I am filled with joy and gratitude to have the honor and privilege to speak before you today.
I am elated because nothing beats the feeling of being back home and walking down these august halls again, bringing back many wonderful memories, inspiring lessons, profound experiences, and precious friendships.
I am also filled with gratitude because who I am today, my achievements in my career, I owe, in no small measure, to the formative and crucial years that I have spent as a Maryknoller. Miriam College has shaped and guided me well in my chosen life of public service as a lawyer and as a diplomat.
Many years ago, I was exactly where you are seated today. So allow me to share with you a story that I would probably tell my younger self. Let me start with a fable.
There once lived a farmer who was rewarded with a goat by a wealthy man who was happy with his service. He carried the goat over his shoulder and began the journey home. Along the way, three thieves saw the farmer with the goat and planned on how to steal the goat.
The thieves took different hiding positions at three different places along the road.
The first thief came out of hiding and asked the farmer, “Mr. what are you doing? Why are you carrying a dog on your shoulders?” The farmer was surprised. “This is a goat not a dog.” To which the thief replied, “I’m sorry Mr. I only told what I saw. I am sorry if you don’t believe it”. The farmer was annoyed but continued on his journey.
Barely walking a few hundred meters, the farmer was met by the second thief, who told him “Mr., why do you carry a dead calf on your shoulders?” This time the farmer was annoyed, “What? How can you mistake a living goat for a dead calf?” The second thief replied, “Mr. either you don’t know what a goat looks like or you are just denying that you carry a dead calf. I am sorry but I just told you what I saw.” The second thief went away smiling while the farmer got confused, but still he continued his journey.
After an hour, the third thief met him. The third thief laughed at him and asked, “Mr., why do you carry a donkey on your shoulders? You look silly and funny!”. Hearing the words of the third thief, the farmer became really upset. He started thinking, “Is it really not a goat? Is it some kind of a ghost?”
Slowly his mind became poisoned with the idea that the animal he was carrying might really be some kind of a ghost. The farmer got so frightened that he hurled the goat on the roadside and ran away. The three thieves laughed at the gullible farmer.
The thieves caught the goat and were happy to feast on it.
Moral of the story: One should not be carried away by what others say. Don’t be fooled by those who may want to take advantage of you.
This story has happened to me and I overcame the thieves who were trying to steal my goat.
Immediately after high school, I searched for a college or university in the course that would be a good fit for me. It was challenging at that time because there were so many colleges and universities to choose from. Eventually I decided to go to Maryknoll, now Miriam College, and I chose AB International Studies.
Of course, young as I was, relatives and friends were surprised with my choice, Maryknoll and IS. I explained why I chose Maryknoll and they accepted my explanation. But International Studies? What is THAT? People would ask me questions like, “So does that mean you want to be a flight attendant (although I will fail with the height requirement), or work in the travel agency?” What is the relevance of International Studies with the then situation of the Philippine society? (by the way those were the Marcos years). But I continued to finish my degree. I enjoyed my college years knowing that my degree is a pathway to the realization of my dream career.
If you relate this to the story, it could be likened to the first thief, those who questioned my choice of college and degree.
During my time and in the 80s, students graduated early. After grade 6, I skipped grade 7 to go to high school, (now you have until Grade 8 and K+12, which is the best thing that ever happened to the Philippine education.) In other words, I graduated at the tender age of 19. My parents thought I was too young to work (or probably that I was too naïve) and they believed that I should continue studying. Reluctantly, I continued on and passed the entrance exam at UP Law school, which had the lowest tuition fee of any law school in Metro Manila at the time and probably even now.
While in law school, which was another 4 years, my Maryknoll classmates were already employed and with comfortable and prestigious jobs and were paid quite handsomely. In the early 80s, Maryknoll graduates were immediately employed and I assume the same is true today. Thus my classmates, after a year or two of working, were junior executive of airline companies, international travel agencies, banks, renowned NGO’s and UN organizations, among others.
When we would get together, my classmates would treat me to luncheons and dinners in fancy restaurants, such favors I could not return because my weekly allowance is just enough for my daily school needs. Thus, I was very jealous of my contemporaries and questioning myself why was I still in school for another 4 years plus reviewing for the bar exam, when I could be working and joining their ranks. Furthermore, there was no assurance I would pass the bar in one take. I feared that maybe I was wasting my time, effort and money travelling a road that ended in a cliff.
But my parents believed in me and I was compelled to believe in myself and push myself through the rigidities of law school.
This self-doubt was like the second thief in our story.
