Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Report Cards and Lots of Nonsense (For No-Nonsense Pisay Scholars)

Ms. Legaspino, my beloved teachers, students, parents, my loyal friends and Pisay batchmates, good morning.

First of all, I would like to tell you how grateful and honored I am to be invited here to speak to you today. If you saw how I was giggling last night when I arrived at the old dorm and how I was smiling to myself while having my pork chop dinner at the old cafeteria, you would have thought I’m crazy. This school will always have a special place in my heart and I know it will always have a special place in your hearts too. This was where I learned to fix my bed, where I was forced to eat vegetables and discovered they’re actually not too bad, where I learned the habit of segregating my utensils in the sink after eating in the canteen, where I developed the attitude of coming to a meeting on time and expecting others to be on time as well. (Sa lahat ng nakakarelate, raise your hands.) This is also where I learned some of life’s painful truths such as: If you procrastinate and don’t submit your Research paper on time, you won’t be able to take the finals (Like I didn't). If you eat too much extra rice, you’ll gain weight (Like I did). If you watch an R-18 movie in the mall, your teachers might catch you because more likely they’re watching it too. It is beyond my wildest imaginations that I will be coming back here, 14 years after my graduation, to speak in front of people I love, my former teachers, and you – the hope and future of this country.

I would like to start this speech with a disclaimer. I could not understand why I was chosen to give today’s inspirational message. In my batch, I’m probably the only one who’s still practically financially struggling and economically deprived, I still haven’t gone out of the country, I wasn’t elected in a topnotch government or corporate position, I didn’t even establish my own company. In other words, I haven’t done anything extraordinary (at least not yet), I’m not rich, I’m not famous, and to top it all off, I’m already 31 years old and still very much single! Now that you know that I am just an ordinary person, I hope you indulge me with the next 15 minutes of your time. I promise I will do a good job wasting it.

When I was applying for medical school in UP straight out of high school, that's the INTARMED,  the admissions committee asked us to write an essay. The instructions said: describe what you learned in high school. My answer was a one-liner: I just wrote, “I grew up.” Bentang benta. I got into UP Med. When I was in UP, somehow my being a graduate of Pisay Mindanao brought a sense of security and confidence. I was a very shy student then. Most of my classmates were from Manila and a lot of them were from rich families and they were really sosyal. During our first day of classes, they asked, “Hi, where are you from?” I proudly said “Pisay”. There were no further questions. Being labeled as a graduate of Pisay enables you to have an edge over most of your peers. I warn you however, that it does not guarantee success. In the end, it is still hard work, diligence, efficiency, lots of prayers and a bit of luck that will get you somewhere.

I graduated from PSHS-MC Batch 1997. We were the 6th batch who graduated from this school. At that time, we had no gym. In fact we graduated in that small open stage in what you now call the ABD (Area Between Dorms). During our time, that was just the dark spot between the dorms where the boys flirt with the girls or the other way around. As dormers, after dinner we used to hang out in the academic building, waiting for our turn to call our parents using the only pay phone available in the campus. That area of the pay phone was significant to every dormer then – that was where we asked for extra allowance, where we made prank calls to radio stations, where we mingled with other dormers and copied their homework while waiting in line. Now you don’t need pay phones anymore. There’s the easy access to anyone through cellphones, the internet, and of course, Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook. Let me tell you about how this fantastic social network actually helped me make my speech today. I made a survey among my Pisay batchmates few weeks ago. The question was: what was the most important thing high school in Pisay taught you? Here are some of the most interesting answers: "You are the cream of the crop!" “To whom much is given, much is expected.”, “Don’t be a victim of circumstance, be a victor!”, “Pin your ID, dong!”, “Kung haploid ka noon, haploid ka pa rin ngayon. Kung corny ka noon, mas lalong corny ka ngayon.” And here’s an unforgettable line from Mam Medy Egasan: “Kung saan mas malaki, doon ang bukaka”. If you want to read more of my batchmates’ responses, just visit our Facebook page. The name is Livewires ’97. You would be amazed at how we still remain in contact with each other after so many years. In fact in Facebook, we achieve a rare feat: a 90% complete attendance!

Given these hilarious responses, perhaps some of you will ask me, what happened to science and math? Where does excellence come into the picture? If this crazy speaker is telling us that everything her batch learned in high school is nonsense, what’s the use of our kids’ Pisay education?

Ladies and gentlemen, let me defend my batch. Let me prove to you that all this nonsense that are probably running in these students’ minds right now are actually the things that matter. As I was going through my batchmates’ responses, I realized that there were some very important facts that I wish some adult should have taught me when I was in high school. I now summarize these into 5 important points.

