MESSAGE TO GRADUATES: Maybe you’ll forget to write

[Prof. John Bengan’s message to the graduating students of BA English (Creative Writing), UP Mindanao Class of 2015, at the send-off held at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Audio Visual Room on June 23, 2015, UP Mindanao, Davao City. The university graduation was held on June 24].

My time as your teacher is almost over. I only have a few minutes left. Let me take this opportunity to give one last lecture.

  1. “If Lacan presumes that female homosexuality issues from a disappointed heterosexuality, as observation is said to show, could it not be equally clear to the observer that heterosexuality issues from a disappointed homosexuality.”
  1. Char lang.
  1. Congratulations. You are about to leave college. Enjoy that feeling while it lasts, because the next few years will be about wanting to go back to college again. 4.
  1. Move forward. Do not look back.
  1. Unless you want to take your master’s. Or if you have something to donate.
  1. One of my former teachers used to say, “Nostalgia is a memory of a memory of a memory of the past.” It’s a longing for something that never really took place. If some years from now you’ll miss college, it’s probably not college that you’re missing but an idea of what you thought college was.
  1. Do not succumb to this feeling. It’s a trick. One of many that time will play on us. Remember that one novelist we studied in fiction class had said: “Perhaps, in the end, it is because of time that we suffer.”
  1. But enough about suffering. Tomorrow you’ll graduate. At this point, suffering is overrated. Yes, no more term papers. No more blue books. No more Viktor Shklovsky. No more Mikhail Bahktin.
  1. But also, no more allowance, which, if things go as planned, will be replaced with salary. Which comes with tax. A lot of tax.
  1. When you become part of the work force, one of the persons you will be reminded of is Karl Marx.
  1. Or Sigmund Freud.
  1. If it is the latter that first comes to mind, please let me know where you work.
  1. I hope you read that excerpt of Das Kapital, the whole of The Uncanny, “Death in Venice”, or “A Wilderness of Sweets”. If you did not, chances are, you are not here.
  1. Maybe you’ll remember Emily Dickinson. Leo Tolstoy. Nick Joaquin. Carlos Bulosan. Estrella Alfon. Anna Sergeevna walking a dog along the embankment in Yalta. Nagmilatong Yawa Sinagmaling Diawata swooping down and switching gender to rescue Humadapnon
  1. Maybe you’ll remember what ostranenie means. Or the Sublime. The difference between ontology and epistemology. Synchronic and diachronic. Syntagmatic and paradigmatic. Maybe not.
  1. Maybe you’ll forget to write.
  1. But don’t forget to read.
  1. Don’t be afraid to pick up that book, or poem, or essay, or story that, for some reason, you weren’t able to read. Spare some time. No one will ask you what you think anymore. (Instead, you might look for others to ask you what you think.)
  1. Your education will afford you power. English will take you places.
  1. But don’t forget that English was what they used to conquer, threaten, and until now, commodify us. Bear this in mind and you might just be able to use English to liberate others from oppression.
  1. Never again use this language to intimidate those who can’t speak or write or understand it.
  1. Never again use this language to undermine the language of others, especially your mother’s, or her mother’s, or her mother’s mother.
  1. Don’t let English use you.
  1. One thing that literature tells us is that there is an inner life. You are capable of having a life of the mind. Hold on to that. It is refuge from crass materialism. Or in the words of Wordsworth, “savage torpor”—the inability to be moved by simple beauty and truth.
  1. Of course, we want you to write more. Not just in English, but in languages you picked up or inherited from your hometown.
  1. But if you don’t become a writer, that’s okay. The world will not stop spinning.
  1. But don’t ever forget to think like a writer.
  1. The curiosity, the eye for detail, the tendency to (politely) eavesdrop, the appreciation for order and form, the appreciation for spontaneity—all these will be useful. Even if you become a lawyer, a teacher, a mechanic, or a cook.
  1. If you do become a writer, I have already told you what to do semesters ago. But, for the last time, hear me out
  2. Don’t apologize. Revise.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. John Bengan, 30, teaches writing and literature at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. His fiction has appeared in Kritika Kultura, Sands and Coral, Hoard of Thunder, and Likhaan Journal 6, among others. In 2013, he won the Palanca for short story in English. He serves as Chairperson of UP Mindanao’s Department of Humanities. The publication of this piece is with permission from Prof. Bengan]