Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I.M. Hero

Two days after his talk and even at the closing of the PCP annual convention, I'm still recovering.

If I write about him again in my next entries, block my site. Oh please. I beg your indulgence again. This is my last entry on him, at least for this week. I promise you'd enjoy this.

I came across this speech in the internet. This is probably one of Dr. D's most famous speeches. It has been posted in several blogs (old people, young people, etc). I got this from the Ateneo website.

The written speech is good enough, but I can bet my non-existent ass or my even more non-existent paycheck that the actual speech was surely many times better. As I've said in my previous entry, the message is not in the speech, it's the man behind the speech.

Anyway, I posted this just for the heck of it. This was delivered 2 years ago, but the message remains relevant even for us who are no longer in the academe.

It's a good read, I promise...

Don’t believe your report cards.'

(Speech delivered by Dr. Antonio Miguel Dans (GS 1971, HS 1975) to the graduating class of Ateneo High School batch 2007 on April 1, 2007 at the AHS covered courts.)

Fr. Hizon, revered faculty, graduates of Class 2007, parents, relatives, and friends, good evening.

I would like to thank all of you for the rare privilege of speaking to the graduating HS class of Ateneo.

Let me start by asking the graduates to stand up and take an oath with me. Please stand.

“I/ state your name/ hereby greet you all/ a Happy April Fool’s Day.” Thank you. You may now take your seats.

Pasensya na kayo kasi pang-anim na akong nagsalita at inaantok na kayong lahat. Konting pampagising lang. Where’s 4C? Ahhhh my favorite class. They’re the only ones who know me, so let me start by telling you about myself.

Class 4i

I graduated from Ateneo HS in 1975. In my batch, the 6 sections spelled out WISDOM, and I belonged to 4i. My class was really notorious. I know now for example, that 7 years after we graduated, the prefect of discipline was still talking about us to students we never met.

As early as first year, our entire class was posted for a chalk war during recess. We had no computer games then, so we had to use our imagination to play. Chalk was amazing. Cut to the right size, and hurled with sufficient force, it would explode and leave marks on your hapless victims.

Unfortunately, one day, during a full scale gang war, the teacher next door walked by to see what the noise was all about. I can still remember it in slow motion: a classmate hurled, another ducked, and the piece of chalk hit him right in the middle of the forehead, and exploded. Suddenly it was over and we were convicted for war crimes. There was no trial. Our whole class was posted, and from then on, we became known as the dishonors class.

I had my share of problems as an individual too. When I was 3rd year high school, I was called to the principal’s office in the middle of class. On the way to the office, I wasn’t worried. Fr. Raymond Miller was the principal then, and he was one of the gentlest priests I knew.

I gingerly opened the door, then froze in my tracks. My parents were there! Between them was a huge pile of fake letters excusing me from going to school for health reasons. I confessed right there and then, and expected to be expelled. But for some reason, the school decided to be lenient on me, and my sentence was commuted to several hours post and 6 months probation with no allowance. (That’s the part that hurt.)

Now that I recall this, I realize that I was really lucky. I was never able to say this before, but I say it now, I would like to thank the school for its leniency in handling this case… and several others I had.

You know, what you do in high school will haunt you forever. I thought I had outlived my high school mistakes when I became a doctor, but several years ago, by the strangest coincidence, guess who became our hospital priest? - Fr. Miller!

In his first few weeks there, he met Dr Rogie Tangco, walking in the corridor. Rogie is two years ahead of me. We’re about the same height but he is not as good-looking. When Fr. Miller saw him he said – Tony Dans right? Rogie raised both hands immediately and vehemently denied it “Father hindi ako yon! Si Rogie po ako!” Needless to say, they had a good laugh at my expense. Rogie has been very kind to needle me in public many times for this.

Now I understand why they invited me here today - maybe they thought I was Rogie! I’m sure that if my records still existed, the administration would have had second thoughts inviting me.

But not to worry, they still have time to regret this.

Before I totally lose my credibility, let me get on with my talk. For tonight, I was choosing between, one, saying something so inspiring it would change your entire life; or two, telling you more pointless stories of high school days.

I decided to do the latter.

To give you an idea about 4i, I did a survey of my classmates last week – by email or SMS. I had a good response rate. There were 37 of us when we graduated. Of the 35 still alive, 30 still keep in touch regularly. We used to see each other at weddings, where everyone became best man for someone else. Then it became baptisms - ninong na naman lahat. But now, more and more, we see each other at funerals. That’s the natural history of gatherings we attend.

Other than these, we have so many reunions, you can’t really call them reunions anymore. Imagine I received 24 responses from 30 contacts - a whopping 80% after 32 years, considering I just had a few days to do this.

Anyway, my question to them was this: What is the most important thing you learned in high school?