Point number one. If you are still uncertain about what you want to be or what you want to do in the future, or if your goals are still blurry and are not yet well-defined, then, congratulations! High school is not a factory that manufactures ambition for its students. It is an adventure where young minds discover their dreams, realize their capabilities, and slowly master their weaknesses. Take it slow. Savor your growing up years. Open your minds to new experiences. Fall in love. Lose. Make mistakes. Fail. Succeed. Allow your experience in Pisay to be an adventure of self-discovery. Gradually, your priorities will emerge and you will find out what is important to you.

Point number two. You may be the cream of the crop, but in the real world, you will eventually find out that the crop is huge and there is actually a humongous variety of creams out there. In other words, sorry to disappoint you guys, but you are not the only cream of the crop around. So many other people are. Being a Pisay student gives you a distinction, a certain style of packaging that is appealing than the usual. But in the end, it’s the content that matters. This is your chance to develop that content. Learn the virtues of hard work, perseverance, and leadership while you’re here. Develop your people skills, learn to communicate and empathize. If you are a dormer living away from home, maximize your independence. If you are a city scholar, appreciate the comforts of living with your family. That way, you will develop an edge – an attitude and a personality that would set you apart from the other geniuses out there. Above all these, let your years in Pisay teach you humility, and may these years equip you with the knowledge that you may be smart but other people are smarter, but you will succeed anyway.

Point number three. If you think you are a nerd, a bit eccentric, a bit weird, or even a bit abnormal, don’t despair. Be thankful that you’re different! High school is mostly a struggle to fit in, to blend with everybody else, to keep up and be accepted. But when you get out of high school and become an adult, the struggle to fit in disappears and life becomes a struggle to be different. You will eventually find out that a little bit of craziness will come in handy as you go through your life. In 1997, the year we graduated, Apple, the creators of Ipod and Mac, came up with a very nice commercial. It went this way: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward.” So if you are one of these crazy ones, go ahead, remain crazy. Nurture that craziness and you will change this world one day.

Point number four. Consider everything you have now and be thankful. I didn’t realize this until I got out of Pisay. Take a look at this very nice gym, your topnotch and award winning teachers, your sprawling campus that looks like a garden. You may not realize this now, but you are very lucky. Millions of students in this country study in dilapidated and decaying schools, they don’t have books, they don’t have teachers. Many more Filipino children could not even go to high school at all, even if they want to. But you are here, with the name of Philippine Science High School forever written in your CVs, with opportunities for the best colleges and universities in the country already within reach. Think about all these tremendous prospects you have. Now count these blessings and make a promise to yourself that one day you will give something back. Your country needs you. Your people are counting on you. One day, you will be an excellent scientist or a brilliant inventor, a wealthy entrepreneur, or an inspiring teacher, or a responsible parent. You can even fade away to anonymous greatness. But whatever your dreams are, I really do hope that you make serving this country a part of those dreams.

Point number five. There is something I would like all of you students to do: when you get to your classrooms later and receive your grading cards, don’t believe them. Now wait! Before you throw me out, let me explain. Grades measure knowledge, not creativity and imagination. They measure your skills in memorizing facts and rationalizing mathematical or scientific problems, but not your inventiveness. They measure hard work and effort but not your passion. Grades measure your scholastic aptitude, but not your attitude. I’m not telling you that grades are not important. I’m just telling you that your report cards have a tendency to underestimate your capabilities. Therefore, don’t let them limit your opinion of yourself. Understand that you are definitely more than what your report cards tell you.

So my dear students, those are my five nonsense tips for you. Let me run them down one by one. First, if your future is still blurry, leave it that way. Second, you are not the only cream of the crop so you better stand out. Third, go ahead remain crazy. Fourth, be even crazier and strive to make this country better. Fifth, don’t believe your report cards, they underestimate you.

Before I end my talk, let me warn you about something really important. After so much has been said about high school, I would like to leave you with the most important gift I received from Pisay that I still carry with me until now. And that is the gift of friendship. For the past 18 years, my batchmates from Pisay have become my family. Even after high school was over, they were my solace when I was homesick, they lent me money when I was broke, they cleaned up my vomit when I got so drunk. They are even here to listen to me talk today, and they will certainly be the first and the loudest to applaud even if I didn’t do a good job talking. So my dear students, take a look at the people around you. Now, I want you to talk to your nearest batch mate and tell him or her, “Hey. Sorry, but it looks like you would have to be stuck with me for the rest of your life.”

