A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by an old schoolmate, now the Guidance Counselor of St. Mary’s Academy of Sta. Ana, Manila, to give the inspirational message to the graduating high school students. It was a surprise since it was only three days before the Friday graduation. I was scheduled to speak next 2015 but something came up and this year’s speaker couldn’t make it.
But like any true ‘Marian’ graduate, I agreed. This year’s theme was “Demonstrating the Filipino’s Resiliency and Selfless Service”. With only two days to prepare, I was anxious at first but I believe everything happens for a purpose. I’ve always imagined being able to speak before my Alma Mater but I thought the invitation four years ago at a Career Talk was it.
I was happy about the invitation and I felt God wanted me to send a message and inspire the youth. Fifteen years have passed and a lot of things have happened to me. Preparing for my speech turned out to be a good way for me to reflect on my successes, my failures, and how God worked in my life. My hours of preparation turned out to be yet another ‘worship time’.
I prayed really hard as I prepared for this that God may be glorified and that His light will shine through me.
I received praise for the speech. The Directress and my old teachers commended me as well but the best I heard were from my husband when he said “I’m so proud of you” as I came down from the stage.
Allow me to share the speech I prepared. It’s a bit long, took me 17 minutes to deliver it, so I deleted a few sentences and paragraphs. Edited for reading. Hopefully you won’t get bored. May you be blessed.
No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began.
(1 Corinthians 2:7, NLT)
I graduated high school, stood on this same stage, delivered my Valedictory speech 15 years ago. I could still vividly remember that day, March 25, 1999, when I shared a short speech, choked on the part when I had to thank my parents who have always been there since the day I was born — I said those words exactly.
Students of St. Mary’s Academy of Sta. Ana class of 2014, 15 years ago I sat there with tears in my eyes, thinking “this is it”. It’s over. Another chapter is about to start a couple of months from now. Right then, I was scared. Will I become that CPA Accountant I want to be? Will I become successful? How am I going to survive college? Will I survive UP? I had so many questions. Looking back, most of them, have been answered. I did survive college. I didn’t become the CPA Accountant and newscaster like I planned but I am living the life God has planned for me.
I wonder what your valedictorian right now is thinking. I guess she’s thinking “Will I still be on Top of the class when I get to college?” I can’t answer your questions right now but I want to tell you…..
You’re No. 1 right now but you will not always be.
I’m not saying this to discourage you, but I want you and the rest of your class to know that your present, which will be your past a few months from now, doesn’t dictate your future. Your success in the future will depend on hard work, grace, and a lot of faith.
You’re no. 1 but that’s not just it. You can still be the no. 1 among all the top students when you get to college or when you finally enter the corporate world.
But when you get to college, you’ll have to start from scratch. You will start from the beginning again so be humble. Practice true humility. That is, thinking of yourself not above others, so you can be ready to serve your family, your church, your community— be selfless.
You will fall at times. You will be heartbroken. You will not reach some of your dreams but that’s fine. God’s plans and His ways are higher than your ways.
You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)
When you fail, there is a purpose. But before you discover those reasons you need to decide that you will get up. Stand up.
Whenever I hear the word resilience, I think of IPIS (cockroach). You know why? They are strong, resilient enough to survive tragedy. They can survive freezing temperatures or a nuclear explosion. They’re survivors. It’s one of nature’s greatest biological marvels. But of course, I don’t want to compare you to cockroaches because they’re kadiri but I want you to understand resilience in the simplest way. Kahit apak-apakan mo sila, buhay pa rin.
Filipinos are known to be resilient. We’ve survived centuries of colonization as you’ve learned from your History and Filipino classes. You don’t remember Martial Law or EDSA Revolution. Edsa Dos happened when I was a freshman in college, most of you were probably just born then.
Your generation could only remember Ondoy, a few more typhoons, Manny Pacquiao’s losses, all the crimes, and current exposes about the corrupt people in the government. But what do you notice? Filipinos are resilient. Despite all those challenges. We still find time to smile and be happy. Is that wrong? No. It’s the kind of attitude that keeps us going as a nation. It’s because we are resilient. We have that uncanny ability to bounce back from different challenges.
