On the 24th Recognition Day of RTPM-DSHS

Comfort Zone

Whenever I felt like giving up on writing this speech, you were my motivation, chicken-terrified-by-gravity.

I have this gnawing feeling that by avoiding cliches I ended up saying something mundane.

Good afternoon students, parents, faculty, and all gathered here today for this celebration of scholastic merit and achievement. Thank you for having me. Truly, I am honored to be invited on this special day. But to be honest, gazing out at your expectant faces from this podium, I stand here before you feeling abject terror to some degree. After all, I sat where you are sitting now not so long ago. I am only in my early twenties and in-between jobs (a fancy way of saying unemployed). Sure, I ranked among the top in the 2012 Civil Service Examinations and the Teacher’s Board. But this doesn’t make me an expert. It only tells you I’m quite skilled at taking tests. What could I share with you, really, from such a short stint at being human and an even shorter run in the world of work? But, there are things one just can’t and must not refuse. The Alma Mater asking for help or favors is one of them. So my first solid advice to you guys today, especially the graduating batch, is to stay away from Science High, as far away as you can, until you’re successful. I’m kidding, of course. But I wish I followed my own advice a bit more often.

Well, here’s a caveat before I begin: Don’t take my word for it. Whatever advice, observation, and insight I’ll dish out is anecdotal data. It’s based on a sample size of one, and perhaps a handful of friends, who are in many ways a lot like me; that is to say: somewhat educated, middle class, a tad unconventional, and nerdy. What works for me might be disastrous for you. So I would like to request that as much as possible, think with your frontal lobes on this one.

When Ma’am Julie called me up she told me that my task today was to inspire you, and you know I really thought hard about how I could do that. And like any well-trained graduate of Science High and UP, I initiated exploratory research straightaway on the field of commencement exercises and spent the last few days hard at work collecting data on Youtube, and learned from the best commencement experts who go by the names Meryl Streep, Tyrion Lannister, J.K. Rowling, and Conan O’Brien. I was doing that for the most part rather than writing this speech, which is why I only finished writing this morning. It’s a rather classic example of the Stock-Sanford Corollary to Parkinson’s Law which states “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” It’s the law all crammers live by, but please don’t use it on your teachers, and well you definitely didn’t hear it from me.

Now, I will first talk about three basic skills for survival. They are fundamental, so I advise you to listen well. In fact, I encourage you to take notes. The first skill is…well, what do you guys think? Any guesses? The first skill is cooking. Oh yes. When you’re away from home to study in UP, or Todai (Universityo of Tokyo), or the National University of Singapore, or Harvard, even CalTech, who knows? I’m not kidding. That’s the future waiting for you outside of Science High. My educational psychology professor said to set high expectations for students, because belief plays a huge role in determining how well you perform in school. What a student thinks of her ability, what parents think of her capacity, and what teachers think of her potential – they all work into a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I will start here. I believe that you guys will be studying away from home someday, for a baccalaureate degree or for graduate studies. Either way you’ll be out there in the best schools, studying for the Philippines so you can be effective change-makers. And when you’re there, you’ll need cooking skills. Believe me. When you’ve blown your money on books or on computer games like Ragnarok (What is popular these days? LOL?), and you’ve been eating noodles for a week and your teeth feel funny like they might fall off your gums (true story, unfortunately). Then, you’ll need cooking skills. Nothing fancy. There’s adobong sitaw, five pesos; scrambled egg, six pesos; ginisang carrots, seven pesos. It’s cheap, it’s healthy, and you’ll live off a hundred pesos for one week, easy. The second fundamental skill is doing the laundry. For the same reason, when you’re broke, it’s a pretty handy skill. Besides it builds character, you know just like in Karate Kid. The third fundamental skill is debatable, but in keeping with my efforts to be a decent human being and to please your parents, I’m adding it to the list. The third skill is housekeeping. I know some of us study best in a messy room, because you know the chaos just helps us visualize the randomness of Brownian motion or whatever excuse we tell our moms, but you know when you’re out there on your own your roommate will be your surrogate family, and you want to be on their good side most of the time. So pick up a brush every now and then, go to the bathroom and defend the tiled territories from the invading slime mold. The beautiful thing about these three fundamental skills is you can practice them at home, starting tomorrow. I’m bringing this up for humorous effect, but also at the same time I want to encourage you to train yourselves, little by little, to be independent. Start with the small things. They’re simple but concrete. Remember that the first step to self-improvement is aiming for achievable goals. Later on, after high school, things will get a little harder. Many times you will have to be your own cheerleader, your own teacher, your own task master, and you will need the discipline learned from tending to chores in order to have the discipline to review tome upon tome of information for a board exam or to finish writing a thesis dissertation or a 10,000-word novel. I hope I have convinced you, because you know, even Maria Montessori would back me up on this.

