MARCH 27 speech to the School of Humanities students
Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat. I want to thank Father Ben and the Ateneo community for the honor of this doctorate degree. And congratulations to our Law School for having 7 of the 11—ten topnotchers—in the recent bar exams!
Father Nebres, Father Magadia, trustees, faculty and staff, parents and siblings, graduates of 2010—many congratulations. Thank you so much for this gift of fellowship with the sesquicentennial class. You've earned your diploma from a great learning institution, and you have every right to be proud. I have wracked my mind and heart with what I should say today.
(JK ROWLING: "Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today.")
The weeks of fear and worry at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight, and sleep. And I've asked myself, what I wish I had known at my own graduation day 44 years ago.
(JK ROWLING: I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this.)
The sad truth is that I don't even remember who the speaker was at my graduation, or a single word that was said. So I begin these remarks with the expectation that I will soon be forgotten. I've been cautioned that on an occasion as this, graduates are only thinking one of the following thoughts: one—I hope these ceremonies finish soon because I can't wait to take my vacation. Two—inspire me please. There aren't too many doing that these days. Three—If MVP stops talking before I stop listening, I'll give him a big applause. Four—If you hand out free tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert tonight, we'd give you a standing ovation. Yes, I'm happy to say that Smart will be giving away four free tickets right after this ceremony! Now that you've been sufficiently humored and bribed, let me earn my honorary degree, and turn thoughtful and traditional.
I come here today with the thought that despite what may seem to be the culmination of a successful life with this honorary degree, there's still much to do. I come to say that one's title, even an honor like this, says little about how well one's life has been led—that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to learn, more to do, more to accomplish. So I want to say to all of you, that despite your remarkable achievement, you too cannot rest on your laurels.
(BARACK OBAMA: I come to embrace the notion that I haven't done enough in my life; I heartily concur; I come to affirm that one's title, even a title like President of the United States, says very little about how well one's life has been led—that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve. And I want to say to you today, graduates, Class of 2009, that despite having achieved a remarkable milestone in your life, despite the fact that you and your families are so rightfully proud, you too cannot rest on your laurels.)
Some graduating classes in the past have marched into this place in times of peace and progress. In those easy times, we could have called on you to keep things merely going, and not screw things up.
But we're gathered here at a time of trial and transition, not only for this country but also for the world. Our economy slowed down last year because of a global recession—the result, in part, of greed and irresponsibility that rippled out from Wall Street. We continue to spend beyond our means. We avoid making the tough, unpopular choices.
(BARACK OBAMA: For we gather here tonight in times of extraordinary difficulty, for the nation and for the world. The economy remains in the midst of a historic recession, the worst we've seen since the Great Depression; the result, in part, of greed and irresponsibility that rippled out from Wall Street and Washington, as we spent beyond our means and failed to make hard choices.)
And in 44 days, we will elect a new set of national and local leaders.
For all of you, these challenges are felt now in more immediate and personal terms. You will soon be looking for a job—struggling to figure out which career makes sense in this economy of ours. Maybe you have loans, and are worried how you'll pay them down. Maybe you've got a family to help. Maybe you're asking how your siblings can have an Ateneo education like you had.
(BARACK OBAMA: For many of you, these challenges are also felt in more personal terms. Perhaps you're still looking for a job -- or struggling to figure out what career path makes sense in this disrupted economy. Maybe you've got student loans—no, you definitely have student loans—or credit card debts, and you're wondering how you'll ever pay them off. Maybe you've got a family to raise, and you're wondering how you'll ensure that your children have the same opportunities you've had to get an education and pursue their dreams.)
Against these issues, you may be tempted to fall back on the more visible markers of success—by chasing the usual brass rings. How much money you make, a fancy title or a nice car. Being on the roster of the—rich and famous (or the most invited) guest list. But the choice of form over substance, fame over character, short-term gain over long term goal is precisely what your generation needs to end.
Coming from the Ateneo, I know that the pressure to succeed is immense. In fact, your biggest liability is the need to succeed.
(CONAN O'BRIEN: I've dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed.
And your biggest fear must be the fear of failure. But first, let me define what success is.
Let me tell you, money's pretty cool. I'm not going to stand here and tell you that's it's not about money, because money is sweet. I like money. It's good for buying companies and things—and for putting up a few buildings here and there for Ateneo. But having a lot of money does not totally make you a successful person. What you want is both money and meaning. You want your life and your career to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings real richness to your life, to be surrounded by people you can truly work with—because you trust and treasure them, and they cherish you in return. That's when you're really rich, that's when you really succeed.
