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.