Once upon a time, thirty years ago, exactly on this same date, March 29, on this same afternoon, in this same gymnasium, I was seated in one of the seats you are sitting now, looking up to our lady speaker then standing here in my place, who had just placed 2nd in the national bar examinations.
What a short physical distance 30 years can make, from there to here!
I have been thinking about your class for three weeks now, although I only sat down to finally organize and write down my thoughts this morning.
What can I say to you that would be meaningful for you, as you sit there, possibly sweltering in the humidity, and impatient about getting on with the program, so you can have your dinner celebrations with your families, and even your after-parties with your friends afterwards?
You are graduating in very interesting and challenging times.
In three months’ time, the extended Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program laws will expire, which means that the agrarian reform program in our country started in 1988 will end.
In 24 months’ time, the Free Trade Agreements on virtually zero tariffs among ASEAN member nations will commence their final phase of full implementation, while the K-to-12 program will become fully operational, even as we vote for the next President of our country.
Also, from now until then and even after, the effects of severe environmental damage and climate change will increasingly be experienced, with Mother Nature’s voice becoming louder and more insistent.
So, what do all these have to do with you? You might wonder. Your only obvious next decisions to make now are on how to spend your summer vacation and what college program and which school to finally enroll in, right?
Well, these changes have a lot to do with your life and your future, for they shape the situations, challenges and opportunities you will be facing in the next years of your lives.
So what can you do about them? You are only 16 or 17 years old now, with probably only a vague idea about who you would like to become and how you would want your life to be.
When I graduated from our school in 1984, the times were also very interesting, challenging, and even darker.
We were living in the last throes of a more than 20-year dictatorship of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Negros Occidental was the featured cover story of Time Magazine for its state of extreme poverty. “May gutom sa Negros” was the byword all over the country.
There was no night life in Bacolod, everyone was mostly home by 8 o’clock in the evening, because dangerous things happened after dark, and one hears of someone being “salvaged” (which was the euphemism then for being killed and dumped somewhere) in some empty field in the city.
There was no cellphone then, much less the Internet. China was not an economic superpower then, and Hongkong still belonged to the British.
Still, from then until now, our country is still surviving, and—I would like to believe, given how our country was then and now—thriving, because we Filipinos live life from the guts, with heart and soul, not just from our minds. What I would like to further speak to you about this afternoon is about living this way, with heart and soul, with our minds as tools.
So, things happen. And we graduate, and pursue college degrees, and businesses or jobs, so we can take care of ourselves and our families, especially the new families we hope to create.
We try to make our way in the world, with the talents we’ve been given and the education we’ve acquired, both in school and out of school.
But, in the end, what really matters?
As I go back to thinking of you again and imagining what my own 16-year-old self 30 years ago would have wanted to hear as guidelines for making my way even for only the next 30 years of my life, I reflect on the key lessons I have learned and which have brought me to a well and happy place in my life now, even as I also continue my journey, learning and growth.
In any person’s life, there are 3 important questions that must be made clear early on, even if it takes the rest of our lives to answer them.
These questions are:
1. What is my life’s meaning?
2. Who will I choose to accompany me in my life’s journey?
3. What is my life’s work?
First, what is your life’s meaning at the end of it? Will it be only about consuming and consuming, and extracting the most you can out of it and other people, without producing something of value for others too?
For some time, you can live on this mindset alone, until eventually you will find that your life gets smaller and smaller, and tighter and tighter, until there is no meaning left to living it.
What I have learned so far is that the old truism is still true, “You get what you give, you reap what you sow.” In order for you to get something, you have to give something, and that comes through your life and work. Put another way, when you take care of others, Life takes care of you—doors open, miracles happen.
Second, who will you choose to accompany you in your life’s journey? We did not choose our families of origin; we were born into them. They have gifts to bless us with, as well as lessons to teach us, just from our experience of growing up with them.
But for the rest of our lives, we get to choose whom we want to accompany us in our life’s journey. This is a freedom we must not waste.
Do you choose friends and college courses and schools, and eventually, business associates to work with, based on external trappings alone, like good looks, and image, and money, or what people would say?
Or do you choose them based on your own inner vision of yourself and your life and the values you hold dear? This is an especially important question to answer when you finally choose your life partner, because it determines the quality of the rest of your life.
Today, we have grown quite mindful about the kinds of food we eat, about taking in healthier food, haven’t we? Well, I suggest we should apply this mindfulness too in the kinds of people we surround ourselves with and choose to work and live with.
Do you share complementary life views and values? How do the people you have chosen to associate with treat you? Is it with honesty, respect and kindness? How do they treat other people, especially the so-called invisible ones we meet everyday but whom we barely acknowledge, like food servers and security guards and even the children begging on the street?
As in food, so it also goes in matters of the heart. If fastfood is eventually harmful to our bodies, then fast “relationships” without substance are eventually toxic to our lives.
Healthy relationships, like healthy food, have to be grown organically, according to the laws of Nature and Life, respecting their seasons, and cultivating them with loving attention and care, whether in season or out of season.
The last question to ask and answer is actually the first you will need to address: what is your life’s work?
In our postmodern society and culture today, the dominant idea appears to be, that we choose work and careers and prepare ourselves accordingly for them, based on what society considers as indicators of “success”: money, power, fame. But, hey, remember, you can’t take these with you out of this life.
Besides, they’re only probably dominant because most people haven’t taken the time and thought to really reflect on what’s really important to them and what would make them happy.
So, what is your life’s work? What can you take with you after this life?
Your clues are found in what makes you happy. Not just the temporary and superficial but pleasurable kinds of happiness you get from consuming something, but the long-lasting, deeply joyful kinds of happiness that you get from enjoying something for it’s own sake, and actually producing something to serve others.
What do you enjoy doing for its own sake? What are the uniquely individual ways of seeing and being that you have, and the talents that you possess which, when expressed, give you a deep kind of joy and make you come alive?
God did not place these inside you if they were not meant to be expressed to bless your life and others’ lives too. I have found that they are actually God’s secret little messages to us, revealing more of Himself to us, inviting us to a closer, deeper, truly loving relationship with Him, so we can discover more richly the wonderful plans He has for us.
So, yes, when I apply these questions to my own life and journey these past 30 years, and reflect on the answers I have discovered for my self, which have stood me in good stead over all the many adventures and mis-adventures of my life, I now find that they have one common thread running through them:
Follow your peace, follow your deepest joy, follow your bliss. Everything else will eventually re-arrange themselves and fall into place, and you will be living the good, abundant Life that God always meant for you to live. Our intelligence and education can only take us so far, but when we live in God’s Presence, consult with Him in every decision that we make, and obey His Guidance, wonderful things happen.
I have given you more questions than answers to take with you as you go out of Tay Tung, and move on in your journey.
But, in Life, as well as in school, it is always very important to ask the right questions.
I pray that these questions will serve you well.
Abundant blessings to all.*
Bacolod Tay Tung High School 63rd Recognition and Graduation Exercises
Inspirational Message for the Graduating Class of 2014
By Mary Jean Lee C. Patindol
March 29, 2014
Po Hang Gymnasium