Home | 2019 Senior High School Commencement Exercises for (ABM and HUMSS) Guest’s Speech

Theme: Unity in Diversity: Quality Education for All
Dr. Gim C. Dimaguila

Thank you very much Mr. Rey Reyes for that very kind introduction. To our beloved president, our school principal, department heads, members of the faculty, parents, of course our graduates, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!

I am sure in the days leading up to this event- your graduation- there has been a lot of anxiety and jitters. I bet a lot of you had questions ranging from the mundane- “Man miss ba gaha kumigo di miyo classmates?” or di kaya “I wonder si man mirahan pa kame del dimiyo crush na college?” to the Medyo serious “tama ba iyo ste ya saka course?” and to the million-peso question of “Gradua ba iyo?”.

Well, since I see you all seated here, I think it is safe to say that that last question has been joyfully answered. So before I begin my short talk- let me first offer you a very warm congratulations. It is very much deserved.

Around 19 years ago, I was seated in your place. Full of joy, optimism, excitement, with a tinge of sadness and trepidation. I couldn’t remember the exact feeling I had when I was in your place. I just knew it was a hodgepodge of all those I mentioned with one thought looming above everything else- “The next step after this is real life- college.” I knew that everything I did- the choices I made- would define the rest of my life.

Notice two things in my previous statement: 1. College= real life and 2. Choices= defining the rest of life.

College= real life and Choices Why did I say college is real life? Wasn’t high school real life? Wasn’t grade school? Nevermind kindergarten, I’m pretty sure a lot of us have vague memories about being toddlers. The only thing I remember when I was in kindergarten is going back to fall in line again and again for snacks during recess (we had free snacks in kinder school and I loved the masi and chocolait the teachers gave out then). I say college is real life because college is a microcosm of life. In grade school and highschool we had a set routine and our teachers to guide us- 1 st and 2nd period, recess, 3rd and 4th period, lunch, afternoon classes, and dismissal. We didn’t have a choice then. Once we enrolled, that’s it- we go with the flow. Our job then was pretty much straightforward- get good grades, don’t fail; break hearts every now and then- you know the drill.

In college, everything changes. In college, we suddenly have choices. What course to take, who to take it with, morning classes vs afternoon classes, what orgs to join, and even how to avoid certain teachers! It can be a bit overwhelming. That is why I say college somewhat mirrors real life. We now have choices. And choices are what make us human.

As Albus Dumbledore says to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”.

Choice.

It is often underestimated and denied. In the memes and comments section in Facebook we often see people commenting and rationalizing that they didn’t have a choice. No choice daw. What we should realize though, is that our ability to choose is actually very powerful. It’s just that sometimes we get clouded by the events and circumstance surrounding us. Yes, we sometimes cannot control the situations we are in. What we can control though is how we react to these circumstances. How we choose to respond to them.

This afternoon, I would like to share with you four (4) lessons life taught me when making choices:

1. Choose to be grateful,

2. Choose to be kind,

3. Choose to appreciate the little things in life, and

4. Choose to be a better person and a better human being.

Life Lesson # 1: Gratitude and the choice to be grateful

When I was in high school I childishly took things for granted. Even when I was younger I had a penchant for taking some things for granted. I am a product of a Jesuit Education. My parents are Zamboanguenos but due to work, my dad moved the family to Cebu. My pre-school and elementary years were spent in Sacred Heart School for Boys in General Maxilom Avenue. That school has since moved to Mandaue City and is now known as Ateneo de Cebu. At first I got good grades, my first year or so there- thanks to my parents constantly reminding me how lucky I am to be studying in a nice school. Then as the years came and went I started taking things for granted. My grades started to slip and despite having a private tutor for my Chinese subjects I still did not learn how to speak or write Chinese other than my name and the phrase “Siansi, Guabe dimchui”- that’s the phrase I use to excuse myself from class and go to the CR or wander the school grounds with a classmate avoiding teachers and lost in daydreaming about the uncanny X-men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

This trend continued until my family moved back to Zamboanga, when I was in third year highschool and I was transferred to our beloved Ateneo de Zamboanga. I am embarrassed to say that my grades during my high school years here were not at all stellar. I barely passed some subjects- thanks to Quake, Red Alert and Star Craft. There wasn’t any DOTA then. I was a frequent visitor of Mr. Greg Sanchez, our then prefect. I was always late to class. I was able to pass and graduate but my performance was mediocre to say the least.

That all changed though.

The turning point of my academic career and my young life was when I experienced adversity. Summer came and went, the school year which was supposed to be my freshman year was approaching when I was told that I wouldn’t be able to enroll for the first semester. My family was experiencing a particularly difficult time- so enrolling as a freshman was not an option. I was crushed, to say the least. Imagine a young man around 16-17, like YOU- just graduated; on the verge of starting a new life in college, brimming with possibilities… and being told NO, you can’t go.

