Message of the President at the 79th Commencement Exercises of UP Cebu

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28 June 2016,
UP Cebu Campus,
Lahug, Cebu City

PAEP-quotes-UP CebuLet me greet our dedicated UP officials, faculty, REPS, and admin staff; our loyal alumni; our students (the best and brightest in the country); the proud and happy parents of the graduates; and distinguished guests.

I now turn to our graduates—the UP Cebu class of 2016. Congratulations to you all. This is your special day—the recognition of your efforts and the success you have achieved.

I am honored to be your commencement speaker today. You have spent the past few years in UP Cebu, but the story of this campus started in 1918, way before your time. UP Cebu has undergone massive transformations through the years just as Metro Cebu.

The UP Cebu

As intended in 2010 when it became autonomous from UP Visayas, UP Cebu has widened the breadth of Tatak UP service to central Visayas and the surrounding regions. From Education to Research and Public Service, UP Cebu has delivered excellent results, particularly in the fields of IT, Business, Design, and Cultural Studies. UP Cebu is building for itself a leadership role not only in the city and the province of Cebu but in the whole country as well. And as new graduates, you will form part of the human capital of this city and surrounding region.

Five years ago, we commenced the development of the UP Cebu SRP Professional Schools campus. Now the campus in SRP has a modern academic building, an auditorium, and a library. In the older Lahug campus, improvements are also being made in terms of new infrastructure facilities and renovations works.

Just this month, the Fab Lab of UP Cebu was inaugurated, providing Cebu with the added capability to support creativity and innovation, which are essential drivers of inclusive growth and development. You, the UP Cebu graduates this year, may not have had the opportunity to make use of the Fab Lab, but you can still benefit from this facility if you are to come back as students pursuing postgraduate studies or as techno-entrepreneurs locating in UP Cebu’s business incubators. Any idea or design in your mind can be prototyped in the Fab Lab as 3D models.

The UP Sablay

But today, I will talk to you a little about a more traditional item which you currently bear on your right shoulder: the UP Sablay, originally and still produced by the hands of our native weavers, who continue to preserve our cultural heritage.

In colloquial Filipino, sablay means “failure or missed chance.” But the word originally refers to the draping fabric worn on the shoulder by indigenous Filipinos. The verb isablay means to put a precious object upon one’s shoulder, as a way of giving value and respect to this very object.

The Sablay, as UP’s official academic costume, symbolizes our nationalism and the importance we put upon our indigenous culture—values you learned from the University. It also carries our official colors—maroon, green, and yellow gold—to signify the high standards of honor and excellence each graduate embodies. It is adorned with ukkil (or foliate patterns) that represent the growth of knowledge and geometric motifs from various indigenous Philippine tribes that represent diversity.

In many cultures around the world, traditional weavers knit their community’s life stories in intricate and colorful fabrics. In the same vein, the Sablay is your life story. It is a narrative of your aspirations, apprehensions, struggles, perseverance, and ultimate success. The Sablay bears the initials of the University of the Philippines in Baybayin. Hence, the narrative of each thread revolves around UP, and thus, the nation.

By no means is the Sablay an adornment you wear as a prize. It represents the nation’s hope in you as future leaders. As UP graduates, you were taught to think differently, to challenge long-held beliefs, and to provide answers rather than merely pointing out problems. Hence, you bear the responsibility of taking leadership in the development of our country and the Sablay draping on your shoulders symbolizes that burden.

With more than 100 million people, our country is one of the most populous nations in Southeast Asia. About a quarter of that population is mired in poverty. Moreover, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, on top of rampant corruption, inadequate infrastructure, poor-quality public service, and decades of insurgencies. As UP graduates, you are expected to serve in whatever capacity to help solve these pestering problems we face.

Transferring the Sablay from your right shoulder to the left is more than a ceremony. It is a commitment to weave the future of our nation, making use of your skills, talents, and dedication.

