This is the commencement speech delivered by Leonora Gonzales during the graduation exercises of St. Paul University, Tuguegarao, Cagayan on March 16, 2013. Nor Gonzales is the Sr. External Relations Officer of the World Bank office here in the Philippines.
Naimbag nga malem yo apo.
It is great to be a part of this wonderful celebration. Until now, I am still wondering why I was invited as your commencement speaker today.
I did not attend St Paul. Far from it, I am a product of the public school system. I had a few years of private school education from kindergarten to grade 4. But we were 4 children, and my parents, being government employees--- my mom, a public school teacher and my dad at the Philippine National Railways, did not have the means to see us through private school education. I am the third in the brood so while my two older siblings finished their high school and elementary, respectively, in the private school, my youngest brother and I had to transfer to a public school (Isabelo delos Reyes and then Jose Abad Santos High School) when it became extremely financially difficult as we got older.
I am also not from Tuguegarao. Pampanga po roots ng parents ko.
And most of all, I did not and do not hold public office. Neither could I boast of any major achievement. Sure, I work at the World Bank but usually, for big events like this, one invites the head - the man or woman at the top, and I am not! I am several notches below - in fact I tried to talk them out of this and convinced them to invite the head.
I am definitely not a politician nor a celebrity although i am proud to be an Aquino. Siguro pwede po ako magpanggap na ate ni Kris Aquino or best friend ni Boy Abunda.
Perhaps, my only claim to this status of being your commencement speaker is that this is my third time to be a commencement speaker - yes I am a veteran commencement speaker - the first time was when I was invited to speak at the elementary school where I graduated from, the second was when my husband and I spoke in the high school graduation of our children. Those were the days when I was relatively younger. Talaga po yata tumatanda na ako. Kasi na upgrade na po ang invitation sa akin. College commencement na po ang level ko yata ngayon.
Seriously, I consider this a great honor to be standing here. Not to mention that I could not say no to Sister Remy who, on behalf of St. Paul University, has been a long partner of the World Bank since 2004.
So bear with me - as I am your regular parent, employee, Filipino citizen, with no major accomplishment.
I would like to begin by telling you a story. I used to work for an NGO that gave free mental feeding activities to children. One of my colleagues then was handling the afternoon class of a public day care center. She told me that she noticed one of his students had been a habitual latecomer. Maybe an hour late. He would be coming, puffing and looking very tired and he would slump on his assigned desk whenever he arrived. She said that the boy was very smart and well-liked in class because he was friendly to everyone. My friend, the teacher, was getting really irritated. She gave an ultimatum to the boy and threatened him with disciplinary action. The boy, in tears, told her the real reason why he was always late, almost everyday, for an hour. As it turned out, this little boy had to wait for his other brother who was attending classes in the morning. He had to wait till he arrived because they shared one pair of shoes.
One pair of shoes for the two brothers.
As soon as his older brother would arrive, he would put on the shoes of his brother, (medyo malaki po to sa kanya) but never mind, he would put on these shoes and run as fast as he could to the school. Both boys walked to school. As the school is quite a distance, it took the older brother 30 minutes to walk and the younger one, the same time to walk to school from home. That’s why he is late, almost always, by an hour.
I started with this story because this experience has been a constant reminder to me of the gap between the rich and the poor. This is the reason why I chose to work in development through the NGOs working for health and nutrition of young children and giving microfinance services to the poor, and now, with the World Bank, a global institution that is trying to help governments end poverty and build shared prosperity.
As I enter the campus today, I thought: What was I thinking when I was your age, listening to the commencement speaker at my own college graduation in UP Diliman? With all due respect to him or to her, I do not remember anything.
Wala. As in wala talaga!
Kaya po ako ay nakikiusap sa inyo ngayon - makinig po kayong mabuti sa akin.
Graduates - please listen to me.
Parents, please pray that your children will listen to me.
I promise you it will be over after 10 minutes. For every minute I go overtime, please withdraw 100 pesos from the account of Sister Remy.
If there is anything I would like you to remember a year from now, 5 or 10 years from now, or many years from now, it is these 3 words--- Pay It Forward. Say this to the person next to you. PAY IT FORWARD.
While I was inspired by the movie with the same title, "paying it forward" means a lot more than what the movie depicted. It is a lot more than just having a warm feeling when you do good to another person. Here I would like to bring into the picture someone I greatly admire – a bright man, a scholar, a teacher, a writer, a leader I am trying to emulate, you all know him-- -- St. Paul. St. Paul, after his conversion, had a real change of heart that whatever he thought, whatever he did, whatever he said, in fact his whole life and ambition – he committed himself to repaying everyone with love, through the sharing of the love of God. In his letter to the Romans, he encouraged them to owe no one anything except to love one another. It short, he has taken the posture of being always in debt to other people.
