23 June 2016,
Baguio Convention Center,
This quote is often mistakenly attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, but regardless of who originally said it, the message is clear: Life is more than what we take or what we have.
Before anything else, I want to congratulate the parents and guardians of our graduates. You parents and guardians were selfless in giving to your children the support that enabled them to get this far. I am sure their graduation today makes you happy and proud.
I also commend the UP Baguio administrators, faculty, REPs, and staff. It is an enormous task to maintain a culture of excellence, and for that you have truly given much. Recently, UP Baguio was chosen to become a Center of Development in Mathematics by the Commission on Higher Education—another contribution to building recognition for institutions of higher learning in Northern Luzon.
Of course, most of all, I congratulate the UP Baguio Class of 2016 for success in your studies. You, graduates, have reached another important milestone in your life—a point at which you choose where you go next and which path to take. The choice, for sure, is not as easy as solving for x in a Math class.
Sometimes that is hard, too, but the problems you will face from now demand more than just intellect—you will need a strong sense of value, a good level of maturity, and a different kind of wisdom. In comparison, your earlier decision to study in UP and take your studies seriously might appear now to be no brainer.
Around you graduates are people who have given a lot get you to this afternoon’s ceremonies—your parents, your mentors, your peers. These are people you know and can thank individually. But you have faceless supporters: the hordes of taxpaying Filipinos who have contributed collectively to your education in UP, the country’s sole national university. How do you thank them?
Making a living: excellent and honorable
Making a decent living is probably your initial priority as you graduate. Whether you are the child who wants to uplift the life of your family, or you are the hijo or hija who wants to prove your mettle to your successful parents, or you are simply someone who wants to enjoy life as it unfolds.
Making a living is something everyone needs to do. You will realize this once you start paying your bills and do groceries with your own money. For some of you who need not worry about finances after graduation, making a living becomes an affirmation of your status, of your ability to be productive human beings.
That is why, by all means, make a living. Use all the learnings you acquired in the University to excel in your endeavor. Being the best in what you do is one of the tributes that you can offer to UP and our nation. Get the accolades, the awards, the praises. Make a living. It is what the world expects you to do.
Making a living could manifest in many ways: having a professional practice, or doing scientific and technological work, or building an artistic career, or climbing the corporate ladder. Any of these is a mark of what is conventionally called success. An epitome of excellence to many.
But in your pursuit of excellence, do not overlook honor. Ethical conduct should set the parameters of excellent work. Being ethical is a way of approaching the world that I hope you have learned in the University and will apply in the real world. Know also that legal is not necessarily ethical or moral. Income tax returns that are legally compliant may not be morally upright when contrived.
I know it is hard to be an honorable person amidst the temptations of fast money and instant fame. But holding yourselves up to high standards of behavior is what builds your integrity. This very word, integrity comes from the Latin word ‘integer’, meaning intact or whole—you are only whole when you have your honor, when your façade is the same as your inner core.
With no exception, honor is in tandem with UP’s tradition of excellence. Dangal at husay in Filipino: the two are equally important. Both, together, will make you whole and define your integrity.
Staying socially connected
Perhaps you will, indeed, make a living with excellence and honor. But are you content with that?
A criticism to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs questions the linearity of its ideas on survival. Pamela Rutledge, a business strategy psychologist, says Needs are not hierarchical. Life is messier than that.1 None of the need levels in the Maslow Pyramid—not physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem, nor self-actualization can exist without being anchored in social connections.
This is always relevant to UP graduates as there is always a question on how in touch we are with the rest of the world. You’ve probably felt being a UP student was not ordinary. Some internalize this as the very elitist attitude of looking at people as just UP and others. It’s true that you folks may be a cut above the rest. But failing to recognize your limits and the importance of working together is a recipe for disaster.
We have heard of stories about UP grads who behave arrogantly in the workplace, due perhaps to a feeling of entitlement being products of the country’s premier university. At the same time, you must have read about that Jobstreet survey of 550 companies. The said survey shows UP grads as being only 3rd most employable. You must have thought, What? I went through how many Hell Weeks2 just to become the 3rd preference among employers? The validity of that survey may be questioned but we have to accept, true or not, this is bad reputation. We need to change the negative impression. The difference between smart and wise is that wise will always be willing to learn and reform.
Don’t be afraid to start small or take on an opportunity that was not what you initially planned for. Learning may be in the most unexpected places. Thinking about your college life, learning may have been from professors you hated, or friends who rant about their love life.
Even from the popular Manang Mani who, I’ve heard, helped some of you in ways more than just relieving your hunger pangs.3 She, Manang Jenny, and more names you may forget but somehow remember… UP Baguio grads miss them because they connected. These ties can be fostered through acts so mundane—hellos, warm smiles, and small good deeds. Maybe eventually, big ones.