Now we’ve reached the serious part, and I’ll have to talk about two nasty things: fear and doubt. When I was a teenager, I remember telling a family friend who was in her early thirties at the time, that I envied the way adults like her walked into a room, the way they carried themselves, with straight backs and a sure stride, full of confidence. I envied adults because I didn’t like myself as a teenager: impossibly shy, insecure, self-conscious, anxious, too serious, even paranoid, and generally awkward. Naturally, I was beside myself with excitement when I was finally going off to college, miles away from home, and on my own. I thought that would surely make a confident adult out of me. But the thing is, after overstaying my five years as a college undergrad with a double major, working in five part-time positions and one office job, volunteering for thousands of hours as a Red Cross Youth and tutoring urban poor kids, I was still only barely halfway to the ideal adult I had conjured in my teenage head. Some days I would be quite articulate. I knew what I wanted, where my life was headed, and what I needed to do to get there. But other times, I would be awkward again and fret about not knowing anything that counted. I felt like I walked around in a fog. Last year, during another spell of pointless worrying about what the future held, I asked my mom whether she ever doubted herself now that she’s an adult, and you know, she thought about it honestly, and answered that she did, but not over the same things she used to, and not as often. Her answer gave me pause, and it got me thinking that if I waited to become perfectly confident of my abilities before I allowed myself to try, do or be something, I would run out of my youth.

So last year, I quit my office job because being an Ayala working girl wasn’t what I wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disparaging corporate work. In fact, my job was pretty interesting. It involved social media analytics, a relatively new tool that has the potential to provide insight into various subjects such as people’s economic behavior, voting choices, issue perception, and even who’s the better product endorser between Kris Aquino and Vice Ganda. But I had taken on that job because after graduation, with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education under my belt, I felt that if I stood in front of a class of teenagers and they asked me about the real world outside of school, I wouldn’t have anything truly authentic to say. (It’s pretty ironic considering that that’s where I find myself now, in front of not a class but a school of teenagers.) A slew of other doubts followed. What if I couldn’t teach well in a less than ideal setting? What if the students wouldn’t find me cool? What if the students ate me alive? But last year I reached a point where I got fed up with fear because allowing it to paralyze me was a loser thing to do.

I mean just think about it. If Finn didn’t face his fears he wouldn’t be able to save Princess Bubble Gum countless times. Frodo and Sam wouldn’t have left the Shire and made their epic journey across Middle Earth and triumphed over Sauron. Arya would be on the growing list of dead characters in Game of Thrones. And Princess Elsa wouldn’t have let it go.

So after thinking along those lines last year, I settled my affairs, packed seven years’ worth of life in the Metro, wrote a children’s book along the way, and came home. Right now, I have my fingers crossed because the DepEd hasn’t released the results for teacher applicants yet, and I can’t begin to describe just how terrified I am that things will not turn out as I hope. The threat to my sense of self-worth and purpose is great. But I’m going to grit my teeth and push myself to fight off my own natural instinct to flee, hard-wired into all human brains in the interest of self-preservation. Instead of confronting our fears, we often choose an easy way out because what if we do end up failing at that one thing we chose to define who we are? I derailed myself a bit, but I’m glad to finally be in a place of discomfort instead of sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned office because I’m learning to be brave. One self-help article on the web put it this way: “Making progress involves risk. Period!”

So you guys don’t wait till you’re in your early twenties. Start your brave training now. Even Merrida started when she was but a wee lass. For those inclined to write, submit to the local paper, to Young Blood, wherever you feel challenged by the publisher’s standards. Start a blog, a zine, a website, and share it to people you esteem for their high taste. Draw. Paint. Dabble in graphic design. Don’t stop at playing computer games. Make your own. Take pictures. Make films. Find opportunities to explore the sciences. Enroll in a summer practical electronics course. NORSU used to have them and I hope they still do. There are resources online like the Visible Human Project and TED-Ed that will blow your mind. Do stuff. Make things. Have a passion project. Challenge yourself. Create more than you consume. This approach will help you know yourself. What do you want? What can you do? What makes you happy? These are three important questions in life that I hope you start asking yourselves today. These have already begun to shape your life’s path, and even more so in the coming years.

Again, thank you for having me. Mabuhay ng may tapang!

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Due to ad libs, this address written prior the delivery itself, does not fully transcribe what transpired.

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