Speech at Colegio de Dagupan

Nine days ago, a great world leader died, His Holiness Pope John Paul II. His last word in his deathbed was only one and only one: Amen. It was not goodbye, it was not farewell. It was pure and simple Amen.

Among men and women of wisdom then and now, the word Amen means, “It is done.” In Latin, factum est or consumatum est. We heard those two words only during the Holy Week in the reenactment of the Cross.

In charismatic circles, the word Amen is household. We wish for something and we say amen. We pray over somebody and we say amen. It is a word of faith that something has been done or being done or will be done. 

We say Amen to the years you have spent in Colegio de Dagupan. It is done. We say amen to the tears of joy of your parents this afternoon. Yes, the tears are no longer of pain, they are tears of achievement.

But can you say amen to the future that you rare ignorant of, its dangers and fears? Yes you can, and you must. The recent Holy Week tells us of the most inspiring admonition ever handed to mankind: Do not be afraid.

Come to think of it, life is always a blessing to those who believe in the best. On the other hand, it is often a curse to those who fear for the worst. For it is true. What you believe, that you will see. What you fear, that you will suffer. The choice is yours, never somebody else’s.

The late Pope John Paul II never feared communism. In fact, from day one as Pope, he believed in the eventual downfall of world communism. He would live long enough to shake hands with Gorbachev and Putin and other leaders of Russia.

My first injunction therefore to all of you graduates is simple: Do not be afraid of the future. Believe in the best and you will see.

A Greek poet by the name of Cavafy says it best. Let me read to you the lines of his very short poem for your inspiration. It is entitled Ithaka. As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one full of adventure full of discovery. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them; you never find things like that on your way, as long as you keep your thoughts on high. Keep Ithaka always on your mind, arriving there is what you’re destined, for Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her, you wouldn’t have set out, she has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

My friends, my dear graduates, the road to the future and its peace, its development, its family unity and social transformation is like the road to Ithaka. Whether or not Ithaka will still be there by the time you arrive, is not as important as the fact of our being together, of our living together, here and now.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Do not waste it. Never leave anything to chance. Somebody once said, work as if everything depends on human hands and pray because everything depends on God’s hands. Isn’t that the other message of Pope John Paul II?

Sometimes we want to be messiahs to save the world from itself. We first become social reformers. When we fail, we develop into violent revolutionaries. Or at least liberation pundits.

This messianic complex, or superiority complex if you wish, is counterproductive. We can never change people by force. We can only change ourselves. And that reminds me of a very nice story.

Have you ever heard of the mystic’s prayer? It tells the three prayers the saint did during the three stages of his lifetime.

According to that mystic, when he was young, his prayer was, “Lord, give me the energy to change the world.” And God did not listen. Why? Because the mystic wanted to be a superior force.

When he approached middle age, his prayer was, “Lord, give me the grace to change everyone who comes near me.” Again, God did not listen. Why? Same reason.

Then he became an old man with no more delusions of grandeur. All he prayed was, “Lord give me the grace to change myself.” Only then did God listen. Why? I think you know the answer.

After graduation, what? It is time to work. Employment, and your quest for it, will not be an easy walk in the park. It never was. It never will be.

Do not get discouraged. Apply instead the biblical dictum: Ask and it shall be given, seek and it shall be found, knock and it shall be opened.

When the time comes for you to quit, don’t. Look back at the sacrifices of your parents and be emboldened. Remember the words of your teachers and be enlightened.

Never mind if your first 100 applications for work end up in the wastebasket. If you really want work, you will have it. Cherish it. Treasure it. Give it your best.

I have a few suggestions drawn from my experience for many, many years now. First, you must learn to become the best at what you do. Learn everything about your work. If you meet someone who does it well, do not be embarrassed to learn from him. You cannot be an expert by yourself alone.

Today, knowledgeable people rely only on experts. Plan your work and master it. Work your plan and practice it. Only then will you become an expert. There is just no other way.

Second, learn early the absolute necessity of teamwork. In a team, your question must be, What can I give and not what can I get?

Third, vision is very, very important. The Bible says, without vision the people perish.

But vision without correct action is nothing but a lot of daydreaming. On the other hand, action without vision is only rocking the chair, going to and fro, accomplishing nothing.

Peace, family unit, economic development, social transformation. All these are less a destination and more a journey. To these destinations, we are all travelers and pilgrims.

And as I look at all of you today, I can see the aura of expectations and hopes. Do not be afraid. Keep moving forward and upward.

Graduation is only the beginning. There is a higher road to take. Take it without fear. Take it with all faith.

Having said all of that, let me now borrow the wisdom of the ages. It is the voice of my heart, too: What lies behind us and what lies before us is nothing compared to what lies within us. Your power is within. Your best friend is you.

And one last reminder. If many years from now you and I will meet again, please remind me of tonight’s graduation. For sure, I will never know who you are. But certainly I would know if you followed my advice or not. Mabuhay kayong lahat. Maraming salamat po.

*****

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