(OPRAH WINFREY: Let me tell you, money's pretty nice. I'm not going to stand up here and tell you that it's not about money, 'cause money is very nice. I like money. It's good for buying things. But having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life. What you really want is to be surrounded by people you trust and treasure and by people who cherish you.That's when you're really rich.)
Let me now deal with failure. On this wonderful day when you stand on the threshold of what is called—real life, it is—ironically, the best time to talk about failure. Nobody's life is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. If things go wrong, you hit a dead end—as you will, many times in your life—it's just life's way of saying—time to change course.
(OPRAH WINFREY: Now I want to talk a little bit about failings, because nobody's journey is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. If things go wrong, you hit a dead end—as you will—it's just life's way of saying time to change course.)
Now I cannot tell you that failure is fun.
(JK ROWLING: Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun.)
Periods of failure in my life were dark ones.
I've had a lot of success. But I've had a lot of failures. I've looked good. I've looked bad. I've been praised and criticized. And it hurt like hell. But my mistakes have been necessary.
(CONAN O'BRIEN: I've had a lot of success and I've had a lot of failure. I've looked good and I've looked bad. I've been praised and I've been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary.)
I had no idea how far the tunnel of failure extended. And any light at the end of it seemed more hope than reality.
(JK ROWLING: I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.)
Now let me tell you about some of my biggest failures.
In 1995, first pacific invested in telecommunications in India at a time when the industry there was just getting started. Under the laws of India, foreign investors are allowed to own not more than 49% of a local telco. So we invited an Indian partner to hold the 51% majority. You all know how capital intensive the telco business is. To our utmost regret, our partner could not provide the counterpart capital. The relationship soured, and we had to sell the business. Since then, India's telecoms industry has grown exponentially. So we lost significant value by divesting. If we had managed to retain this business, I would not need to make a living giving graduation speeches. But I have had personal failures as well.
I will now let you in on a well-kept secret. I was in 4th year high school in San Beda College, and was in contention to be valedictorian that year. It was an open secret that majority of my classmates were cheating-changing answers from true to false, ironically, in our religion exams. I felt I had to do the same to protect my grades. Several of us were caught - pero ako ang pinag-initan. I knew I was wrong, and deserved to be punished. Indeed, San Beda stripped me of all my honors. Finally, with the suspicion about rampant cheating, I was asked by the principal to name names. I refused. I disappointed my parents deeply. It took many years for the pain and bitterness to heal. Several years ago, I thought it was time to free myself from the rancor and memory of that experience. What better proof of reconciliation with San Beda than the 3 NCAA championships for the Red Lions?
Failure taught me lessons about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had imagined: I also found out that I had parents whose value was truly priceless.
(JK ROWLING: Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.)
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you can be secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.
(JK ROWLING: The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.)
And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life, my career and, most importantly, my moral values.
(JK ROWLING: And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.)
So graduates, always remember this—success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.
(NOTE: This is a popular quote on the internet attributed to various sources, including Winston Churchill and John Wooden.)
MVP's lessons for life as come near the end of my remarks, let me wrap up with some old-fashioned, feel-good graduation advice:
First, hug and kiss those who helped get you to this day—parents, grandparents, friends, teachers. If you're too shy or uptight to do that, please do the old fashioned handshake thing. But I recommend a hug and a kiss. Don't let the sun go down today without saying thank you to someone.
Second, don't forget that you have a body under your toga. Take good care of it. Engage in sports. It's fun, and it is a laboratory for victory and adversity. How an athlete celebrates his triumphs, or overcomes defeat or injury, how he deals with a hostile crowd or a critical media, reflects what life is all about. Indeed, sports offers a richness all its own—it is a metaphor for life.
Third, remember you have brains under that mortarboard. You've been running it like crazy for four years, whining about all the books you've had to read, the papers you've had to write, the tests you've had to take. Yet thanks to that versatile, gigabyte hard-drive of yours, and a million Starbucks cups, you made it.
Fourth, give one peso for every ten you earn. I saw my mother pass away 8 years ago, and she left this world without anything. Which means you're not the owner of what you think you own—you're only a steward, because everything's on loan. So pass some of it on. If you don't, government will just take it anyway.
As today's door closes softly between us, those are my parting words. But there will be other partings and other last words in your lives. But today will not be complete without acknowledging what Father Ben has done for the Ateneo these past 17 years as the university's longest serving president—the new Loyola Schools, all the new buildings, the UAAP championships and the bonfires. It has been a pleasure working with him. Thank you so much, Father Ben.