I wanted desperately to go back to school.

That desperation was enhanced further as I saw my friends and classmates enroll and start their freshman year. You could call it- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), or the stark realization that if I didn’t get to go to college, I wouldn’t be able to attain my dreams in life. I prayed hard for a miracle. I promised heaven and the universe that if I got back to school I would work hard- seriously this time. That I will not waste the opportunity given to me. However, classes started and I found myself selling fried chicken in my family’s chicken stall by the road along Don Toribio Street in front of ZAEC. I looked longingly at the students starting their classes in ZAEC and wishing I was part of them. It didn’t help that most of our clientele in the chicken shop were college students. Whenever they came to buy chicken and I heard them talking about how difficult a certain subject was or how they hated a certain teacher, I couldn’t help but feel bitter.

Hello! Nakakapag-aral kaya kayo! Ako nga hindi eh. They didn’t have a right to complain. They were in school for crying out loud! I vowed that once I got into school again I wouldn’t complain about our teachers or about how difficult lessons will be. That was when I realized that my entire young life there was one thing I did not have and that was gratitude. Taking things for granted like I did when I was younger meant I wasn’t grateful for what I had. I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity of having had a private education my whole life. And now that I was officially an out-of-school-youth, I realized what I had lost.

As Passenger puts it “Only need the light when its burning low, only miss the sun when it starts to snow”. You know the rest of the song. Thankfully, towards the second semester, I was granted a scholarship and was able to start school. It was then I made a choice to do my best no matter what. I also made another choice- to be always grateful. Grateful for the scholarship, grateful to be in school, grateful for the little things. Especially so when I hit a particularly rough patch or difficult time; even if it felt soooo difficult to be grateful- I always try to find a reason to be. Believe me, being grateful makes difficult moments very much bearable.

Even with a scholarship, my baon was only eight (Php 8) pesos a day. Four pesos pamasahe for the jeep going to school and four pesos going back. When I got hungry, buying saging from Robucks worth four pesos meant I walked back home to Tetuan. Those walks home were powered by gratitude. I could still eat after all and study at the same time.

And it has powered me through 4 years of college, another 4 years in medical school, a year of internship, another year for my masters degree, through the physician licensures exam, an additional 4 years of residency (or specialty training) and a year for the specialty boards and through my current practice as an Ear, Nose, Throat- Head and Neck Surgeon. At this point I think I have to answer another million-peso question: How long did it take me from high school to become a surgeon? Well, that’s 4 + 4 + 1 + 1 + 4 for a grand total of 14 years. I graduated a total of 7 times not counting my high school graduation.

And I guess we have another million-peso question: was it worth it?

Every bit of the sweat, tears, blood (mine ha! Not anyone elses’!) and countless sleepless nights and puyat and being a zombie that it took to finally be called a bonafide surgeon. For that is what I am- an ear, nose, throat-head and neck surgeon. I usually deal with the very minor removing of ear wax to delicate microscopic ear surgeries and creation of new ear drums using a graft and endoscopic sinus surgeries and even removing tumors the size of another head. Nothing can compare to the rush of placing a knife against the patients skin and saying “cutting!” for the very first time. So a big YES.

It was all worth it. It wasn’t easy. But it is possible.

Life Lesson # 2: Choose to be Kind

”Words are Wind” Jon Snow famously says in GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons when gossip about his leadership and intention start to spread. But are they really just wind? As we are exposed to the struggles and stresses of daily life, it so tempting to be snarky, sarcastic or grumpy especially when things don’t go our way.

When I was a junior resident and training to be a specialist, I was in charge of the post-operative care of patients who were just operated on. On one of my dawn rounds, I found out that the clerk (a 4th year medical student) in charge of a particular patient committed several minor but very important errors. You see, most hospitals have a very rigid hierarchy. It is necessary, mind you, because of the lives we are dealing with. The students are usually at the bottom, followed by the interns a little bit higher up, then you have the junior residents (like myself at this time), and then the senior residents and supervising them all the chief resident.

My instinct was to berate her and give her a mountain of demerits for her error since she as the rotating clerk was directly under my supervision. But when I saw her sincerely distraught and hastily trying to make amends I felt for this student. I was once in her place after all. I knew what it was like. So instead of scolding her, I asked her “Kumain ka na ba? Nag Dinner ka na?” remember this was already almost 5 in the morning. “Kung hindi pa, kumain ka muna, pahinga ka bago mag endorsement rounds.” I added.

Hearing this, she broke down, tearfully said no and gratefully took a break. I finished my rounds and corrected the mistakes. A few weeks later, driving home from the hospital I got flagged down for getting caught in a junction box. I handed my license to the traffic enforcer while apologizing and hoping I would be given a pass. He took one look at my license then at my scrub suit with my name on the upper left pocket and asked “sa Ospital ng Maynila ho kayo? Dr. Dimaguila?” on nodding yes he said, “yung anak ko nagrotate sa inyo. Nabanggit nya kayo na halip sa pagalitan sya naintindihan mo dinadaanan nya.”