This is why I said earlier, from now on, you will need more than just intellect. You need to connect. Connect with your boss, workmates, and customers. More importantly, connect with our people. That is because you studied in UP not to become this nation’s privileged intellectual elite—but this nation’s hope.
Making a life of service: extraordinary
During my investiture as UP President in February 2011 I said: We must succeed not because we have a reputation to keep but because we have a country to serve. I’m sharing this with you again because we have to keep returning to this kind of mindset. It is the kind of mindset that makes your UP education extraordinary. It is what makes you extraordinary.
I hope you consider service as your investment in what this nation could be. It is a commitment to a better nation and a better world for everyone to live in. This may not come instantly for some, because you do need to make a living. But as you make a living, continue to better yourselves and your capabilities. Hone your skills and expertise. Build up your career. Sooner or later, you will have more to give. Small good deeds as you make a living may eventually lead to making a life dedicated to a cause bigger than yourself.
I am sure most of you here would describe today’s ceremony as a moment of happiness. And more moments like this—getting your academic degrees, getting hired, winning a contest, making breakthroughs—will make you even happier. Notice though, that most of these moments of happiness are moments when you take something: your diploma, your first salary, your first car, or even your first love. It’s about taking, getting, having, owning. That’s okay. After all, you deserve to take and get the things that you have worked hard for (yes, even your first love).
Making a life of service may not be as happy—you may become overworked, underpaid, and even unappreciated. People may, and often will, forget to thank you along the way. Yet for people who have dedicated their lives to serve the Filipino people, fulfillment is not in the happy prospects of money, fame, or power. More than happiness, service is about attaining a sense meaning and purpose. At the end of the day, which makes us more satisfied?
An exploratory study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2013 reported the difference. According to the authors: Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker.4
They defined meaningfulness as both a cognitive and an emotional assessment of whether one’s life has purpose and value. And one way of finding that purpose is to dedicate yourself to making a life of giving and service.
I hope that you will not take it against me my emphasis on giving and service today. I know that you have gone through rigorous and demanding education and would welcome a time off on your graduation day. But this is exactly the day when you can easily imbibe and imbed in your consciousness the notion of giving and service.
My preference is for you to take a longer view—not just immediately after graduation but more so in the future when you are better able, more capable, and less bothered by the day-to-day concerns of making a living.
Of the thousands who aspire to enter UP year after year, less than a fifth make it. The few who make it are given world class education by excellent teachers, backed by resources that are not accessible to many schools in the country.
The nation is investing in UP so that UP can deliver on its mandate of producing competent and responsible leaders. We take seriously our slogan, UP: Shaping Minds that Shape the Nation.
Especially as UP Baguio graduates, it is our hope that you have learned a little differently in the context of where you are. To the rest of the Philippines, Baguio may be more known for the cold weather, strawberries, Panagbenga Festival, Session Road nightlife, and ghosts. (Okay, no ghosts.) But UP, in the context of Baguio, has been trying to expand this understanding.
In 1980, the Cordillera Studies Center was created to produce interdisciplinary research working on issues specific to the Cordilleras. Representing indigenous knowledge, world views, and local history of this region is at its core—and in UP Baguio’s as well. Thus, your experience surrounded by the rich culture of this region may potentially be crucial in performing your part in nation building.
The country is confronted with challenges so complex that it needs the best and brightest minds we can muster from across the nation. We must soon find workable answers to several pestering questions. How do we reduce poverty that continues to trap almost a quarter of Filipinos? How do we support our struggling farmers? How do we protect the heritage of this land? Finding the answers to these questions and several others is our extraordinary task in UP as the country’s national university—your challenge as UP graduates.
I would like to especially challenge the honor graduates among you—you who have proved your capability for rigorous study. I encourage you to consider joining the academe and contribute to the efforts of educating the youth, of doing research to solve the country’s pestering problems, and performing public service to government, industry, and the society as a whole. In the academe, you make a life as you make a living.
To be sure, UP graduates do not have the monopoly of knowledge and ability, still, you are the ones especially expected to take leadership in shaping the nation. Always remember, you are from the University of the Philippines. You carry the name of our nation in your degree wherever life brings you, however you make a living or make a life.
Heeding Rizal’s call
More than a hundred years ago, Jose Rizal wrote in El Filibusterismo, through the character of Padre Florentino, a question that I hope we can now confidently answer today: Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions, and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land?
I fervently believe, ladies and gentlemen, that they are in front of me— the youth who will lead their lives with integrity and with a sense of social responsibility. Tinatawagan ko kayo, mga Iskolar ng Bayan: may Rizal’s call be your commitment to nation. No, let Rizal’s call be our joint commitment to the nation as One UP.
2. Hell Weeks = Student term for the weeks leading to the finals exams.
4. Baumeister, R., Vohs, K., Aaker, J., & Garbinsky, E. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 505-516.
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 photos below.