How are we resilient? How can we get up despite the high fall? It’s because of our faith in God, our love for God, and because we are called to live life to the fullest, we are compelled to offer service to others— despite the things we’ve been through.
Filipinos have Resilient Faith. But what is resilient faith? It’s the kind of faith that enables us to see through troubles, temptations, trials and still come out stronger. We are called to have that kind of faith.
It’s easy to say you have faith—you go to church, pray, read the bible, but what happens you experience problems and world is turned upside down?
Sometimes faith is shaken. It’s a normal reaction. It’s normal to be sad, feel lonely, or be afraid of the future. It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you react. If you fail a class or get into the course or school you want, others might lose hope, as if there’s no tomorrow. But you know, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the worst thing that could to you. You can rise above it.
Let me share with you a story.
I took up Communication Research, it’s a Mass Comm course that required me to take statistics. Before stats, there’s College Algebra.That semester I only received a 4. I’m telling this story because I want you to learn from me. I wasn’t as serious then. I thought I was good but there were others better than me. In other words, nag mayabang ako. But you know what, when I saw the 4 on my class card. I wasn’t broken. So the next summer, I took the class again, strived hard. You know what happened? I got a 1.25. Hindi uno pero I was on top of that class. All I did was study hard. I believed in myself that I could do it again. Why did I fail the other sem? I didn’t study well but when I decided to get serious, I became the go-to person of my classmates. It was victory for me—I thought. That time, I proved to myself that it’s okay to fall. I wasn’t perfect. I am not perfect but I could still try and be a winner. That I could still shine.
Lesson: It’s okay to fail. Don’t give up. God will see you through. Be resilient.
As Conan O Brien said at a graduation speech, “It is your failures and consequent resolve to overcome those failures that ultimately make you who you are.”
STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE
I also experienced being turned down for a job that I really wanted. At first, I thought “What’s wrong with me?”. Did I not impress them? You know what, it’s not that something’s wrong with you? Hindi lang talaga para sayo yun. You are not fit for the job. God wants you somewhere else. Be patient.You need to stand firm. God has a plan for you—plans to prosper you and give you hope. He will give the desires of your heart, if only you commit Yourself to the Lord.
I graduated valedictorian here. Fifteen years later, here I am living the life I’ve always wanted. I am not a CEO. I don’t own a business. I used to be a manager in a BPO company though. But right now, I am proud to say I am a wife and a mother—a homemaker. I still do freelance work. I’m a work-at-home-mom because I choose to be one. I am where I am called to be.
Six years ago, I left the corporate world. I semi-retired as I would describe it. I started to work on my own and do consultancy. At 23, I left a promising managerial job to work for a UK-based company as their SEO Consultant. I don’t have enough time to explain to you what I do but it had something to do with Internet Marketing. I would work with websites freelancing and helping companies to put up websites and bring them up on the search engines. I would do all those things at home. Right now, I write tech news, gadget reviews. I enjoy writing about technology. It’s what I do, working on my own time while I care for my family.
It’s easy to say she’s so lucky she can afford to stay at home. You know what, it’s not that easy. Just a few months ago, I was trying to internalize how at my age, I could afford to work at home and be with husband and son. It’s such a blessing, a privilege. Being a homemaker has been for me the most satisfying job I’ve ever had.
It’s not for everyone. It took me years, patience, a lot of faith,and hard work to get the life I have right now. God taught me humility too. If it weren’t for my patience years ago, I wouldn’t be able to get a job that I enjoy doing and would let me spend time with my family. The Lord had given me opportunities before but what I did with those opportunities mattered. Even if I was working at home, I wasn’t complacent. I worked hard. I showed my boss that I could be trusted. I know in my heart, that if it weren’t for my diligence, faith, and God’s grace, I wouldn’t be where I am right now— in the arms of my loving husband and beautiful son.