To the teachers, thank you for staying around despite all opportunities abroad, and for making these students’ stay in this campus a truly exhilarating experience. To the parents including my parents, thank you for allowing us, your children, to be part of this adventure.

Let me end by sharing what a batchmate wrote in my Facebook survey. He wrote, and I quote “When it comes down to the important things, you can only learn so much from an academic institution. Nobody teaches you how to make new friends or how to keep the ones you have; how to love and how to say you're sorry; how to make important decisions like what you're going to do for the rest of your life, or whether or not there is a God. Pisay never taught us the answers. What it gave us was a chance to try and find out our own answers in this little autonomous world that it allowed us. It became possible that people of like minds should meet and eventually build relationships that would span time, distance, and whole generations.

Thank you and may God bless you all.

* Speech delivered during the 23rd Recognition Day of Philippine Science High School Southern Mindanao Campus. March 22, 2011, Sto. Nino, Tugbok District, Mintal, Davao City.
*This speech (and the speaker) was much inspired by "Don't Believe Your Report Cards", a speech given by Dr. Antonio Dans to Ateneo High School Graduating Class of 2007. Some parts may therefore look familiar. Thank you sir!
*Special thanks to my good old friend, Anton Agustin, for the insightful response to my Facebook survey. The last quote belongs to him.
*My deepest gratitude to my teachers from Pisay Mindanao for the warmth and the sincerity of their reception. I will always look up to you wherever life leads me.
*To Daryl and Joms who have stayed on in Pisay, as our batch's contribution to its great vision, you make me so proud. You inspire so many young minds more than you'll ever know. To Ronelli, who wasted one day of her precious vacation (her birthday at that!) to be around, your craziness was the inspiration for Point #3. You and the rest of the Mangots brought out all my lovely abnormalities. I owe you my life, and my occasional insanities. Thank you. And to Ronan, who stayed around, from the anticipation, to the making of the speech, all the way back to Digos until my much awaited galunggong meal, you disprove the notion that familiarity breeds contempt. You are the best. Then, now, and whenever after.

Coming home to Pisay dorm. Me, Ronan, Ronelli, Joms.:-)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Solitude Is Overrated

I have been traveling around this country alone countless times and was actually enjoying it. However, my latest sojourn to Donsol, Sorsogon this weekend awakened me to a painful but inevitable truth. It required no thought provoking epiphany, no huge disaster such as a tsunami, and not even a frightening brush with my mortality . I just woke up in a bus this weekend, alone, and with no one to talk to. And I realized, I am way past my schizoid soul-searching phase. It's about time for me to raise the white flag and admit that I too, am human and that I am a social being, who, just like everybody else, is need of somebody. This led me to my one pathetic but irrevocable proclamation: I don't want to travel alone anymore!

To hell with my restlessness, to hell with my profound desire to "know thyself". What I need is good reliable company, some one to talk to and argue with, somebody to blame when we both get lost or end up in a decrepit hotel, somebody to scold me whenever my gullible self gets fooled by the local travel outfit's promotional offers or whenever I give the local boatman more than enough money (like I often do). I need someone who will let me pay his half of the tricycle fare but who will pay for my lunch just because I also insist on paying for his.

I don't need any more adventure. I've already had enough in my young life. This time, I want to be bored, really bored! I want to be made stuporous by lackluster stories I've heard over and over again. I want to be disgusted by somebody's snoring or how that somebody just doesn't change his clothes everyday! I don't need excitement. I want to enjoy something familiar this time! I want somebody who will stop me from having the locals' best delicacy and instead get me to eat the local street food, someone who will eat the liver and fat parts in my pancit canton that I place on the side of my plate, or who would prefer canned tuna over that famous breakfast plate made my that Swiss restaurant next door.

I don't want any more "me" time. I'm having so much of that already. I want someone to drink beer with, someone who will actually search for me when I go out in the middle of the night to drink alone, someone who will actually worry about me when I drink too much and somebody who will actually get mad when I don't heed his worries!

I don't want to be that strong-independent-woman-who-does-as she-pleases anymore! I don't need that company who will let me go where I want to go and let me do as I please. I don't want him who lets me explore the other side of the beach while he discovers the other side. I don't need that company who encounters me walking a street of a small town and so he walks the other way so I could have my space. I need someone to walk with me even when I insist on doing my walks alone. I need company who knows that no one can stop me from walking under the rain whenever I want to, so he will walk with me instead.

