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By Luzviminda C. Ilagan

(Speech delivered by Luzviminda C. Ilagan, retired Professor and former Undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development at the 72ndCommencement Exercises of the Ateneo de Davao University on 22 June 2024).

Fr. Karel San Juan of the Society of Jesus President of the Ateneo de Davao University, Mr. Benjie Lizada, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Members of the Board of Trustees, Faculty and Administration, Dear Graduates of Academic Year 2024, Parents, Guests, Fellow Ateneans, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.

At the outset let me express my heartfelt gratitude to Fr. Karel San Juan , the members of the Board of Trustees, the Graduation Committee, the College of Public Administration, for the Drs. Jess and Trining dela Paz Award for community service, for conferring on me the doctorate degree Honoris Causa in Public Administration and for the singular honor of addressing this graduating batch.

All of these are a humbling experience and the high point in my 78 years of existence in this world. Once again, thank you very much.

Furthermore, at the outset, I must beg your indulgence as I share snippets of my life which highlight why this conferment is a remarkable twist of fate.

After graduating from this institution, with a degree in Bachelor of Arts major in English, I was persuaded by my parents to pursue a Masters in Public Administration at the University of the Philippines. I set aside the tragedies of Shakespeare and the poems of Gerald Hopkins and dived into the world of Gannt charts, time and motion studies and laws for local governance.

I was cruising with satisfactory grades, until in one subject, the teacher announced: “Class, there is a poet in our midst.” He was referring to me and I was so naïve that I thought it was a compliment. It was not. Then, another more upfront professor called me aside and whispered, ” Luzviminda, you are doing well, but you cannot use a literary style when writing to bureaucrats.”

That feedback was the virus that afflicted my public administration dream and plunged it into a critical situation.

Then while I was preparing for my comprehensive exams, I came home to Davao for a vacation and visited Fr. John Dotterweich, who we called the Father of Perpetual Help for he lent tuition and movie money to impoverished students. From out of the blue, Fr. Dott asked,” Why don’t you stay home and teach College English?” It gave me pause and I could see in my mind the already critically ill public administration inside a coffin.

I relished the prospect of teaching English. After all, Literature was my first love. And besides, there was another love, who was enrolled in the Ateneo Law School. My decision to stay and teach was the last nail that closed the lid of the coffin.

As I happily taught Grammar and Literature I was informed by the Rank and Tenure Committee that I could not be promoted unless I had masteral units in the field I was teaching. So I shifted and the coffin of public administration was ready for burial.

But Fate had other plans. After EDSA, the powers- that- be began scouting for OIC officials to govern Davao City. I was asked to be a city councilor and I suspected it was due to my joining the Yellow Friday Protest movement and having Fr. Rudy Malasmas of the Society of Jesus as a partner in crime.

Surprisingly, the Dean enthusiastically agreed and even rearranged my schedule so that I could serve as a public official. Immediately and frantically, I dug up my public administration books and notes and transitioned from theory to practice.

When proper election was set, I was asked to run but I refused declaring I was returning to teaching .

The truth was I was still recovering from the culture shock of the world of politics. So I told the powers-that-be that I was bidding goodbye to politics because you do beso beso today and then you stab each other on the back the next day. I would rather go back to the academe where we stab each other frontally in heated meetings and then do beso beso afterwards. I prefer the second mode.

Fast forward, upon my retirement, Fate intervened again. I was urged to run as Councilor. I did, I won and public administration that was resting in the morgue, like Lazarus, rose from the dead.

To make a long story short, I went on to serve in Congress for nine years and then another five years in the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), all this time, living and breathing the intricacies of public administration. And today, this honor from my beloved alma mater. I have come full circle.
Dear graduates, as you are seated now, I am sure a whole gamut of thoughts must be racing in your minds – what’s the best restaurant for today’s celebration? Should I take a trip abroad before applying for a job? Can I rely on Artificial Intelligence to make an excellent application letter and resume for me?

Levity aside, you have to commence taking a good look at what lies ahead after you return the toga that you rented.

The world has been changing at a dizzying pace. Paradoxically, while ongoing wars, potential conflicts, economic and environmental disasters show the chaos and suffering in many parts of the world, there are also exhilarating and marvelous moments in the unfolding human history. Technology has advanced so fast that while your grandmother is still struggling to decipher the apps in her cell phone, the Ateneo de Davao recently sent off a rocketry team to participate in the Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico.

I do not have to spell out the mind-boggling realities of the current world for your generation has an excellent grasp of the life changing implications of the universe outside.

When doing the interview with Mr. Iggy Castrillo and the ICCOM staff, one of the questions was, what is your message to the graduating class?

What can I say to a generation who survived the COVID pandemic, who are end users of highly interactive tools and other emerging technologies and who can casually command machines to in turn command other machines and who freely allows the AIChat apps to take over problem solving ?

To you dear graduates who are embarking on this new journey in a Brave New World, Season 2, my first message is this : Be Bold. Be Daring.

Embrace the endless possibilities of becoming the best of yourself.

