Our Times

Writings of Susan Ople aka Toots, columnist of Panorama Magazine and Tempo, proud mother of Estelle and 7 dogs, namely, Picasso, Monet, Suzy, Miggy, Marty, Chandler and Joey. Daughter of the late war veteran, journalist, writer, labor minister, constitutional commissioner, senator, senate president, and foreign affairs secretary Blas F. Ople aka Ka Blas.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dear Graduates

I write to congratulate you as you begin a new chapter in your young life. With diploma in hand, you must gaze into the future no longer as a sheltered student but as an individual who in time is expected to make a family, build a career, and act responsibly as a law-abiding citizen of our Republic. For now, you are giddy with excitement and bursting with pride at what you have accomplished and rightfully so, because the number of Filipinos who finish college is such a small minority.

The survival rate for students from the elementary to college levels is quite low. Based on DepEd statistics, out of 100 students who enter elementary school, 65 are able to proceed to secondary or high school. Out of the 65 entrants to high school, 46 are able to graduate. From out of the 46 high school graduates, 33 of them go to college. Out of the 33 college students, only 15 end up actually getting a degree.

So you see, becoming a graduate whether from elementary grade, high school or college, is really a big deal. It is a stamp of approval, a seal of success. Graduation Day is a celebration of the team spirit within your family and among your friends that helped you through the academic grind. You were not the only one that was being tested by your educational institution – your family was, too. That diploma now displayed in a place of honor in your house is a testimony to how much you are loved by your family.

Graduation is also about letting go. For four years, you endured hectic schedules, late night cramming sessions, and writing long papers with adjustable margins and bigger than average font sizes. You have survived your teachers: the smart, the funny, the boring, and the utterly forgettable. You have formed a special bond with your classmates, those who knew who your “crushes” are, and those who actually are your “crushes”. Graduation is the wind that scatters all of you like seeds to an open field, empty and waiting for crops to grow. You may have started out as the most promising because of built-in advantages that come from having a prominent name, a wealthy family, or good connections. Nevertheless, in the end, your personal habits, attitude, and behavior will help shape your destiny.

Because you are a college graduate, you can search for a job or start a business of your own. You can also go to graduate school or study to be a doctor or a lawyer. Your degree legitimizes any aspiration you may have in life. It expands your menu of options. Your diploma is a well-deserved badge of honor; but like all kinds of badges, it can gather dust or worse, be stained. It gathers dust when you do not use it, choosing idleness or mediocrity to a future of growth and excellence. Association with the wrong sort of people can stain this badge and the institution that gave it to you. Be very careful in choosing your friends, and entrusting your future in the hands of others.

The litmus test of your initial success as a fresh college graduate is not in the amount of your starting salary, or the title of your new position. It is in how you are seen by office colleagues as respectable, reliable, trustworthy, credible, and honest. To make a good and lasting impression, behave decently, be humble, and act with sincerity. Do not act like a spoiled brat. That may have worked in a school environment where being snooty can be cool, but a know-it-all around the office always ends up with knives and daggers in the back.

Learning must never end with school. Observe as much as you can from the successes and failures of others. This is how the franchising industry works – someone took his chances, made tough decisions, solved problems, and engineered a successful formula for a stable business that can be passed on so that others won’t have to go through the same pains and aches. Keep an eye out for those who paved the way for young people to follow.

My late father always said that education is for life. It never stops with a diploma. It never stops upon retirement. It only stops when a person arrogantly believes that he or she knows everything there is to know about life. Such a person – arrogant and contemptuous – is probably among the saddest people on earth. Be involved in shaping not only your destiny, but also the destiny and future of your country. Be proud to be Filipino, because despite our current state of affairs, it is still the best gift that one can ever ask for. Stay true to yourself not matter what the fashion trend is or what people prefer that you become. Be the star that steadily shines, not the comet that bursts into light and fades just as quickly. Congratulations, dear graduate and remember to check your inner compass from time to time. (previously appeared in Panorama Magazine)

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