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St. Louis College Valenzuela

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#005 Maysan Road,
Valenzuela City, Philippines

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St. Louis College Valenzuela

(Ugong Campus)

#2352 La Mesa St. Ugong,
Valenzuela City, Philippines

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2011 College Commencement Remarks
Christian S. Monsod

Chrisitan MonsodMembers of the graduating class, your parents and loved ones, President Luciano, the Boards of Regents and faculty of St. Louis College Valenzuela, friends, good afternoon.

I have attended many graduation exercises, as a member of the class, as a parent, grandparent or speaker and I have come to realization that the role of the speaker is largely ceremonial. I frankly do not remember who spoke at my graduation from high school, college or graduate school or what they spoke about. So, you are not honored by my coming here, rather I am honored to be a witness to this momentous event in your young life.

That perspective behooves me to keep my remarks as brief as possible so that if you do not recall my name or anything I say, you will at least remember me for being brief.

But, before that, let me congratulate you on your graduation. You may not realize it but just being here today makes you one of the most fortunate citizens of this country. Because for every 100 students that entered Grade 1 with you, only 15 of those students will be finishing college. What happened to the other 85? Only 67 of the finished elementary school and of the 60 who enrolled in high school, only 45 got a high school diploma. Of the 25 who pursued a college degree, 10 dropped out, leaving only 15 college graduates. You are one of the 15. You can justly be proud of yourselves.

But there are others who are just as proud or even prouder of you. They are the ones who nurtured you and never lost faith in you, and gave up things for themselves because your dreams mattered more than their needs. In this age of globalization where humanity is often secondary, a great civilization with a sense of belonging can be built by citizens who observe the simple virtues of gratitude, civility and love of country. So, together, let us ask your parents, grandparents, guardians, to please stand up and take a bow so you can say thank you with a resounding round of applause.

There is another group here who deserves recognition. They are the keepers of the young outside the home who, in the twilight of their years, are sustained only by fond memories of the young men and women who passed through this school to become leaders of their communities. They are largely unsung but you know who they are. So let me also ask your teachers and the administrative staff of the school to please stand up so you can thank them with another round of applause. And finally, you. Your teachers don't give you your grades, they merely record them. You earned your grades and graduation through your own efforts. So I ask you now to all stands up and give yourselves a well-deserved round of applause.

Now to the three points I want to make today

, you must wonder what the world out there has in store for you.  My wife would always tell her students at the U.P. – the world is your oyster.  Your future is limited only by your imagination and your willingness to hard work.  You will find that your job and career path may not even involve the degree you got.  Your formal education qualifies you for a degree but it does not cast your future in stone.  More importantly, what your education has taught you are the techniques of learning any subject matter.  You may even find that employing yourself as an entrepreneur is really what you want to do.  After all, only 50% of employment in the country is wage employment.  The rest are self-employed, and many of them are doing well on their own.  As you assess your prospects, I have only one request of you.  Can you please exhaust all the opportunities first in this country before thinking of going abroad?  Allow me tell you why.

Since you are among the lucky few with a college degree, you will be faced with more than your share of choices in your life.  In making those decisions, and this is my second point, please do not forget the single creed of Andres Bonifacio that is powerful for its brevity and meaning: “Seek thy country’s happiness above your own.”

Nowadays, when we open the newspapers or watch television, one of the most trivialized words is “hero”.  Returning OFW’s are hailed as heroes, a boxer who wins a world title is called a hero, a rich man with private charities is lionized as a hero and soldier who dies in an encounter with fellow Filipino is buried a hero.  Certainly, these people are exemplary in their own ways and deserve to be cited for what they have done.  But are they the heroes we have in mind when we say that our country is in need of heroes?

A book “The Lucifer Effect”, by Philip Zimbardo tells us they are not because:

“The core of heroism revolves around the individual’s commitment to a noble purpose and to accept the consequences for that purpose.”…”being a hero is not simply being a good role model or a popular sports figure.”

And it certainly does not make a hero when celebrities play to the crowd with mindless rhetoric on complex issues that need serious discernment, like the reproductive health bill.

The antithesis of heroism is what Zimbardo describes as the “Lucifer effect” where situational forces and group dynamics (like the barkada system) work together to lead otherwise decent men and women to abandon moral scruples and cooperate in oppression and violence.  No one is immune from the effect.  Even “good apples” in a “bad barrel” can be corrupted.  And people can be good or bad at one time or another because the line between them is permeable, or what he calls the “banality of evil”.

That is why we are sometimes disoriented when somebody we think is evil does a good deed or when we find out that a person we consider a saint used the power of office to advance the financial interest of his or her family.

