By Jose Claro
The Philippine Star
It was truly encouraging to receive from my former students, who are now graduating with degrees from UP and Ateneo, forwards and recommendations to read President Aquino’s commencement speech during their graduation exercises. Particularly insightful was how the President was able to tailor-fit the same message according to the culture of the top two universities in the country.
Be it a Christian call to be men for others, or a patriotic duty to give back to the country as an Iskolar ng Bayan, President Aquino’s one clear message is that now is the perfect time to serve our country.
The graduates of 2011 are, indeed, more fortunate than the graduating batches of the past decade as responding to the call of serving the motherland is not negated by endless stories about government scams and corruption. Back when I was graduating, the option to move to other countries was very tempting because it was easy to feel disheartened and jaded about the country’s situation. While it is true that the poverty situation in the country today may still be significantly unchanged from the past years, the great difference is that, so far, the current administration has no taint of corruption. A lot of people may not approve of certain government policies of late, but the President reminds the graduates that the policies his government pursues are not for self-profit and self-aggrandizement.
When we think about it, it was not easy for the President to deliver a speech at Ateneo and UP. In the first, he goes back to a school whose students did not support him during the last elections and voted instead for a Green Archer. In the second, it was inevitable that his speech would be interrupted by protesting students. But that did not deter him from seizing the valuable opportunity to address the greatest minds of the country. It is, after all, the graduates of these two schools that hold the greatest potential to bring about maximum impact and change to the country.
To the Ateneans, the President asks up to what extent they would be men for others and how far down the hill were they willing to go. He concretizes these situations by asking if they will treat their future employees as human beings or simply as objects for profit. He reminds the graduates of what they have been hearing from their Philosophy and Theology teachers for the past four years: To be fully human is to do what is right and not simply to look the other way when others are in dire need. He addresses head on the Ateneans’ tendency to be apathetic and challenges them to give one big fight for the country.
To the UP graduates, President Aquino compares the country to the perennial UP Ikot jeep, the vehicle that circles the same route day after day. He challenges them to repair the dilapidated vehicle and drive towards progress and modernization. He repeatedly reminds the graduates of their obligation to the motherland as it has greatly invested in their education. Once again, he asks if they would still remember the slogans they shouted while boycotting their classes or rejecting the temptation to defend their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters in the event that they find themselves in trouble. He ends with the reminder that of all the graduates in the country, it is the UP student who is obligated to serve the country no matter what. Far from blind subservience, he knows the UP student carries this obligation with pride and dignity.
The great psychologist B.F. Skinner says, “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” The manner by which President Aquino challenged the youth to serve the country is connected to the true essence of education. It was wise to remind the graduates of the zeitgeist of the university they have attended during their last day in school. In the end, what the country needs is not necessarily UP or Ateneo, but graduates who will understand John Dewey when he said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
The true test of the greatness of a university education is when the graduates live out and commit to heart the truths they have learned years after graduation.