I need someone to travel with. But first, he must know that he is dealing with one extraordinary woman who has already done so much more traveling than most women her age (plus some other stuff that this silly shallow world commonly regards as "success"). He must also understand that I am a clumsy, stubborn, hardheaded, moody, impulsive, gullible, schizoid, temperamental traveler who sucks at making plans and sucks more at heeding and remembering directions. But he will travel with me anyway. Maybe because he has had enough of solo traveling himself. Or maybe because traveling with me makes solitude an overrated silly entity travelers look forward to.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On Beer and Porn

I'm in a depressed mood lately. There's just no decent soul to talk to, no one to complain and rant to, no one to get drunk with. Not that I tried to tell anyone that I'm in need of any company at all. Nah, acting needy like a damsel in distress just to get a little bit of sympathy is just not me.

I'm supposed to work on some research today. Plus, written on my planner are several tasks lined up: study for tomorrow's hemodynamics conference, read my backlog ECGs, finish Austen's Pride and Prejudice, have my evening run along the boulevard. But here I am, after long hours of social voyeurism (aka Facebook) and contemplating about meantime girls and the ultimate downfall of the literate woman, I decided to write another mediocre blog entry.

Maybe I should call some old reliable good friends. Surely, one of them hot intelligent beer buddies of mine is available for some brew tonight. Hey, let's have a couple of beers later? Anybody tired of working on weekends? How about a movie? Let's just talk over coffee perhaps?

Before I can even decide on who to text, a window pops up on the CVS computer's screen: Download of XXX failed. Eeeepppp! Somebody's been downloading porn in this computer! And since I'm the only one who practically lives here, that makes me the primary suspect.

Waaaahhh! I better get out of here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Master Teacher

One of the country's strongest pillars of cardiology passed away today. In faithfulness to this creepy law of nature that requires most great doctors to usually succumb to diseases of their own specialty, he died of heart failure after battling against it for the last decade or so. Few days ago, while giving a lecture to more than fifty budding cardiologists, Teacher had a ventricular fibrillation that was initially aborted, but that eventually led to his rapid deterioration and subsequent demise. After many years of listening to him and looking up to him with awe during my training, and finally, my recent heart-to-heart conversations with him this past year, I am quite sure that that was how he wanted to go. The man literally died teaching. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Many months back, after his lecture with the students that left him almost out of breath, he told me, "Jean, gusto ko pa kayong turuan. Malapit na akong mamatay. Ang dami ko pang gustong ituro." I remember him holding my arm that day, as he slowly walked the hallways of the wards, while telling me, "Noong araw, lahat ng pasyente dito, pinakikinggan ko ang puso. Ganun ako natuto." His frail hands used to grip my arm for balance as we climbed the stairs that time at the College of Medicine when he insisted on teaching first year medical students the art of heart auscultation. At that time, I used to tell him, "Sir, magpahinga na kayo" but he told me, "Kelangan kong ipasa ang alam ko."

Leora, Jill, Teacher, and me. July 2010.

I last saw him last October, when, after his preceptorials with the students, he gave me his old book on cardiac physical examination and told me to write a summary of important points as guide for students. I still have the book to this day. Our last conversation was about growing old - how you must love and enjoy medicine, because when you're old and when your children have lives of their own, Medicine is where you get solace. Doing and teaching Medicine will be your source of satisfaction and fulfillment. A week later, during our last OSCE, as we were about to start, Teacher called me, and in a very weak voice said, "Jean, kumpleto na ba consultants mo? Sorry ha, di ako makakapunta ngayon. Ang sakit ng likod ko. Pero kung kulang ka pa, sabihin mo lang. Pupunta ako jan."

I never saw him again. During the past months, he had been in and out of hospitals. Together with some co-fellows, I have been planning to visit him, partly to talk about the old days and the birth years of PGH Cardiology but partly to just hold his hand and thank him for everything he has taught me. I never had the chance.

Now, he is gone. But all over the world are hundreds of Filipino cardiologists and internists, and thousands of other physicians he had taught. Many generations of UP graduates will forever remember his green jokes, his witty antics, his logical comments when everybody thought he was fast asleep during a conference, and how he always goes back to the basics (even claiming that the echo or the xray is wrong!).

Dr. P was already old enough to quit teaching, but he never did. Today, our teacher, our physical examination guru, our human 2D-echo has finally retired. His legacy will live on.

Teaching rounds with the great cardiologist. "The best diagnostic tools that a doctor has are his senses." - Dr. Gregorio Patacsil, Jr.

I have thanked him many times, but I have never thanked him enough, and I never will. All I can give him is a promise: that I will teach as I had been taught. Sometimes, the only way we could ever pay someone back is to pay it forward.