I thought this was a good question. I was sure the faculty would be interested in the answers… and the students too. You’re going home today with four years’ worth of knowledge, and you aren’t sure exactly which things to hang on to, that might help you through life. Well we have the perspective of 32 years to tell you what has helped us. So listen well.

First let me share some responses with you at random.

Choy Cojuangco – buwisit ka ang hirap ng tanong mo at paiba-iba.

Jorge Yuzon – pare pasensya na, wala yata akong natutunan.

Hmm. Let’s look for better ones.

Jev Ramos – Kung maitim ka noon, hindi ka na puputi, kung kalbo ang tatay mo, makakalbo ka rin.

Claro Gomez (read) – this one I have to censor.

You know what, just let me go straight to the summary, because you may misunderstand my classmates. With these guys, you need to read between the lines.

My summary is based not just on how my classmates responded, but also on observations about what they did and said in HS.

What’s the most important thing we learned in high school? The best summary of our answers would be this -

Oops that was the Greenhills survey.

Wait…. Ah ok, here’s the Ateneo survey. “DON’T BELIEVE YOUR REPORT CARDS”.

Teachers please don’t walk out. Let me explain myself. Despite our notoriety, the remarkable thing about our class was our attitude towards learning. As early as first year high school, we had this disdain for grades, and we constantly reminded each other of its inherent problems. Did grades really measure how good you were? Should we even bother about what we got? As a class, we didn’t believe so, and we tried our best to remind each other: focus on learning and don’t get too concerned with grades. The phrase “grade-conscious” became a jeer for us. If you made the mistake of publicly asking what percent of the grade came from the final exam and small quizzes, or if you complained about the cutoff for passing, you would regret it. You would be labeled grade conscious and never hear the end of it for a week. Classmates would walk by you and you would hear them say “grade conscious”, soft enough to seem like a whisper, but loud enough for you to hear. This ideology became inculcated in us, so by our 2nd year, some of us felt ashamed when our grades were too high.

Now I am sure that to a certain extent, this was just rationalization for low grades, but in retrospect our disdain may have had some basis. There are three reasons I say this.

1. Knowledge vs. curiosity/creativity

Grades, by default, measure mainly knowledge. Multiple choice, true or false, enumeration, fill in the blanks – they’re designed to measure how much knowledge is in your head. But in education, knowledge is just a decoy. It is NOT the most important intellectual faculty. My mother was an art teacher in grade school for many years, and she believed that creativity and curiosity were more important. I laughed at that thought for a few years, until I learned that someone else said exactly the same thing - Albert Einstein. My mom doesn’t know it, but she was a genius. With knowledge alone you become stagnant like an old textbook. With curiosity, and creativity you can actually discover new knowledge, and write the books yourself! Unfortunately, creativity is harder to grade, and curiosity - almost impossible. They don’t give credit for asking questions right? If they did, I would have been valedictorian.

When you realize that knowledge is a decoy, sometimes you notice funny things in the curriculum. I cringe when I hear my children memorizing things like DOST or SEC or CSI. I have often told them, to their consternation, forget memorizing. Just fail the darn subject. Criticize what you’re being taught. But when I see them doing projects, organizing affairs, and planning for events, I heave a sigh of relief and say - their tuition is worth every cent.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Ateneo hasn’t taught you creativity or intellectual curiosity. In fact these are distinguishing traits of our education. All I’m saying is that these are difficult to measure, and therefore your report cards underestimate your worth.

4i was a bundle of curiosity and creativity. We looked at things under the microscope that would have shocked the teacher. We had long distance spitting contests, and trash paper basketball tournaments, and other things I cannot mention. Juvenile delinquence, you might say. I prefer to view them as exercises in creativity, and I treasure them as much as lessons inside the classroom.

2. Effort vs. passion

The other thing measured by your report card is effort – how hard you work. Now this looks innocent but there are several traps here.

First, it is very difficult to grade effort. If you’re super smart and math is effortless for you, shouldn’t you get a low mark in effort?

Second, assuming you could put a valid score on effort, do we really want to emphasize hard work? While it is often espoused as a virtue, it can also lead become a vice. We need balance in our life. I have seen people work so hard, they neglect their family, their spirituality, and even their own physical health.

Third, hard work makes life sound like a prison sentence. Congratulations graduates, from now on, you are condemned to a life of hard work! You see, dear graduates, the report card plays tricks on you! Hard work is OK, but Ateneo has given you something better – passion. There’s a big difference. Hard workers do things because they have to. People with passion do things because they want to. Hard work consumes energy, but passion builds it up. When you have passion for your work, then it isn’t really work!

Fr. Hizon I have a suggestion. Next year, in the report cards, let’s remove the column on effort. Instead, let’s put in a column on passion.

