JOSEFINA N. TAN
29 March 2014
Good afternoon. Thank you for the invitation to address our graduates on this significant event of their commencement. This is an honor and a privilege.
This special moment makes me fondly recall my own beginnings in this College.
That was in the early 60’s, three decades before you graduates were born!
At that time, the Beatles were crashing into the music scene, and we were crazily becoming ‘BFF’ – or Best Fans Forever -- of John, Paul, George or Ringo. Their songs reflected our young ideals and sentiments, with titles like: Can’t Buy Me Love. If I Fell. Help (I Need Somebody)! Here, There and Everywhere. Imagine. And something that my generation and all senior citizen card-bearing people can relate to, When I’m Sixty-Four.
That was the Camelot era of American politics, when the Kennedy brothers challenged racism. Some of their most inspiring quotes have lasted through time, and you may find them as meaningful today as we did back then. From President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And from Robert, “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why, I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
Just a bit of trivia from Maryknoll history: Do you know that Sen. Robert Kennedy was once here on our campus? He came to visit a Maryknoll Sister who had endeared herself to young Bobby when she worked in the Kennedy home in Massachusetts. You should have seen all those Maryknollers lining both sides of Thornton Drive, excitedly waving as Bobby Kennedy’s motorcade passed by! We were host to other noted figures since then, none more distinguished than Cory Aquino herself who addressed our assembly at the Marian Auditorium.
Maryknoll High School and College students then attended classes in the same building, which you know as Mother Mary Joseph Hall. We college students wore green and white uniforms like yours, and high school students, green and tan. Did you ever wonder why green was the prominent color, when our school colors are blue and gold? Maybe it was the influence of our blue-blooded neighbors across the famous creek that runs between our two campuses!
The fashion of the sixties had us trying to raise hemlines by rolling up the waistband of our skirts, only to pull them quickly down when the Dean of Students walked by. The Maryknoll Sisters were very much around then in their habits of white and black veils with the pointed hood. We were grateful that the long rosary beads that they wore along the side of their skirts made a distinctive sound as they walked, as if to warn us to stop our mischief before they could appear and catch us!
And we always wondered what the Sisters’ hair was like underneath that hood. Our own hairstyles then were…well, very much like what mine still looks today!
We didn’t have laptops and smart phones then. Computers were large mainframes that spewed out data in boxes of cards. To do research, we had to look up references in card catalogues in the library. The digital age came with your ‘dot net’ generation, and today, you only have to touch a key to access to all the info you need on the internet. You digital natives are creating the amazing apps that make life and work more productive today. We digital migrants or Jurassics have to be coached just on how to play Candy Crush!
And yet, is it possible to make a connection across the great digital divide, across our generations? I think it is, because we stand on common ground. That is the education we received from this school.
This event of your commencement is what unites me this afternoon with you, dear graduates
Picture a young girl in her teens, about to graduate from Grace Christian High School, and anxious over which college she would be able to enter. Grace Christian was a good school founded by American Protestant missionaries that offered Chinese language instruction and was thus much sought after by the Filipino-Chinese community.
On the other hand, Maryknoll College was a topnotch school, one that this girl could never aspire to, coming from a very conservative Chinese family. Then one day, against all odds, her parents tell this girl that she may apply for college at Maryknoll. She takes the entrance test, goes through the interview and – wonder of wonders – is accepted for admission.
That was a turning point in my life, one marked by a great sense of challenge. Maryknoll was to open up to me an entirely different world from the one that I had known all my life. I knew the tremendous adjustments that I would have to undergo, but I was determined to succeed. Because I opened myself completely to this new environment, all the experiences inside and outside the classrooms during those four years helped to transform me in ways I could never have imagined. And when I finally reached graduation day, I was filled with a tremendous sense of pride that, from that point onwards, I would carry the name of this school.
Our separate journeys have started from different points, but the paths converge here. Many were the sacrifices and hardships that you and your parents endured to get here to receive your degree and be called a graduate of Miriam College. But what exactly does this mean to you as you leave these halls and venture out to the world?
In seeking answers, we need to look at what is happening to the world today.
The State of the World
The state of our world and the quality of our lives are fast deteriorating. Our planet’s health and very survival have been put at risk by careless practices and self-interest that have depleted our natural resources, diminished biodiversity, destroyed ecosystems. All these have resulted in extreme climate change that is causing natural calamities globally. Our own people know only too well the death and havoc that disasters have wreaked on our land. In Cateel. Cagayan de Oro. Leyte. Pampanga. NCR. And for many of us, in our very homes and surroundings.
