The Centennial Graduation Speech

My fellow Benildean Lasallians, dear parents, relatives and friends  of the graduates, and you, graduates, Mr. and Ms. 7 % — good morning!

Why “7%”? Because the latest statistics tell us that out of every 100 students who enroll in Grade 1, only 7%–yes, 7%–complete a college degree! And, modesty aside, how many from those 7% have been able to graduate from an institution that has the caliber of faculty and facilities found in De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde? I will return to the 7% later.

As you all know, seventeen days ago we began celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Lasallian presence in the Philippines. That presence began in 1911 with just nine Brothers in one school in Manila and 100 students. Today, after two world wars and a bloody massacre and after witnessing the end of one colonial period and the birth of a new republic, that one school has bloomed into seventeen schools throughout the country, and the 100 students have become nearly 100,000. And there you have an additional blessing, dear graduates, for not only are you among the fortunate 7% this year, but you also graduate on a very special and memorable occasion.

You probably thought you were done with exams, test, and quizzes. Well, surprise, surprise, I have one final quiz before you leave. It’s just one fill-in-the-blanks sentence, and all you have to answer is just one word.

Okay? This is the sentence: “Every human being wants to be ____”. What is your answer? Successful? Rich? Fulfilled? The word that I find most appropriate is “happy”. All of us, whether rich or poor, whether college graduates or grade school drop-outs, Americans, Africans or Asians—all of us want to be happy.

The problem lies in knowing HOW to achieve happiness.

Some people look for happiness in the wrong places: substance abuse, gambling, sex, and all kinds of dead-ends that lead to addictions. Mind you, it’s still happiness that they’re looking for, but unfortunately they expect to find it in the wrong places. A much greater majority are deceived into thinking they will find happiness in the four “P’s”—power, prestige, pleasure, and pera. This is definitely the more dangerous illusion. Let me explain. As we came closer to our Centennial celebration, a number of Lasallians were asking, “What have we accomplished these past 100 years?

And the natural tendency was to rattle off the names of Lasallians who have become business leaders, presidents of companies, presidents of banks, respected politicians (I add the “What do we have to show for it?” adjective “respected” because not all politicians deserve to be respected), cabinet secretaries, well-known lawyers, and the list can go on.

And, truly, we can come up with a pretty impressive list of Lasallians. But in the end, I think the only logical Christian reaction to such a list is summed up in two words: so what? Do not get me wrong. I am not against achievement. We all have a responsibility to develop our talents and abilities to the fullest, and in so doing it is but natural that people will rise to the top of their professions. And that is the way it should be.

What I mean by reacting with “so what?” is that all those titles may impress people, but they do not tell me anything about those matters in which life is lived to the fullest, and, in fact, where genuine happiness is found. They do not tell me, for example, if the person is a faithful spouse and a loving father or mother. They do not tell me if that person’s life inspires others to become better human beings. They do not tell me if that person stands up for his or her convictions, regardless of what others may say. They do not tell me if that person is compassionate towards his fellow Filipinos who are disadvantaged and oppressed, his or her relationship with God. Achievements do not tell me whether that person is a man or woman of integrity. And yet how easily we are dazzled by rank and bank, by name and fame.

As I said, don’t get me wrong. I am not against achievement and rising to the top. But that is not enough. We must look deeper into what lies behind those achievements, because, as history shows, evil people can also become heads of international conglomerates, or governors, or even presidents of countries. So we must ask, what motivates them?

What are the values behind these titles and achievements? I am leading to the Benildean core values: to possess a genuine sense of nationhood, to be socially responsible, and to be deeply rooted in faith. If these three core values underpin your future success, then you can count yourself as a true Benildean.

To go back to the topic of happiness, wouldn’t it be great if we could enroll in the course, “Bachelor of Science in Humanity, major in Happiness”? But we can’t. Why not? Why can’t colleges and universities offer a degree like that? Because chasing after happiness, as someone Nothing more and nothing less than three of our once said, is like chasing after a butterfly. The more you pursue it directly, the faster it flies away from you. Happiness is always a by-product. It is the result of doing something else.