This is the kind of life I’ve always imagined. It’s not luck. It’s God’s grace. All of these are gifts. Somehow, I’d like to think I am reaping what I’ve sown years ago, years of hard work, that I am able to enjoy my time, my resources, and use them to serve my church, my family, and my God. I strived for excellence. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
FIND YOUR CALLING
I’m not saying that you young ladies should just look for a husband who will support you. No. That’s not it. Getting a guy who will love and support you will take hard work, time, and a lot of prayers. You have to be develop yourself first to be a godly woman before God will give you the right man. So don’t rush. Work for yourself and for your family first. If you want to be a nurse, a doctor, a business woman, an actress, a reporter, a writer, go ahead. Do what you feel God is asking you to do.
To the young men, don’t waste your time with foolish talks and senseless activities. There is a right time for everything so be wise. Seek God first and He will show you the way. August Rodin said “Love your calling with passion for it is the meaning of your life.” Success isn’t all about money or career, it’s about finding one’s calling. Find your calling.
I remember the names of my sections here:WISDOM, PRUDENCE, FIDELITY, HOPE. Develop these traits. Be wise by being godly. Exercise prudence in everything you do. Practice fidelity. And hope you will reach your dreams.
It is because of my faith in the Father that I am able to stand firm.
1 Corinthians 16:13 says, ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.’
Your Faith in God impacts your career, your struggles, and your family. The challenges that you will experience, will cause you to live out your faith, and bring you to a place where you are called to be.
Faith doesn’t always come easy for some. How would you describe your faith right now? Some of you will struggle. When you are tested, maintain a faith that is resilient. A kind of faith that can withstand the test of time— all the ups and downs of life. It won’t happen overnight. It will take time to build that kind of faith. Have faith.
LET IT GO
The popular song right now, which I love to sing with my son, guess: from Frozen. Let it Go. There’s this line there that says:
Let it go. And I’ll rise like the break of dawn.
If you watched the movie, you would know that Queen Elsa was trying to escape a problem. She failed as a queen and as a sister, she first chose to run away, she was ashamed of herself so she wanted to hide, but later on, she realized that all those things are in the past. She also said, “I’m never going back; the past is in the past!” Which is true. Your past doesn’t dictate your future— let it go. You can rise above all these. Don’t be bothered about what others will think of you. Don’t dwell on the past. Stand up. God is at work in your life. He’s not finished with you yet. You are a work in progress.
Decide not to get bitter. Get better and God will give you a new beginning.
In summary, I want you graduates to remember 4 things:
- BE RESILIENT
- STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE
- FIND YOUR CALLING
- HAVE FAITH
Final Message to the Parents, Teachers, and Graduates
I am a parent right now, so I’d also like to address the parents here, dear parents, remember that being a parent is a privilege. Just because your children will be in college, it doesn’t mean you can leave them on their own. Trust them, yes, but still guide them in the ways of the Lord. They are your heritage from God. Don’t lose sight of your children. Love them unconditionally. Be present in their lives. Don’t be afraid to express your love and care for them before it’s too late. Make memories with them. Your presence in the family is what they will remember forever.
I’d also like to honor the administrators of the school and the teachers, in behalf of the graduating class, thank you. Your years of labor in building them up will not be put to waste. You may see them as happy-go-lucky people now, but because of the foundation this school has set, I pray each of them will become the person God wants him or her to be. I know this well, and I believe, because St. Ann Academy, now St. Mary’s, had been my 2nd home for 10 years. My alma mater taught me to strive for excellence in everything I do, I learned the importance of camaraderie, my Christian faith strengthened, and the need to offer selfless service. The school was a big part of my life and because of you, I am able to live life to the fullest. I believe that these graduates here, will be able to reach their dreams.
Don’t be afraid to try. You will fall but it’s a part of life. Stand up. Rise above the difficulties. Choose to become a better person—a better version of yourself. If you’re graduating with honors, be humble and continue your good work. Strive to surpass yourself because you have the potential to be even greater.
If you’re an average student, don’t be afraid that you won’t survive college. You can and you will. As long as you believe in yourself and work hard. Try to discover yourself. Explore opporutnities but still within the rules.
In my elementary yearbook, I wrote there, “Doing what’s right today means no regrets tomorrow.” More than two decades, I still live by those words.
Be resilient. Strive for excellence. Find your calling. Have faith. Be able to stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of God, because your work in the Lord is not in vain.
And so I conclude with this quote from the late Nelson Mandela:
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Thank you very much and good evening.