There is untold suffering from age-old conflicts between races, between religions, and between borders. Even where war and open conflict are absent, is there real peace? Not when women and children are being trafficked; or when overseas workers are being exploited and abused; or when the homeless are sleeping in streets or living under bridges alongside esteros. Economists report that there has been economic growth, but have its benefits trickled down to the people at the bottom of the pyramid to free them from a lifetime of poverty and deprivation?
The progress of our nation continues to be weighed down by grave problems. Despite the brave efforts of a few honest leaders, graft and corruption continue their hold on institutions of public service. Whistleblowers on PDAF are revealing such an unprecedented scale of graft and corruption that it is almost beyond belief! We ask ourselves and each other, how could this have taken place before our very eyes?
We wonder what has happened to the very fabric of our lives as a people and as individuals. A century and 18 years ago, our heroes led by Rizal and Bonifacio bought freedom for us from foreign rule, and paid with their very lives. And just 28 years ago, we took to the streets at EDSA and regained the glorious freedom that was robbed from us by a tyrant’s rule.
Are we descendants from the same race as our national heroes? Are we made of the same stuff that gave birth to people power? Where are we today in 2014?
At the time I was graduating, the world seemed simpler, but there were also some serious problems. Many of those problems still exist or have resurfaced today.
In the mid-60’s, Communism and nuclear war were threatening world peace and security. Since then, the Berlin wall has been torn down, signifying the crumbling of communism and the U.S.S.R. But today it rears its head anew today amidst the fighting in Russia and Crimea in the Ukraine. And the threat of nuclear war is as real and menacing today as it was then, if not more so, as more and more nations, particularly North Korea, build up their nuclear stockpiles.
War divided people in Vietnam then, as it does the people in North and South Korea today, and other places, including Mindanao.
As I was ending my college years, Marcos was just starting his first term, and nationalism, including student activism, was on the rise. Political prisoners were tortured then during the martial law years. Today, horrible abuses of human rights continue to be committed against helpless and innocent people, especially women and children in conflict affected areas.
Environmental and women’s issues were not yet heard of as such, but widening graft and corruption were starting to take root. And the gap between rich and poor was already beginning to widen. How wide is that gap today?
These examples show how the story seems to keep repeating itself, so much so that one historian, tracing war after war, observed that “the lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”
So has nothing changed? Do we then concede that we have not made a difference? I say no.
I look back and see how my years in this college were a completely liberating experience. Not one singular person or event stands out from those days. Rather, it was a total experience of thriving in the openness and freedom of the college’s liberal arts climate. It broadened my horizons beyond the world of books and the confines of the classroom, as our teachers encouraged us to build new relationships and explore a full range of activities to help us appreciate who we are and strive to become all that we could be, for ourselves and for others.
A Transformative Education
I believe this is what set Maryknoll apart: the commitment to the well-rounded development of young women as a whole person. Our minds were trained not just in the assimilation of technical subject matter, but in something more fundamental and essential—critical inquiry and analysis. We learned how to learn, to be aware of what was happening in the world around us, to raise hard questions as well as seek for right answers.
Our hearts were trained as well, to open up to others, to be sensitive to their needs, and to care enough to take action. The development of social concern among students received much emphasis, reflecting the mission and spirit of the Maryknoll Sisters who founded this school.
And to unify minds, hearts and actions, this school nurtured a faith life centered on Jesus Christ and enhanced by a devotion to Our Lady of Maryknoll.
This tradition of a progressive education continues to this very day, inspired by Miriam of Nazareth. Our founders, the Maryknoll Sisters, women of vision, prepared the ground for us by turning over this school to a Filipino lay Board of Trustees. As their mission and charism took them to other paths in service of the poor, they opened the door for this institution to be owned and run, not by a religious order, but by lay professionals, many of us alumnae, to develop our own unique Filipino identity. And so it was that long before the feminist movement and long before women’s issues became a global concern, this college embarked on a mission to prepare women leaders for tomorrow by training students to become change agents in service of society.
This is the essence of transformative education, which remains at the heart of Miriam College’s mission to train leaders in service. Remaining rooted in our liberal arts tradition and our philosophy of whole person education, a focus on professional training in the sciences as well as the arts provides students with the knowledge, discipline and skills to succeed in their careers. Moreover, service learning programs provide students with opportunities to address issues of peace, social justice, women and gender, and the environment through Miriam’s advocacy centers.
