VALEDICTORY ADDRESS: Becoming an Atenean is a Struggle

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 March)–Father Joel E. Tabora of the Society of Jesus, President of the Ateneo de Davao University; Most Reverend Romulo G. Valles, D.D., Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Davao and this year’s commencement speaker; Fr. Gabriel Jose T. Gonzales of the Society of Jesus, Academic Vice President; Alma Monica A. de la Paz, Executive Director of Kapwa Upliftment Foundation, Inc. – this year’s recipient of the Drs. Jess and Trining de la Paz Award; Mr. Manuel M. Orig, chair of the Board of Trustees; members of the Board of Trustees; distinguished guests, administrators, faculty of the five schools of the university, members of the Ateneo community, family and friends, Class of 2013, Maayong buntag kanatong tanan!

The last time I had a moment during graduation as sweet as this was when I graduated from kindergarten – also as valedictorian; back then I memorized my speech, which was written by my mother. Back then, I guess, I spoke from the mind, not from the heart. Looking back on the experiences I have had, I am proud to say that my Jesuit education has transformed me. I have been touched by Ignatian values. My formation in the Ateneo Way is quite grand in the sense that four years ago, nobody, even myself, would have expected that I would be able to develop a passion for knowledge and service. But looking further, I believe that my life, especially in college, was a life of struggle. Tasked to deliver the valedictory speech in behalf and for the graduating class, I feel that I have to speak the language of our common experience, and in so doing I may be able to speak from the heart. What binds us, I believe, is the experience of struggle – the experience of fighting against forces that prevent us from becoming authentic Ateneans.

The story of our college life can be read from the lens of struggle. From the beginning of our college life until this very moment, we carry with us our individual and shared narratives of struggle. Some failed in their first attempt at the entrance examination while some had to enroll with probationary status. Surviving college was another struggle. Passing the subjects was hard, earning academic and special awards was harder, and finding the motivation to continue studying despite failures and delayed graduation was perhaps the hardest. Others have fought extraordinary battles. Some of us had to earn or work as student assistants to be able to continue and manage the costs of schooling; young parents had to take care of their child at night while preparing for exams; those with health problems had to endure physical pain while those who experienced death in the family had to face life despite the loss of a loved one. We struggled to be here. But, in the greater scheme of things, this special moment is not only a ritualization of an academic victory, but also of a victory formed and transformed the Ateneo Way.

First, we were called to be academically excellent. Those who underperformed in high school realized the beauty of studying hard and discovering and developing our potentials. Second, we were called to be involved in society. All of us were able to immerse ourselves in communities, touching the lives of peoples through our projects and outreach programs. We did research and created innovative technologies, which courageously addressed issues in society, especially in Mindanao. We saw the purpose of human reason, that is, to use it in the improvement of peoples’ lives. And third, we were touched by our faith and realized that reason has to be informed by faith. Indeed, becoming an Atenean is a process of struggle to transform ourselves and to see ourselves as essentially connected to other peoples. Our graduation today is a jubilation of our triumph over four or more years of struggle. We share this moment of joy with our family, friends, teachers and the entire Ateneo community who have been part of our victory.

However, my dear friends, as past valedictorians would say, being an Atenean does not end in graduation.  We are invited to reflect on how we can become authentic Ateneans as we go into the world of work and pursue our dreams. I want to offer two points for reflection. First, to be an Atenean is a process, a never-ending process of becoming. We do not become authentic Ateneans simply when we brag to our officemates that we graduated from Ateneo de Davao, when we wear pride shirts and attend alumni homecomings. Neither do we become real Ateneans by merely occupying positions of power and prestige in society. To be an Atenean, I believe, is a life project, something that we have to constantly work for in our daily lives. We become Ateneans when we do well in work, improve our work each day, and remain honest and humble. Our future engineers and scientists become Ateneans not only when they create cost-efficient solutions and technologies but also when they promote sustainable development, environment-friendly technologies and scientific advancements that respect the embeddedness and identities of peoples. Future politicians, lawyers and civil servants become Ateneans not only when they master the science of governance, the bureaucracy and the law but also when they see their positions of power as means to foster dialogue among different peoples, make justice more accessible to the poor and marginalized, and when they reshape our social, political, and economic institutions and systems towards making them more humane and just. Future businesspersons become Ateneans not only when they create wealth but also when they recognize that the economic order and the entire experience of work must not alienate peoples but instead enable them, especially the poor, to make free choices and live a happy and decent life.

Not everyone may be in agreement with my propositions, but, at the very least, I hope that we are in agreement that being an Atenean is a status to be earned, something that can be lost when we turn away from our moral obligation to become persons for others.

How do we exactly reconcile personal and collective interest, to become persons for others, to become truly Ateneans?

This leads me to my second point. I believe that we need to be constantly aware that we are in a struggle; that being an Atenean is a struggle, particularly in the context of fighting against the temptations of apathy, indifference, corruption and selfishness. I believe that we can develop such consciousness when we recognize the primordial connections between others and ourselves.  We can develop such consciousness when we empathize with the struggle of other peoples, who I should say are victims of social injustice, such as the indigenous peoples who struggle against the destruction of their land and the environment, the poor who are deprived of equal access to wealth and opportunities, among others. In this way, their struggle can potentially become our own, leading us to experience a sense of disturbance, more specifically moral disturbance. The experience of being disturbed will hopefully push us to respond concretely to a moral demand.  One of these is to find ways by which peoples’ claims for justice are heard and responded to by the appropriate authorities.  Ultimately, the desire is to improve our situation and move closer to the ideal polity and human society touched by faith and where social justice and the common good reign supreme.  With this, I believe, we become authentic Ateneans.

With faith in God and a sense of community, I hope that we all find strength and beauty in the struggle. As graduates of the Ateneo de Davao University, I hope that we understand the struggle in the light of us being sui generis (one of a kind), hoping that we dedicate our energies for the development of Mindanao and the country. May we find inspiration in our new Pope, Pope Francis, a Jesuit, who has lived a life of simplicity and has struggled to defend the poor and marginalized in Argentina and who has to bring the struggle of the poor to the global context. I hope that our classmates and friends, our batchmates, who cannot be with us in this moment of celebration, find strength and faith to continue with the struggle. May our parents, teachers and members of the Ateneo community pray that we, class of 2013, may be able to become authentic Ateneans.

Before I end, allow me to thank the people who helped me succeed in the struggle throughout college. To my teachers in the Philosophy Department and most especially in the Political Science and History Department, thank you for the excellent instruction; to my classmates and friends, thank you for the friendship and meaningful journey; friends from the SICO, now Arrupe Office for Social Formation, SAMAPULA, SAMAHAN and the Ateneo Debate Varsity, and the many people and groups I have shared my college life with, my heartfelt gratitude for the years of learning and service; to the Ateneo community—to the administration, thank you for trusting and supporting my endeavors especially with debating and with the writing of the SAMAHAN Constitution, and to the guards and agency-based workers who in their own ways have contributed to the success of all our activities in campus. To my family – my siblings Carlo, Anna and Kristal and to my mother, Felicitas, and to Jennifer – thank you for all your love and support. And, to my father – Paulino – who passed away two months ago and is now with our God the Father—thank you and I love you.

Daghang Salamat ug maayong buntag kanatong tanan!

(Paolo Cansino is the class valedictorian of Ateneo de Davao University Batch 2013. He delivered this valedictory speech on March 23, 2013. Cansino graduated cum laude with a degree of Bachelor of Arts Major in Political Science, minor in Philosophy. He granted MindaNews rights to reprint and distribute this piece.) 

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