And then there is the “evil of inaction”, sometimes called the “bystander effect” which supports those who commit evil by not acting to challenge them because they assume that it is somebody else’s responsibility to act the hero.

Does this mean there is no hope?  Not at all.  Just as there is the banality of evil, there is also the banality of heroism, which suggests that we are all potential heroes waiting to perform heroic deeds.  Not the same super heroism of a Socrates, or a Mahatma Gandhi or a Nelson Mandella, a Jose Rizal or a Ninoy Aquino but as ordinary everyday heroes.  Martyrdom is reserved for the few who are larger than life.  But there is heroism in the time and circumstances in which we find ourselves that is just as unselfish and courageous as theirs.

Look around you, the opportunities are many – by exercising wisely our right to vote for our leaders and not just a celebrity or somebody we personally know, by the courage to expose fraud as a whistleblower despite the risk, to say “no” to participating in any wrongdoing regardless of the financial rewards and by the hardiness to be “different” or even “difficult” when it is easier to conform.  Or you may want to take a plunge into politics starting at the barangay level to put things right in your locality by changing the politics of self-interest.

That is what Andres Bonifacio meant when he asked us to put our country’s happiness above our own.  Now more than ever, our country desperately needs you.  My generation, I am sorry to say, has, on the whole, not done well by our country.  We can only point to the legacy of EDSA, which happened before you were born, which is our proudest moment.  We can tell you stories of courage, of unselfishness and of love of country that made it possible.  But then we folded up our yellow banners, took off the t-shirts with the imaginative remarks that brought humor to the tragedy of the times, and we went our separate ways to our separate concerns and lost something of the dream of a nation.

In the last elections, something seemed to stir us to reclaim that dream.  But let us learn from the past and not leave the task only to those in high places.  Each of us must put down his or her place in this giant jigsaw puzzle called nation-building.  This is your time, thank God, and we look to your generation to finally lead our country to its greatness.

You might well ask – how do we do that?  Well, you already have the education and, I assume, the motivation.  Obviously, our generation does not have the answers.  But I would like to suggest a framework that might help you find the answers for yourselves.

And that is my third and final point
.  Jesus tells us: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”

The least of our brethren are the poorest of the poor in our country – the farmers, the fisher folk, the urban poor, the indigenous peoples’ communities, and the young who are doomed to a vicious cycle of poverty for lack of education and health care.  And the “doing” in Jesus’ name is about justice, charity and truth.  Your logo highlights, “caritas” and “veritas”… the connection between the two is made by Pope Benedict XXVI’s Encyclical “Caritas en Veritate”.

“Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity” … “
Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice… I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.”

In our Constitution, we call that social justice.  It is the heart of our Constitution.  That is supposed to be our national agenda – making the poor the center of our development.  That is what my generation failed to do and what your generation must do.

The context of social justice is poverty – the biggest problem in our country before EDSA and still the biggest problem today.  Twenty-five years after the glow of EDSA and the promise of a truly just society, we find that we have hardly made a dent on the income problem of the very poor.  Nor on the gross inequalities of income where, among other things, the bottom 30% of the families, 5.5 million families, have an income equivalent only to the income of the top 1% - 185,000 families.  Our efforts at reducing hunger have also been ineffective – the average annual percentage of hungry families has gradually increased from 11% in 1998 to 19% in 2010.  Yet we know from the experience of many countries that gross inequalities of income and wealth restrict economic growth.  In other words, social justice is both a moral and an economic imperative.

Clearly, we must find our way back to the spirit of EDSA or face the harsh judgment of history.  The poem, Man with a Hoe, described the French peasant before the bloody French Revolution

“– bowed by the weight of centuries, he leans upon his hoe and gazes at the ground.  The emptiness of ages on his back the burden of the world.  A thing that grieves not and that never hopes… Whose was the hand that slanted back his brow, whose breath blew out the light within his brain?”

The poem closes with these prophetic words: “How will it be with kingdoms and with kings, with those who made him to the thing he is, when this dumb terror shall rise to judge the world, after the silence of centuries?”

Surely, we cannot allow that kind of apocalypse to happen in our country.  This is your challenge and your destiny.  To paraphrase Albert Camus, you must place yourselves at the service, not of those who make history, but of those who suffer it.

, apply your education to the task at hand with intelligence and dedication.  Second, seek your country’s happiness above your own, and third, heed the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”

I urge you to use this simple test as you contemplate your future:


Keep that promise and your parents will be proud of you, your school will be proud of you, I will be proud of you, and your country will be proud of you.

With that, my dear graduates, I wish you good luck and Godspeed, to reach for the stars in His name.

Thank you and good day.