This means going beyond making a living. It is pursuing a life of service. UP has tried to equip you with what you need to fulfill this role. In most cases, a life of service requires the exercise of leadership.

Let me therefore share with you some thoughts on what you need to become effective leaders and successful weavers of meaningful change.

Leadership needs humility

Leadership is not a title, it is a task. You are expected to enable others to succeed and that requires humility. It is tempting to think about leadership in the context of superiority, but this is not what you are called to do.

Remind yourselves, though, that UP graduates do not have a monopoly of patriotism, selflessness, or even competence. But as a product of UP, inviting others to work toward a common purpose is the kind of leadership that is expected of you.

Like the threads woven into your Sablay, you unravel too easily unless you are able to work with others. So be humble. Accept the guidance from your superiors, criticisms from your workmates, and complaints from your clients. Learn from them and gain their support. Become a stronger fabric.

Eventually you will realize that as a leader, you are not entitled to anything but you are responsible for a lot. Remember: this is the mindset of service. Servant leader is the kind I hope you will become—the bearers of our nation’s trust.

Leadership needs courage

Leaders emerge and are recognized for their wisdom. But without courage, your wisdom is paralyzed. You are like a weaver separated from your loom.

As both leader and servant, you need courage to get things done. You will need to confront uncomfortable and difficult questions and make decisions that are contrary to popular opinion. This is particularly challenging in the Philippines where leaders strive to be liked more than be respected. The numbers game that is our elections puts a premium on popularity rather than competence.

Don’t cower in the face of tough decisions. Think of the long-term benefits and implications. Giving in to popular pressure now may just prolong the agony for a whole organization or the country. Be bold in correcting injustice and championing what is right.

Leadership needs preparation

Finally, if you are to serve the people, then you should go out armed with at least enough experience, empathy, and credibility to understand their needs. You tend to become passionate about your role in helping the nation as you graduate from UP. However, you should not expect, nor should you be expected, to immediately serve national needs or become pillars of social justice as soon as you get your diploma.

Nation building, lest we forget, is not an internship nor an OJT (on-the-job-training). You can serve the people even better after you shall have developed your capabilities and built on what you learned in UP. Just as a weaver cannot make beautiful patterns on creativity and genius alone, it will take time and an enormous amount of experience to create a masterpiece.

Thus, I believe that as a UP graduate, you should avail yourself of the freedom to reap the material rewards of your education and enhance your capabilities through experience. You may even pursue further studies or work overseas. In due time when you are ready, aspire for a life of service to others.

Service to the nation is a commitment of a lifetime, so there is no need to rush. The nation will understand if you have to first prepare yourself, help your family, or maybe send your siblings to school before you can broaden your reach to serve the bigger Filipino community.

It is fortunate that you are launching your future to a time like this, when the economy, particularly in Cebu, is thriving with opportunities. Cebu continues to grow as a business center with positive economic outlook and high investor confidence. Real estate and property development is booming. It is also now considered a premier BPO destination due to its large pool of knowledge workers who are not only good in English but are also competent in information technology. Even the artistic community of Cebu is becoming more vibrant, providing opportunities for talented individuals from all over the region.

At the same time, Cebu presents many opportunities for you to serve, for you to lead, and for you to weave more colorful stories for the local communities and for the rest of the Filipino nation.

The call to service

Wear your Sablay today bearing this sense of purpose and move forward to the bright future ahead!

After today’s ceremonies, you will keep your Sablay if you own it or return it if you borrowed it, but the essence of it will remain on your shoulders—as a reminder of the burden you bear as a UP graduate.

When you are ready to serve, do what you can for our country and people. The moment you answer the call to service is when the Sablay will truly embody your success as a UP graduate.

Again, congratulations to all of you!

Padayon, UP!

This message is part of the collection of Messages from the President of the University of the Philippines. You can access the other pieces by clicking through the image below.


For photos of the event, please click through the album below.