Indeed, one can find the graduates of this college in different vocations and professions, in various sectors of human endeavor, in places here and abroad. They have served in the Cabinet and in world bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank. They are in leadership positions in private and government institutions; in education, in business, banking and industry; in parishes and communities. Just last March 10th, an article in The Daily Inquirer reported that the Philippines ranks third as employers of senior female executives. Many of them are our graduates.
They are also active in development work, as leaders of NGOs and movements for the environment, for peace, for women, for street children. They are in the helping, healing and caregiving professions; and they are among the country’s noted entrepreneurs, educators, writers and artists. They are building homes and rearing families, and many are successful in combining family life and careers.
Earlier I spoke of how I was filled with a sense of pride as I graduated from this school. That feeling of pride was not for whatever I may have achieved academically, for in truth, I was not an outstanding student. Rather it was for the identity that I had earned and which would always be a part of me. And what is that identity? To me, it can be summed up in two core values: Wholeness and Concern for Others. It is this formation in wholeness and social concern that prepares each of us to be leaders. It is how we will make a difference in this world.
And so this Communication Arts graduate embarked on her journey, found my niche in the world of banking, and continue my ties with the school I love by serving on the Board. People have asked me what has helped to get me here: With the solid foundation of my Maryknoll education, I count the following: having a goal to focus on; passion combined with discipline; a work ethic learned from my parents, and a commitment to giving my best effort, or not at all.
From my encounters with our graduates in the professional world, and hearing accounts of their achievements through media and from people’s stories, I am convinced that our graduates are among those who are slowly bringing about changes in the world around us. It may start in the circles in which they live and work, and may be known only to those whose paths they cross. Perhaps, it is difficult to feel or measure the impact of their work in the magnitude of today’s problems. At times these problems can be overwhelming and can make us feel small and powerless. But I believe that if one individual is willing to start a small ripple of change, others will join them, and together, they can make waves!
Those who have graduated from these halls before you have begun the task. Now is your turn, now is your time. Will you join your efforts to theirs?
The Call to Leadership
Dear graduates, allow me to offer three simple standards as you take up the call to leadership:
First, a sense of self;
Second, a sense of school; and
Third, a sense of service.
A sense of self: You must have a sense of who you are and what you want to make of your life, if you are to live with purpose and meaning. Others would call this, having your personal vision and mission in life.
In the book The Road Less Travelled, Morgan Scott Peck begins by stating a basic fact of life, that is, that life is difficult. Indeed, life holds many difficulties. To struggle against this fact can only lead to stress, time lost in futile effort, and feelings of frustration and hopelessness. But to accept it is to be prepared to take on life’s challenges. A clear sense of self is what will provide you with the inner strength to persevere against the difficulties and distractions that you will meet. Like a beacon, a clear vision will shine through the darkness of the storms that you may meet in the seas of life, and lead you safely home.
A sense of school: We would not be who we are, and where we are, if it were not for the school that helped to shape us. Like a mother who nurtures and cares for her child through the early years of life, this school nurtured our growth and development from adolescence to young adulthood, and prepared us well for life. After all, that is what Alma Mater means, literally, the soul of a mother.
As you prepare to leave this school that was your home these past four years, it may be well to reflect on just what the Miriam identity means to you. Is it only a diploma that can help you land a good job? Or could it be the spirit that will forever be a part of you, and call you to give back to this school, or pay it forward to others?
A Sense of Service: This is where our sense of school is tested. It is how we live out our values. For in the Christian sense, true leadership is leadership in service.
I believe that we can find true peace and happiness to the extent that we are able to live not just for ourselves, but for others. We don’t have to look too far or too hard to see that all around us are people who need help. It is possible to make a difference in their lives, if we are only willing to reach out and share ourselves.
And so in closing, I invoke Miriam of Nazareth, woman of faith, strength and courage, woman of humility and grace. And I invite all of you to join me in proclaiming her prayer of praise and ours, the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.
Thank you, and good afternoon.
A professional banker known for her work discipline and uncompromising integrity. A builder of institutions, actively steering the Maryknoll Alumnae Association towards dynamism and relevance during her leadership tenure, and contributing significantly to the evolution of Maryknoll College Foundation as a long-time member of its Board of Trustees.