Your enrolling in Benilde, wasn’t it part of your plan to ensure that you lead a happy life in the future? But that “happy life” that you want for yourselves entails acquiring an education that goes beyond simply completing a degree. It must also include making the Benildean core values part of your life. I have already referred to three of our six core values. Let me tell you a story in relation to the three other core values: In ancient Japan, a Samurai and a Tea Master one time found themselves walking along the same road to a distant land.

After striking up a friendship, they decided to travel together.

As they went through village after village the Tea Master was impressed by the attention, the respect, and the homage the local people gave the Samurai. One day, when the Samurai was resting, the Tea Master decided to put on the Samurai’s clothing, sword, mask, and all. Then he ventured out into the village, and immediately felt elated at the attention and respect the people gave him. But this was soon cut short when, as he turned a street, another Samurai confronted him saying, “Who are you? How dare you enter into my territory! Who gave you permission to come here?” stunned and terrified by the Samurai’s challenge that he couldn’t speak. The Samurai continued, “I challenge you to a duel to the death. Come back here at dawn.”

The Tea Master scurried back to his Samurai friend’s room shaking with fear and recounted what had happened and asked for his help. The Samurai friend responded, “That’s your problem. yourself into this mess. You get out of it.” The next morning, after a sleepless night, the Tea Master picked up all the paraphernalia which he used to make tea as well as his Samurai friend’s outfit and sword, and went to the place designated for the duel. When he saw his opponent, he said to him, “Sir, before our duel, let me prepare you some tea.” His opponent agreed, saying to himself, “It will nice to have some tea before I kill this intruder.”

So the Tea Master took out his tea cups and everything he needed to make the tea. As you know, for the Japanese, the preparation of tea is both a skill and an art. With expert precision he prepared the tea and went through the detailed ceremony. When the opponent Samurai saw how expertly the Tea Master had prepared the tea, he said to himself, “If this man can prepare tea so expertly, I wonder how skilled he must be as a Samurai!” And so he said to the Tea Master, “Since you have honored me with this excellent tea ceremony, I forgive you for having entered my territory. We can call off the duel.” Well, you can imagine how relieved the Tea Master was!

What can we glean from this story? First, that the Tea Master was professionally competent, not in samurai martial arts, but in his own profession. That’s what got him out of trouble. So, Benildean core value number four: professional competence. Your studies and other Benildean experiences to be able to claim you are professionally competent?

Next, by turning what would have been sure defeat into victory, didn’t the Tea Master prove how creative he was? Benildean core value number five: creativity. Aside from all those creative excuses you concocted for turning in your assignments and projects late, have you become more creative as a Benildean?

Sixthly, yes, it’s true that by trying to impersonate his samurai friend, the Tea Master showed a lack of appreciation for his own worth, but the experience with the other samurai quickly taught him to appreciate his own skills and who he was as Tea Master. Benildean value number six: appreciation of individual worth, Are you more appreciative of who you are as a unique individual and have you deepened your appreciation of the uniqueness of others?

What does all this have to do with the quest for happiness? Well, as I said earlier, happiness is a by-product, a by-product of our values and the actions that flow from them. Therefore, my dear graduates, learn from the Tea Master and be true to yourself and to who you are as a person with unique gifts and talents. Be true to yourself and your values as a Benildean Lasallian. Believe in, and build on your talents and strengths. Be thoroughly professional in your chosen field. Do these, and you will have lived out those three Benildean core values.

Before I end, let me return to the “7%”. Can you imagine that— only 7% of every starting group of 100 Grade One students finish college!

How is this country going to grow and develop? And who are the ones best qualified to lead that progress if not you, the 7%? “To whom much has been given, much is expected,” as the Scriptures say. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, to find “a genuine sense of nationhood” and “socially responsible” among our Benildean core values.

The good news is that serving others almost inevitably results in that by-product called happiness. Those of you who participated in Benilde’s Summer of Service, or relevant NSTP activities, or reach-out activities know that from personal experience. It’s very simple: if you want to live a meaningful life, if you want to be happy, make sure you find ways of serving others, especially the poor and the underprivileged.

Dear graduates, you are like Tea Masters, serving not tea, but serving hope for the future. You are the pioneer Lasallian presence in society for the next 100 years! You, this year’s 7%, can, no, must make a difference for future generations of Filipinos.

 

Brother President, Victor Franco, FSC

De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde Commencement Exercises

Third Trimester 2010-2011

Philippine International Convention Center

Saturday, July 2, 2011

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