I do have one last word for you, if I may. This was a gift when I graduated at the age of 19—the gift of friends with whom I sat on graduation day, who remain my friends for life.
So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you will recall those of Seneca, one of the old Romans I met in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
(JK ROWLING: I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life.
So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.)
I will now let you go. Through God's providence, may each of you travel well that precious journey called life. And may your future be worthy of your dreams. My deepest thanks for the courtesy and honor you all have shared with me. Many congratulations. God bless you all. Good day and good life.
MARCH 26 speech to the School of Management, School of Science and Engineering
Magandang Hapon sa inyong lahat. Rev. Fr. Nebres, distinguished faculty and staff, proud and relieved parents, graduates of 2010—warmest congratulations. I am pleased to join the fellowship of this sesquicentennial
It has been more than 40 years since I graduate from what was a small, idyllic university. We were an all-male institution then, with Maryknoll— now Miriam—providing some distraction. We wore neckties, and no celfones or Jollibee's were around. Since that time, Jesuit charism has produced many changes at the Ateneo, most notably an increasing engagement with the world—pushing the frontiers of depth and universality—to use the words of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas. This is consistent with the university's strategic mission of closing the gaps in poverty and competitiveness.
More than 500 years ago—in 1478—the first recorded honorary degree was conferred by Oxford University on Lionel Woodville, who was dean of Exeter University and brother-in- law of King Edward IV. Oxford made him a doctor of Canon Law in a blatant attempt to win the favour of the king.
This is my fourth degree—so far. I hear that Oprah Winfrey—The big "O"— has collected a total of 7 awards. So I have 3 to go! There's the heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson who got a Doctorate in Humane Letters for his wide range of skills, including biting off the ears of his opponents.
But the indisputable number one awardee must be Sesame Street's Kermit the Frog—who was given an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters by Long Island University!
44 years ago I sat where you now sit, I also thought what you now think—What is going to happen to me? Where can I find a job? Am I really graduating a virgin?
(CONAN O'BRIEN: Fifteen years ago I sat where you sit now and I thought exactly what you are now thinking: What's going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin?)
Perhaps the best way to answer the first two questions—only you can answer the third—is to point at those sunrise businesses which can best offer opportunities to you for employment and career:
First, businesses unique to our country's geographic or resource advantages such as tourism and mining.
Second, industries that are by-products of our labor mitigation, leaving us for example with a surplus of doctors, nurses, and care givers. And since our population is comparatively young—complemented by our warm disposition—we are naturally competitive in the medical tourism and retirement businesses.
Third, businesses linked to information and communications technology. The shift to a knowledge based economy is best reflected in the emergence of the country's knowledge process and business process outsourcing (KPO/BPO) markets—two of our fast rising industries. This sector generated 7 billion dollars in revenue in 2009, and is expected to realize 17 billion dollars five years from today.
Fourth, infrastructure and utilities. We simply need to build more roads, ports and harbor, power plants, modern airports, especially a new international airport, an efficient transportation system—trans, light rail, ships—modern hospitals to raise the level of medical care.
Fifth, agriculture. We need to feed our people first. I don't understand and cannot accept, why weer are the world's biggest importer of rice.
Life in the corporation—types of bosses...After suggesting where jobs can be found, let me say that most of you will probably work with a boss or with many bossess. Some of them will be first rate and inspiring, but some will make you wonder how they became managers in the first place. Of these managers, four typical types stand out.
First, is the "despotic manager"—who rules as if by divine right, because he thinks he is always right. He has a short attention span and expects everything to be done his way, right away. From him you get nothing but fear. Sa PLDT, sila yung tinatawag naming Argentinean o di kaya, Russian. Kasi palagi urgent yan or rush yan!
Second, is the "floater manager"—one who rises effortlessly in an organization. He is friends with everyone and doesn't make enemies because he does not make the tough decisions. From him you will learn nothing.
Third, is the "intriguer manager," the corporate Rasputin. He operates below the surface and plots against everybody. From him you will get painful ulcers and sleepless nights.
Fourth, is the "narcissist manager," whose self-confidence and charm— sometimes combined with handsome or pretty looks—push him or her up the corporate ladder. From him you would get no encouragement.
On your way to the top, how can you deal with a corporate species called the boss? First, you must learn how to manage not only your peers sideways, but also your boss upwards.
Second, find the gem beneath the rough. Remember your boss will not be flawed in all aspects. Short of being the S/O/B—son of the boss—he must have had some strengths to have become a manager. You can have a boss with a fiery temper, but maybe they work like there's no clock. The trick is to know what makes him tick.