Turns out his daughter was the student who rotated in our department a few weeks back. Needless to say, I didn’t get a ticket that day.

Choose to be kind.

Even when it is hard not to be. Even when the temptation to be snarky, sarcastic is real. This page I take from my wife’s life playbook. I always hear her say to me “Be kind”. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be kind to animals. Be especially kind to those who are currently going through a difficult time and those who currently have less. I don’t agree with Jon Snow- words are NOT wind. They can hurt, even when uttered in jest. Kind words often go a long way in making this world a better place. And Jon Snow? Well, he got stabbed and died a few pages after those words- because of words.

Life Lesson # 3: Mindfulness and Appreciating the Little Things

Life is a journey, not a destination. We often hear this a lot. Most of the time it is bandied around, floating on quotes for the day, or used as a caption in the latest Instapost. It is easy to get lost chasing our goals and dreams. Sometimes we focus too much on where we want to go and how to get there that we forget to appreciate the now.

I’ve had several close calls in my life. The closest and scariest was when I stared down the barrel of a gun pointed at my face by someone who thought I was someone else a year after graduating from medicine. The predominant thought that ran through my head at the time was “10 years of freaking studying and I’m going to end up another statistic”. You see, I was so focused on being a doctor that I forgot that life was more than that. Sure I had to work and read and burn the midnight oil. What I forgot to do was live.

The very next day I drove out to the beach at Golf, sat on the shore, let the waves wash over my feet and smelled the salt air. I made a conscious effort to be mindful of everything- the sun, the smell of the sea, the feel of the water. I still do that 9 years later whenever I get the opportunity to be near the water again. Even in my daily routine amidst the busy-ness of the day I make a conscious effort to stop and appreciate the sun streaming in or the setting light; feel the rhythm of my breathing and thank God for another day.

Appreciate the little things.

Life Lesson # 4: Choosing to be a better human being or How Can I Be Better than I was Yesterday

This life lesson is lifted right out of my wife’s playbook. You see, there are many little struggles that I go through everyday. What do I mean? Like crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red and there are no cars around. Or Counter-flowing through the last 10 meters to that left turn. Or dropping that itty tiny bitty bit piece of crumpled resibo and know that no one will notice. I am pretty sure a lot of you will be saying now- of course Ill wait till the pedestrian light is green. Or of course I wont counterflow, Ill wait till I get to that corner. Or of course I’m not going to litter I’m going to stuff that tiny piece of paper down my pocket and wait for the trash can.

If you really are going to do these- then keep it up. For me those these are my daily struggles. The little things. Thankfully, I have my wife. At the end of each day we have this habit of asking each other about our day, talking about the problems we encounter, stuff like that. And always always she talks about how to become a better person than the day before. So when I’m faced with those seemingly mundane decisions some of the time I choose to be better. I say some because a lot of the times I fail in these struggles. I fail in keeping my emotions in check, I fail in being patient with my patients, I fail in treating others kindly, I fail in trying to connect with people, I fail by ignoring people and letting my fear and apathy get the better of me. I fail in a lot of things.

But do you guys know what the beauty of life is? It is that as long as you are alive and breathing, there’s always a chance to be better. The key is to never stop trying to be better. They say that for us doctors, learning never stops. And that is true. Not only for us doctors, but for everyone. We have to constantly strive to learn so that we can become better. And when we are better we are able to give more.

You guys are all in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics- Information and Communication Technology (STEMICT) tract. Our future doctors and engineers. My future colleagues. I guess you guys all know this already but the advancement of science and medicine is all built on research. Decades and decades of it. I kid you not when I say that some studies take more than 40 years to finish. Amazing, huh. As the section chief for research at the Ospital ng Maynila ENT department, I always remind my residents of the importance of publishing a paper.

A colleague always says “Publish or Perish”. And it is true. Sift through your ideas. See the possibilities. Me and my friends when we go out for drinks we banter about wild, out of this world ideas. And sometimes, those ideas make it into print and then eventually into a paper. So, the next time you guys go out for a couple of drinks- don’t be shy about throwing wild ideas at each other. Who knows, you might discover the next Vibranium.

In Summary, There you go, my dear graduates. Four life lessons that I hope can inspire you as you make your way to a different level, a different chapter in your young careers- 1. Gratitude, 2. Kindness, 3. Mindfulness and 4. Magis. The choice is yours. It is a powerful thing given to us- choice. Use it wisely.

As Tony Stark says (and I’m paraphrasing) “heroes are made by the choice they make and not the abilities they have.” And as Batman says “It’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you.” So in closing, live life. Enjoy life.

Congratulations once again and have a good evening.