dream beyond themselves, to reach out to others. And they have affected my life, the life of my family, and the social enterprise I am now serving.
The social enterprise I co-founded, Rags2Riches, Inc., was also a product of decisions. It was started by a group of young professionals and a Jesuit Priest who all decided that when we dream, we dream big, and we include others. We decided to create high-end fashion and home accessories using recycled materials, created by mothers from Payatas, and designed by top designers such as Rajo Laurel. This decision is now affecting 450 families, 4 international designers, over 150 partners, and 14 full-time employees. Because a few people decided to make a difference, a mother in Payatas could now come home with lechon manok pasalubong to her children who used to eat mashed up left-over food from the trash of fast food chains, a mother could now send her children to school with proper uniform and school supplies, and another mother could buy their first toilet for their home.
I believe so much in the power of decisions and I am excited for your decisions and how they could potentially change Zamboanga, the country and the world. I am quite excited for the years ahead of all of you. In my few hours here in Zamboanga, I have heard amazing stories about your journey as friends, classmates, boyfriends and girlfriends for some perhaps. But best of all, I got the very strong impression of how highly your teachers, administrators, and mentors think of you. They have taught you well and you have learned well. You have the energy, the heart, the spirit, and expertise to make the decisions that will move ideas and touch people. I am looking forward to the day when my future kids will graduate from high school or college and have one of you as the speaker. I am looking forward to being inspired by your life story.
Before I end, I would like to share with you a quote that I placed on the wall of my dorm
room during College. This reminded me everyday of the true meaning of success.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, or a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I wish you all the best, and true, lasting success. Congratulations!