Speech of Maria Leonor Gerona-Robredo Vice President of the Philippines at the 20th Year Graduation Ceremony of Thames International
Good afternoon to the administration, faculty and staff; Chancellor Dr. John Batten; President Joel Santos; Managing Director TJ Parpan; Academic director Leah Macatangay; Dean Shiela Dingcong; and Senior High School Principal Nonie de la Fuente: Thank you for inviting me to share some time with you. To the parents, guardians, friends, and family, and most of all to the graduating class of 2020: Congratulations on your commencement! You’ve worked so hard to get this far, and the first thing I’d like to say is celebrate this achievement, no matter the circumstances.
I know this is not the kind of celebration you had in mind. I’m sure you imagined hugs, sharing tears of joy with friends, and maybe a dozen selfies. I wish I was there in person to have those selfies with you. But just because we cannot do these things given the situation, doesn’t make this day any less meaningful. A graduation is a culmination—it celebrates not just one moment, but the entire string of events that brought you here today: All the years of work and many sleepless nights of struggle and sacrifice, so that you and those you loved ones could savor this day.
It is from this vantage point that I draw my first message for you today. Just like getting an education, nation-building is a process. Oftentimes, when we talk about the history of our nation, we see the big, dramatic events. But that isn’t the entire picture. Just as revolutions, rallies, and elections chart the course of a nation’s story, so do the small, sure steps that citizens take every day. Helping others, being kind, doing what can be done, here and now, to make the life of another person a bit easier. Acting with integrity; overcoming a fear; asserting the truth at every moment you encounter a lie. All of these things play a part; there are no insignificant gestures. All of these things bring us closer to the horizon that is the fulfillment of our dreams as a people.
I would like to share with you a story. This is about a guest I had on my radio show which I do every Sunday. We have a segment called “Istorya ng Pag-Asa”, or “Stories of Hope”, about inspiring people who have overcome difficulty, or have gone on to make a difference.
Early this month I had a guest named Anjanette Tadena. She is an Agriculture graduate from the University of the Philippines – Los Banos (UPLB). She shared her story: Anjanette was a DOST scholar who really didn’t want Agriculture as her first choice for her course, but over time the field won her over when she saw the plight of our farmers. After she graduated, and especially during the pandemic, she has been helping them in her own small way. She, in fact, established a non-profit organization called Bayanihan para sa Magsasaka. Anj founded Bayanihan in March of this year, and it began as a donation drive in response to COVID-19. They started out by giving food packs as a form of immediate aid for the farmers. Later on, they moved to helping provide farmers with insurance and even a water bill subsidy. The group has seven members, and three of them are agriculturists. Bayanihan para sa Magsasaka was scheduled to end last May 31. But because of the overwhelming support they received, they decided to continue. Last July 3, they launched a scholarship program for young farmers and children of farmers. Today, Bayanihan has over 30 scholars and counting.
Anj and her friends began with a small, simple objective and over time it grew into something larger than themselves. When we choose to uplift those who have less, we uplift the entire community, and not just for the present.
This is the same philosophy that has kept our Office of the Vice President family going despite the many challenges we have had to face. Every effort towards giving that help matters. One set of Personal Protective Equipment is one doctor or nurse kept safe from COVID. And keeping them safe means saving hundreds more. One food pack or hot meal given out is one pang of hunger kept at bay. And one bus trip of nurses, doctors, and health workers is one more day where our healthcare system can save lives.
It will be the same for you. As you innovate and find a way to put up your businesses or find work despite the virus, remember that each job given is a family saved from starvation, and a child that gets a chance to bask in the same joy and fulfillment that you and your parents feel now. Multiply that by a thousand, and before you know it, we have transformed the nation together.
My next message has to do with how we approach a complicated world. And I think the most valuable lesson for all of us in these past few months has been this: Do not divide the world in two. Things are very rarely mutually exclusive or binary. Everything is interconnected.
COVID-19 is the most recent version of this lesson. The pandemic has shown how interconnected we all are. If one person gets sick, their entire community is put at risk, not to mention the added strain on our healthcare system. The pandemic induces fear, and anxiety of infection; because of this, no one has the confidence to go out to eat or shop or do any kind of recreation. Consequently, businesses suffer—they fold or are forced to lay off workers. Seven point three million people have already lost their jobs. When people have no money to buy the things they need, the energies of the economy stop flowing; government income from taxes plummets, giving government little to work with for other sectors, such as education and social services, not to mention health. This all loops into a vicious cycle of disease, social anxiety, and a worsening economy.
This is where a national plan for addressing the pandemic becomes very important—a plan that directs the nation towards a clear horizon, lays out the steps to get there, and recognizes the causalities and interplay between everyone’s contributions.
I share this with you now because there will be times when others will try to make you think that the field is always so narrow. That there are camps and affinities to which we owe or loyalty—making the other side the enemy. But this is not the case. Ultimately, lahat ng PIlipino magkakakampi. The leader’s job is not to fracture or divide, but to make sure that everyone’s eyes are set on a single horizon.
I cannot wait to see what kind of future you can help us make. I cannot wait to see the horizons you will discover for yourselves, for your loved ones, and for the rest of us. So I wish you every success, not only for yourselves and your families, but for the good that you will do for others.
Remember: bawat hakbang, mahalaga. Harmonize, constellate, recognize that we are all on the same side. And when the path seems so difficult, remember that you were made for these times—to pave the way for a better normal for our nation, and the rest of humanity.
Congratulations, class of 2020. Mabuhay kayong lahat!