In my senior year in law school, the Foreign Service Officers Examination was announced and I decided to take the exam because this is what I have been aiming for since I took International Studies. I figured that if I did not pass the bar exams on my first try, I would have a good fall back and not lose face. I knew within me, I wanted to pass the FSO exams because I have decided that the foreign service will be my chosen field.
After graduation from law school and passing the bar on my first try, there was no news if I passed the FSO exams that I took two years ago. So, I was compelled to start with a law practice with a firm specializing in labor law, which was my favorite subject in law school. As fate would have it, the FSO exam results came out and I was fortunate to be part of a very small number of foreign service officers who passed the exams. I was overjoyed when I was instructed to report to the DFA at the soonest.
You may think there was a lot of celebration. Instead I stood in the middle of dilemma. Family and friends, and those who knew nothing about FSO, were expressing their dismay. They asked me how could I have abandoned a budding career as a lawyer to be a Foreign Service Officer. This was because almost nobody knew what a Foreign Service Officer is, but as a lawyer I could be recognized as somebody prominent in the community and hopefully become a judge, justice or even a politician.
But my conviction has been very strong that being a Foreign Service Officer is what I want to be and where I will excel. I was, and still am, enamored by the intricacies and nuances of diplomacy, the negotiations and bilateral agreements and international conventions and the assistance to be rendered to our nationals abroad especially the distressed ones, among others. The assistance and protection of our kababayans has been the most fulfilling because I am able to change people’s lives for the better.
These were the crossroads of my life. There were people telling me what to do but in the end. I did not throw away the goat.
Looking back, I now know I was right in my decision because now I am serving my country with the passion and the preparation I have nurtured since my days in Maryknoll and law school.
Believe in yourself, not in the rumor mill. Conquer your fears. Surround yourself with people who challenge you, teach you and push you to do your best.
Bill Gates in a graduation address he gave last year said “Don’t lose faith. Love what you are doing. You have to find what you love to do. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to great work is to love what you do.”
Finally, education is truly the great equalizer aside from death. Education never ends, it should always continue. A person who possesses education can indeed reach for the stars.
As an ambassador of the Philippines, I have wined and dined with royalty, kings and queens, presidents, prime ministers, sheiks and emirs. I have stood in the presence of great men and women, and have made the acquaintance and even friendship of some of the most powerful men and women in the planet. I have served under some of the most well-loved leaders of this country, some of the most brilliant strategists, as well as some of the most feared. I have witnessed history being made, signed agreements with other countries, negotiated treaties that may have changed your way of life.
I have visited the most beautiful landscaped that many people will only see as their computer’s screensavers, and yet I have also seen coup d'états, revolutions and wars most of you have only seen in the movies. I was there in 911 New York, Paris terrorist attacks in 2015 and I felt the sonic boom of a MIG jet in the 2017 Istanbul coup. However, the most memorable for me is the visit to Palmyra, Syria immediately after the Russians took over from the ISIS elements.
I have met real spies, interpreted coded messages and broken bread with people from Interpol and the CIA.
This grand, fantastic and continuing journey all started, when I sat in your chair as you do now. Maryknoll or Miriam, you and I share the same education. If I am able to accomplish all this at the time when everything was analog and primitive, imagine what you can accomplish as progenies of the digital age.
Thank you to this venerable institution, the Miriam College, and congratulations to the new graduates. Congratulations to the parents and family for the support you have given to the graduates but more importantly, thank you to your mentors.
Marami pong salamat.
About the Graduation Speaker
Ambassador Ma. Theresa Parreno Lazaro
Amb. Parreno Lazaro is a Maryknoll alumna (Bachelor of Arts, International Studies, 1979). She finished her Bachelor of Laws at University of the Philippines, 1983. She received a Certificate of Innovation in Governance from the Center for Government Studies at Leiden University, The Hague and the Ash Institute of Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, The Hague, May- Jun 2006. She participated in a Fellowship Program in Peacemaking and Preventive Diplomacy at Burg Schlaining, Austria, June – July 1997.
At present, she is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Philippine Embassy, Paris, France and Monaco, and permanent delegate of the Philippines to UNESCO (since 23 April 2014).
She was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Philippine Embassy, Berne, Switzerland, Dec 13, 2008 – March 31,2011; Consul General, Philippine Consulate General, Sydney, Australia, 2005-2008; Deputy Consul General, Philippine Consulate General, New York, USA, 1999-2002 ; Minister and Consul General, Philippine Embassy, Madrid, Spain, 1998-1999; First Secretary and Consul, Philippine Mission to the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, 1996 – 1998; Second Secretary and Consul, Philippine Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Deputy Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia (CCOP), Jul 1989 – Dec 1993; Third Secretary and Vice Consul, Philippine Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand, Deputy Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Jan 1988-Jun 1989.