What do you do when you owe someone money? The responsible thing to do is to pay him back. So St. Paul, once a persecutor of Christians, was so moved by God's grace and mercy, that he felt that the least that he could do since his conversion experience on the road to Damascus was to extend the same great love to his fellow men or women. Once the persecutor of the Christian believers, he knew he was forgiven much, so he had to give so much.
So here’s the first thing – to be able to pay it forward, it has to come from the heart and a firm resolve to make the lives of others better. Sabi nga ng mga taga Ateneo, “a man or woman for others.” Sabi ng mga taga UP, “sinong kikilos, kung hindi tayo kikilos?” Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?”
With this perspective, your definition of success will change. What is your definition of success? A high-paying job? Work abroad? A house and lot? Higher studies and a doctorate degree, perhaps? Listen to St. Paul who belonged to a great tribe, was educated well by the best scholar of his time, had a great position in society, but his definition of success was so different from many of us - in fact some of us may say, hello?! Mayron pa bang ganyan mag -isip?" To paraphrase his words, “whatever great qualifications I have, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish (basura!), compared to the gain I have in Christ.”
Please don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in getting higher education and pursuing a job abroad or in Manila. But what should drive you to pay it forward is to have this perspective of what success is all about.
Graduates, you are very privileged to have reached this stage. Whatever your circumstances right now, whether you have worked your way through college, or under a scholarship, or under your parents scholarship, you have reached this stage and you deserve a big congratulations.
Remember this is a new beginning. Now, start to think how you can PAY IT FORWARD.
In paying it forward, remember those who have lesser in life. There are just so many poor in the country. As of 2009, we have more than 23 million poor kababayans.
Going back to my earlier story --- The story about the two brothers had a happy ending. How did I end up paying it forward? I did not shell out money for this boy. It so happened that my boyfriend then, who is now my husband, was working for a popular athletic shoe company. I asked him, “don’t you have shoes that did not pass the quality control standard of your company?” To cut the story short, without paying a single cent, several sacks of shoes, of various sizes and colors, were donated to the NGO I worked for by the shoe company, and that boy and his brother, as well as all the children in that day care center, had 2-3 pairs of shoes that year. On many occasions, money should not be a problem in paying it forward.
You will be looking for jobs. And many of you will leave Tuguegarao for better opportunities in Manila, other cities, or countries. I must be frank, however, with you -- not all of you will be able to get the jobs you or your parents have always dreamed of. Just last year alone, there were 10 million Filipinos who were either unemployed or underemployed. Every year, from this year to 2016, there will be an additional 1.1 million Filipinos who will enter the labor force. That is a total of 14.6 million jobs in 2016!
I am sorry to shock you on this happy occasion. But I want you to know the realities out there so you can think of how to pay it forward amid this huge jobs challenge.
I will give you a tip. Start to contribute to the development of rural areas. Be involved in agriculture to develop the countryside. Whatever your course, pay it forward by thinking of contributing to the greater good of others. Sounds quixotic? Just pay it forward, anyway. You don’t only address the needs of rural areas where most of the poor are but by developing the rural areas, you also create jobs for graduates like you and even undergraduates.
How do you do this?
Vote wisely this coming election. Vote for candidates that will promote policies and programs that will give improve the rural areas and create jobs or increase the incomes of farmers, fishermen, small landowners, and others. Pay it forward.
Participate and use the open space given you through blogs, twitter, Facebook, to contribute to an informed debate about the issues that affect the poor and how opportunities could be created to provide jobs to young people like you. Promote the kind of leadership that the late Mayor and DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo demonstrated in Naga City and in the Philippines. Mayor Robredo paid it forward by promoting his “tsinelas” style of leadership – willing to walk for the people and empowering them to make decisions for themselves.
Right after this program, determine to do your best and leave a mark of excellence in whatever you do. Be the best that you can be. Carry your faith wherever you go by leaving that Paulinian mark. And what is the Paulinian mark? Spirituality and Excellence. They go together. Whether you get into a job that is high or low in rank, give it your best shot. Kahit taga timpla ng kape or executive ka, do not settle for mediocrity. Pay it forward to the next batches of graduates of St. Paul by doing your best so that the future employers would be seeking graduates from St. Paul.
Di ba mas madali maghanap ng trabaho kapag ang employer mo would say, “this new graduate should be good. Paulinian yata iyan.”
When you get to a position of higher influence, remember to pay it forward, by bringing your faith to the corridors of power.
Some of you will work for the government or for the private sector, or be an entrepreneur. Whatever you do, stay clean. Have fun but stay clean.
Finally, the true mark of a Paulinian is to live the life that St. Paul lived. In his letter to Timothy he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
Three actions from St. Paul: Fight, Finish, Be faithful.
And I dare add a 4th action: Forward. Pay it forward.
Agyamanak apo. Dios ni kamu.