UP summa cum laude sums what is to be ‘iskolar ng bayan’

Summa Cum Laude from the  UP College of Mass Communications Patricia Nabong

Summa Cum Laude from the UP College of Mass Communications Patricia Nabong

(TheFilamLA Editor: June is graduation time in the Philippines and universities in the U.S. TFLA focuses on two commencement speeches that capture some sentiments of the era in two places of education: one in the Philippines another in California. Patricia Nabong recently delivered this valedictory address at her college graduation at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. She is the lone summa cum laude graduate from the College of Mass Communication, Batch 2014-15. Patricia also served as a Mover during Rappler’s #PopeFrancisPH coverage.

The other commencement speaker we focus on is muralist Eliseo Art Silva, who addressed the special celebration of “Pilipino Americans” graduation from UCLA this year. Though oceans apart, both underline one theme: “Make your dreams mean something to others”).

These are excerpts from Nabong’s speech.

Condensed from The Rappler

The very first book my mom read to me was entitled “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, which was about a boy and a tree who grew up together. When the boy was young, he used to pluck leaves from the tree and stitch them into a crown, pretending to be king of the jungle while eating its apples. The tree was happy. But they both grew, and the boy left.
Years passed and the boy finally returned. The tree told him to come and play. But the boy was already a man, and only needed money and a house.

The tree said, “I don’t have money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and be happy.” And so the boy did. And the tree was happy. As for the house, he told the boy to cut her branches off so he could build a roof over his head. And so the boy did. And the tree was happy.

It took the boy half a lifetime to come back. The tree asked him to play but by then, the boy was already sad and old. He just wanted a boat to take him far away. So the tree told him to cut her trunk down so he could build a boat. And so the boy did. He left with the trunk. The tree was sad to see him leave, but she was happy.

I grew up with this story in my head, and for the longest time, I thought it was about a boy who was never satisfied, but it was only recently that I realized that the moral of the story wasn’t about selfishness, but about selflessness. It wasn’t about the boy. It was about the tree. It was about growth and about giving.
My fellow graduates, like how all trees began, we were planted in this university. We started as seedlings, shy little freshmen, afraid of speaking up in class, but secretly brimming with questions like, “Ano yung blue book? Toki o Ikot? Sino si Professor TBA sa CRS?” (“What’s a blue book? Toki or Ikot? Who is Professor TBA in CRS?”)

But slowly, we took root in this university. We learned the uno-able profs and the terrors that would teach us the best lessons. We learned how to beg- I mean pre-rog- for classes. Our language slowly evolved from “kamusta?” to “ano na ‘teh?”
Naturally, as mass comm. students, we learned how to use the words, “hegemony”, “kebs”, “semiotics”, “chaka” and “hypodermic needle theory” in a sentence.

As we were exposed to the different realities that plagued our country, we started to speak up and learned to understand people from all walks of life.

We became experts in balancing extra-curricular work with academics, with some of us majoring in orgs. After all the sleepless nights, finishing school work or org work in our college, UP became home – literally – whether we liked it or not.
Yes, there were frustrations over crammed prods, which were still rendering 5 minutes before the deadline; there were 100-page articles that we needed to read overnight, which ended up stained with coffee, our tears or… our drool; there were sleepless sleepovers and revision after revision; for my fellow film students, there were 29-hour shoots without sleep or bathing; and most of all, there was self-doubt and fear of not being good enough.

But then here lies this undeniable fact: like the tree, we grew. Our proof of education is not determined by our grades but what we experienced and learned in the process of getting them. And we learned, in the truest way possible, that there is growth in every struggle…

But remember that the struggle continues outside the confines of the university. It continues in the struggle against the killing of journalists, against hegemony, unemployment, poverty, censorship, against gender, racial, and religious discrimination, against all forms of violence, injustices, and oppression, and the struggle against the violation of the rights we were promised as Filipinos and human beings, etcetera, etcetera. The list goes on.
But it is the true that the greatest lessons are acquired in the midst of difficulties and the awareness of these struggles, because the most valuable lesson that I learned in U.P. and I hope you, too, will retain after our graduation is this: the ability to think. To doubt. To ask questions. Why am I here? Why is this happening?
CMC taught us to see beyond what is within our fields of vision. Once our eyes were opened to the possibilities and to what exists beyond the comfort of this university, it is difficult to stop asking questions. Where are we now? Where are we going? And the most relevant question we all face now: what does it truly mean to be called an Iskolar ng Bayan?

Is it about having the courage to go out on the streets and to demand for justice? Is it about the grades we got? Is it about academic freedom and the liberty to speak our minds? It’s impossible to say that we’ve formulated an encompassing definition during our four to six years in this institution. The definition of an “Iskolar ng Bayan” should be fulfilled and justified even more so when we step out of this university.

Honor and excellence are only the first part of the equation. The second part is character. The third is purpose. What will we do once we march out of this university? Who will we allow ourselves to become? Will we become the boy or the tree?
On this soil we are rooted. This is where we have grown. But it is time to let our branches stretch beyond UP, and it is my deepest hope that we become just like The Giving Tree.

One of the things I’ve learned from shifting from one course to another is that there are no substitutes for dreams. Whatever dream that may be, make it mean something to others.
As future or current media practitioners, write or shoot the Filipino experience. No act is too small because seeds grow where they are planted. So go, contribute to the world through what we have and what we can do, in the best way that we know how. We can’t all be trees in the forest. Some of us have to be paper, furniture, apples, foundations, or maybe even become seeds again.

So I pose this question once again: what does it mean to be an Iskolar ng Bayan? It’s different for each one of us. But let this be our common denominator: our desire to share the fruits of our dreams, as unconditionally as the way the tree exhausted itself for others….

The Giving Tree ends with the boy’s return. Old and tired, he comes back to the tree, and the boy tells the tree that he simply wants to rest. The tree, ever so giving, offers what’s left of herself– a stump. The boy sits on the stump. And guess what?

The tree was happy.

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