Third, be smart, or better yet, smarter than the boss. Fourth, choose your battles. Not all disagreements with your manager will be good for you or your career. Speak out at the opportune time. The Greeks have a term for this—it is called "kairos"—which is to say the right thing at the right moment. Be sensitive.
When I started my own career, I was just like you looking for a job, any job. In fact, I began as an employee—as executive assistant to the president of Filoil Marketing with a salary of 1,000 pesos a month. And despite my Wharton MBA, I had to train as a salesman for 6 months working in many parts of Mindanao. It took persistence and patience and years of waiting until I finally became my own boss. Was I scared? You bet! Transitioning from employee to entrepreneur was like starting all over again. In 1981, I founded First Pacific with 6 people, 50 square meters of office space, and little capital. It was like the first day of school for me, and I couldn't call my mother to hold my hand.
So the struggles I faced to make it to this podium today reflect the struggles of so many other Filipinos born without privilege or pedigree.
I was born poor. My father started his career as a messenger at Philippine National Bank. His father began his - as a public school teacher in Apalit, Pampanga. As a young student, I lived on a 25-centavo daily allowance. Scholarships sustained my education from my elementary days at San Beda College all the way to my MBA at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. I grew up in Little Baguio, San Juan—along Barasoain Street. Our modest house stood right on the boundary of a squatter settlement. From my bedroom window, I could see, smell, and feel the lives of the poor firsthand—mga away ng mag-asawa at ng kanilang mga kabit halos araw-araw, mga taong naliligo sa may kanto, mga batang dumaraming parang kabute kada taon. So whenever I look back on my years here at the Ateneo—I do have one lasting memory, and that's about the poor, and about helping them—on Saturdays when I would teach catechism at the National Mental Hospital in Mandaluyong, and Sundays amongst squatter families in Sapang Palay.
And my interest in sports has emphatically proven how basketball or boxing or cycling provides an escape from the poverty trap. Look no further than Manny Pacquiao as an example. And there are other equally inspiring success stories.
Joel Calderon was last year's Padyak Pinoy Tour of Champions. He is a tricycle driver in Guimba, Nueva Ecija who had to leave his job to train for this summer bikathon. Joel won, riding an old model bicycle borrowed from his teenage nephew. His proud father trundled his tricycle from Guimba to Baguio, 120 kilometers distant, to witness his son's glorious moment— finishing the 195-kilometer race in 5 hours, 58 minutes, 37 seconds.
Annie Albania is a member of our national women's boxing team. She comes from Poblacion, South Cotabato. And is the youngest of six children. Her father was a palay farmer who tilled the family's ancestral land of 2 hectares to put food in the mouths of his children. Annie's father died six years ago, leaving the task of bread winning to Annie. It was in the sport of boxing that she cast her lot. With determination and diligence, Annie is now the country's best lady boxer. And she will step onto the biggest stage of her life—the London Olympics in 2012—hopefully with the country's first Olympic gold.
So graduates, for the Joel's and Annie's of this country—take up a cause. Let your passion give force and moment to that cause. Be brave enough to live life passionately.
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your passion.
(Quote from Alan Alda: You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.)
And if you make your cause the focus of your career, that would be great. But even if you spend a few hours each week, a few days each month, you could still change lives. Even the life of one, single person.
Few will have the resources to bend history itself. But each of you can work to change a small corner of this country of ours for the better. It is in the total of your individual acts that will be written the history of this generation.
(Quote from Robert F. Kennedy: Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.)
I'd like to close now by saying that to be truly successful, you have to stand for something larger than yourself, to use your life in service to someone else's.
(OPRAH WINFREY: In order to be truly happy, you must live along with and you have to stand for something larger than yourself.)
Beyond your immediate concern about jobs and career, there is the broader imperative of nation building—one of the 3 themes of Ateneo's sesqui. The notion of nation building was best captured by India's first Prime Minister Nehru when he said, on the eve of Indian independence in August 1947: "The service of India means the service of millions who suffer. It means ending poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity." And then referring to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru added: "The ambition of the greatest man ofour generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, our work will not be over."
Whilst our work in this country is indeed far from over, may everyone on this occasion resolve to wipe every tear—in every eye—of every Filipino.
Finally, let me leave you with the wisdom of my fellow doctorate, Kermit the Frog, in his own commencement address—"You are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp. But I'm sure that wherever I go as I travel around the world, I will find each and every one of you working your tails off to save other swamps."
Again, many congratulations. God bless all of you. Good luck and good life.