In today’s social and work milieu where the WHAT has become secondary to the HOW and the WHY, the knowledge you have acquired will be useful, yes. But more importantly, it is HOW and WHY you use that knowledge that will matter.

John Ruskin, the philosopher and visionary said “What we know is in the end of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do.”

My dear graduates, whether you stayed for four years or fourteen years, as in the case of the Loyalty Awardees, you have all been molded by a distinctive type of education.

In the assembly line of Jesuit formation, tangible and intangible ingredients have been infused in you, to produce the finished product. Most essentially, above the technical skills or intellectual proficiency you have achieved, there is a VAT or the value-added trait embedded in your person.

Critical thinking, spiritual growth, commitment to preventing injustice and compassion demonstrated as persons for others are the elements that complete you as the recipient of the tenets of cura personalis.

To whom much is given, much is required.

Experts tell us that the downside of Artificial Intelligence is that it is incapable of thinking out of the box. You, therefore, will not only have to think and act out of the box but should even contemplate that there is no more box.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. Do not make this mistake.

Apropos, to being bold and daring, you have to be innovative, adaptable and resilient.

Which brings me to my second reminder. In finding your niche under the sun, there is no reason to be afraid. After all, our motto is strong in Faith. Fortes in fide.

One time, in the course of my work, I was asked by a friend. “You keep on taking trips flying from one city to another and then going home to Davao on weekends. Are you not afraid?”

No, I said. I have faith. I have faith in the makers of this airplane, that they did a good job. I have faith in the pilot, that he will steer us to our destination. Most of all I have Faith in the Almighty, that He will protect me specially if it is not yet my time to go.

Dear graduates, have Faith. Faith in your school and its teachers that they have done their job. Faith in your abilities. Most of all, Faith in the Almighty that when the time is right, He will make it happen.

Never fear failure. Failure is just a temporary setback, a time to pause and to take stock of the situation. It is God’s way of telling us to review our strategies before moving on to the next battle.

While you are moving up in the world, remain grounded. Never let success go to your head and behave as if the world revolves around you. It is the other way around. As a person for others, your primary consideration is to be of service to others, and not to feel entitled expecting others to serve you.

When I was a child, my father would reiterate that in this world we should believe in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man. There were no Gender Sensitivity classes before, so my father’s words were not exactly gender fair. He further added that in the course of our daily lives, we should always show our love for God. But I retorted. How do I express love to a being who is abstract? I cannot see God. My father’s answer remains with me to this day. He said: “ God is abstract, yes, but your neighbor is not. The best way to show love for God is to love your neighbor. “

In adulthood, I translated that into being compassionate, being kind and generous to those who are feeling vulnerable in their lives.

In public administration and in public relations, SIR or smooth interpersonal relations are a premium. SIR sounds high falutin; actually it just means you do unto others what you want others to do unto you. It should sound familiar because the last time I checked, this golden rule has not been tarnished and still glitters when you follow it in real life. In practice, it is the negative form of the golden rule that can carry you along. Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.

My last piece of solicited advice is for you to develop a sense of gratitude. At this stage in your life you have received an accumulation of blessings from people around you.

The poet, William Wordsworth called these blessings” the little, nameless, unremembered acts of Kindness and of Love.

This sense of gratitude can be expressed by the act of giving back.

First, give back to your parents. Filipino culture is replete with practices, whether big or small, that express the act of being thankful by giving back. When a neighbor gives a bowl of ulam or any kind of food, the container is returned not empty but containing something else in return.

The first salary is normally spent on a meal together at home or dinner out. You can offer to spend for the tuition or education of your next sibling. Even if your parents say, there is no need to do that, offer just the same, the gesture will be heartwarming. There are many creative ways to thank your parents.

Give back to your alma mater — to the teachers and everybody else who contributed to your education in big or small ways. Sincerity and imagination can help along this line.

I was touched when during an alumni homecoming, the jubilarians donated to the organization of Ateneo de Davao retirees. The leader simply said, “Ma’am, this is our way of giving back to our teachers.”

Lastly, give back to Mindanao , the island of contradictions. It is the food basket of the country, with abundant resources yet it is home to the most impoverished sectors in the Philippines. Its grounds are rich with minerals luring in the multinational companies to the Lumad’s ancestral domain, and yet the Lumad remains poor. Mindanao contributes 40% to the coffers of the national government, but it does not merit the correct compensation.

Not surprisingly, that with limited access to the basic health and social services, the most stunted, undernourished and underperforming children are in Mindanao.

Mindanao was once called the Land of Promise. When it was plundered, it became the land promised to others. But in this lifetime, you, dear graduates, are the promise of Mindanao, fulfilled.

So, whether you will stay in the Philippines to live and work or to venture for greener pastures beyond our shores, always remember Mindanao and give back.

To sum up these takeaways:

Be bold, daring, innovative, resilient yet humble.
Be strong in faith and do not fear failure.
Be compassionate by living the Golden rule.
Most of all, be grateful and give back to your family, alma mater and to Mindanao.

To the Ateneo de Davao and to you, dear graduates- Congratulations! May your tribe increase!


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