3. Misbehaving vs. rebelling

And then there’s this third thing measured by your report card – conduct. Conduct is measured by the degree to which we conform to acceptable behavior. But there are 2 reasons why people don’t conform. Either they’re rebelling or simply misbehaving. On the surface, they look the same. But when you rebel, you’re expressing a belief or fighting for a cause. When you misbehave, you are simply being obnoxious. Is it important to distinguish the two? Of course. We discourage misbehavior, but rebelling – that’s what you’re in Ateneo for – to prepare you to rebel and change the world.

Sometimes its not so easy to tell the difference. When a student asserts his right to hairstyle – is that misbehaving or rebelling? When he wears slippers to school because it is in fashion, is that misbehaving or rebelling? Do we listen to their views to distinguish the two? While we implement rules of conduct and grade how well students conform, I agree that we are nurturing discipline. But sometimes this may be at the cost of suppressing their other half – the one who wants to be different. The one that wants to rebel against society, change the status quo, and fight for a better world. We honor conformists in school because they have discipline and they don’t rock the boat – but after school, it’s the rebel we honor – the people who saw what is, and tried to change it into what ought to be – people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jose Rizal, and Ninoy Aquino.

I’m not saying we remove conduct from the report card. I’m saying we need to be careful in dealing with apparent misconduct. Sometimes we may be suppressing exactly the values and characteristics that we espouse.

In summary, we have given you three reasons why you shouldn’t believe your report card. It misses measuring the important things:

- creativity and curiosity, rather than knowledge per se,
- passion for work, rather than effort, and
- the desire to be different and change things, rather than just proper conduct or good behavior.

In fact, these lessons, which aren’t in your report card – they are the ones that my class thought would help you in the future.

Hard workers will burn out, but you, because of your passion, will run circles around them.

Knowledgeable people will land decent jobs earlier, because this is what most employers evaluate, but because you are curious and creative, you will soon fly past them in the rank and file.

The conformists will stagnate in the past, while the rebels, like you, you will create the future.

Jesuit history, after all, is a story of curiosity and creativity and passion. The early Jesuits were not bookish scholars, they were explorers and philosophers. They debated science and religion. And they charted the earth and the universe. And they were rebels too. They were expelled from the Catholic Church by the Pope himself, for many years. This is worse than any post any of you got while you were here. But the Jesuit order survived the storm, and believe me, you will too.

The simple fact of the matter is that your education has brought you where you are now and no report card has been invented, that can measure the depth and breadth of what you have learned and what you have become. It doesn’t matter if you received the highest score, or if you barely made it. Don’t believe your report card! You are far better than what it says.

Fourth reason

To end, dear graduates, I would like to give you a fourth reason why grades underestimate you. When I fielded my survey to my classmates last week, I received many different themes on what was the most important lesson in high school. Can you guess what the most common answer was?

I assure you, nobody said “Kreb’s cycle,” or “quadratic equation.” By far the most common answer was -- the lesson of friendship. This is something we didn’t get from books or lectures, this is something we learned from each other. For sure, it can never be measured by grades.

So savor this last moment of HS and look around you. Look at the wonderful friends you found. You don’t know this yet – your HS friends are unlike any. They will last forever. You may be parting ways now, but your paths will cross again like ours has, regardless of the profession you have chosen.

How many of you plan to be doctors? Remember them. They will take care of you when you’re sick, and they will not charge you.

And how many are leaving the country? Remember them as well. You are going to live in their homes when you travel. Free!

There might even be a priest in here somewhere. He will preside at your wedding, baptize your child. I’m not sure you would want to confess to them. What a horrible thought.

There will be politicians amongst you too – governors, mayors, cabinet members, maybe even a president? Even they will seek refuge in your reunions, because it is only there that they can be themselves, with people they truly trust.

It doesn’t matter what they do, when you are down and out, your classmates will get together to pull you up. They will chip in for your hospital expenses, or help send your kids abroad, even when they themselves are in need.

I can spend the entire day with you talking about high school friends. My main difficulty preparing for this talk was choosing which anecdotes to share just to show how close we were 32 years ago, and how much closer we’ve become since then.

The point is this - I, am immensely proud of the people I grew up with in high school.

When I hear stories of principles they have had to stand up for in their life, I can see the same principles we nurtured together as classmates. Our futures have diversified us, but our values remain one and the same.

Today, we remain comrades in the same rebellion, fighting the battle in different zones.

Savor this moment. Say your goodbyes for now… but know that your paths WILL cross again. With graduation, your friendship has become more binding than marriage. Remember, you cannot divorce a HS classmate, even if it is ordered by the Vatican. It’s illegal.

Savor this moment dear graduates, no matter what your grades. You have Ateneo behind you, and your friends beside you, so you have no choice. Like the blue eagle that has symbolized you, you WILL fly high.

Congratulations to one and all!

1 comment:

The Commuter said...

Grabe, he truly inspires . . .

I feel sad na I'm not one of those residents he has a certain affinity to. There are those in the batch he really likes but I'm not one of them. Probably has something to do with my group almost not making that meta in time for promotion to second year . . .