First, to be clear: I am not the valedictorian. I wasn’t allowed to talk about the situation while the process was ongoing, but now that it’s done, I guess I can open up about it. I was one of the candidates for valedictorian for my batch. However, UA&P valedictorians/salutatorians are not chosen by default–you aren’t Val or Sal based on grades alone–but instead via a screening process which is kept strictly confidential from the parents, meaning that I couldn’t tell my mum about it for the fear of getting their hopes up.
I went through the screening, and had an interview yesterday. Today I got the text message saying I didn’t make it. I’m disappointed, yes (oh, who am I kidding; I’m crying right now), but I’m still grateful to have been chosen, am genuinely happy for whoever got picked, and I still want to thank everyone I wanted to thank in my speech, so I’m posting it up here.
To my fellow Dragons: Happy graduation season!
Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, fellow UA&P Enlistment survivors…good afternoon, and thank you for coming. As someone whose surname falls near the end of the alphabet, I can attest to the patience and self-control it takes to sit this through, all while controlling one’s mounting excitement or else the urge to burst out in tears which will inevitably destroy—in the case of us girls—the twenty pounds of makeup put on so as to look like one’s gradpic. Hang on a little while longer—I promise I’ll make this speech—or rather, this story, because I’m very fond of stories—brief. It is a story that begins in January of 2009, with an envelope on my dining room table. My mother and I had come home from the end of our church’s annual prayer and fasting, where I had been asking God to provide for my university education. Leave it to Him to answer so quickly: bold letters on cream paper reading “100% Merit Scholarship from the University of Asia and The Pacific.”
I literally woke up the entire street with my screams.
This might seem like a classic exaggerated Frankie reaction, but here’s a bit of backstory that I hope explains my parading through the streets of Alabang at past-ten PM: I was not merit scholar material. In fact, my high school academic record reads like a rap sheet of near-failures (mostly in Math, Science, and Chinese) and pwede na marks. I was not a bad student, but, having graduated without honors and friends, I was a mediocre one whose goal was simply to “get by.” In fact several people said I was too stupid to get a scholarship, comparing me to the obvious academic achievers of our batch, with their walls of gold medals. Few, least of all me, would have expected any school, much less one of the most challenging private universities and think-tanks—with the highest number of required units—in Metro Manila, to grant me a merit scholarship. But UA&P did, taking a chance on what we SMN kids call a “high-risk investment,” believing, with its help, she could parlay into high returns.
This is what sets UA&P apart: the belief in making the mediocre, excellent. It is easy to take the best and make them shine brighter, but there is real challenge, and real joy, in unlocking the capacity for extraordinary human capital within someone who appears merely “average.” Out there, people will tell you that there are haves and have nots, that some people are destined for greatness and some people aren’t. In here, we know better, and if we don’t, we should—every one of us is excellent in our own right, and every one of us owes that excellence to the people in this room. Alone I do not have the smarts or the drive to get myself up here, and left to my own devices, I would have merely repeated my high school performance. It was all of you—teachers, mentors, friends, family, and fellow classmates—who believed in me, who encouraged me, who let me photocopy notes, answered my stupid questions, helped make sense of my readings, allowed me to debate with them in class, held me when I cried, sang with me in the hallways, laughed at my doomsday final grade predictions and, with every action, shouted in my ears “You may think you are mediocre, but we will help you be excellent.” Every single one of you has, by virtue of genuine relationship and human kindness, contributed to rebuilding the shattered self-confidence of at least one Miss so-called “Too Stupid.” And you can do so again.
Other speakers have implored you to do big things like end poverty and kill the brain drain. Those are wonderful, big, scary things, and are honestly quite difficult to do, so I won’t ask you to do them. Instead, I will ask you to do what I already know you can do—take one ordinary, mediocre, person, find the seed of excellence within them, and make it grow. Wherever you go, whatever vocation you choose, make it not your goal to be the best, but to raise the best. Ignite passion. Encourage self-confidence. Foster friendships. Invest in genuine relationship. Share the best of yourselves with them in order to make them better.
Most importantly, believe—shout into their ears the same thing you shouted into mine: “You may think you are mediocre, but we will help you be excellent.” Every little action counts. Become part of the rising tide that pushes onward and upward instead of tearing down, because in doing so lies lasting greatness. Choose to have as your mission making the mediocre, excellent, and we will accomplish all those wonderful, big, scary things, we will make this world better, one person at a time. And if you think that’s hard, remind yourselves that you’ve already managed to do it once, because without you…I wouldn’t be here, none of us graduates would be here. We’ve all pulled each other up in that spirit of UNITAS, and we can do it again, outside of campus, beyond our borders. Once you start the ripple effect, the rising tide, nothing can stop it. So start it. Make it your goal to make the mediocre, excellent. It may take time but I promise, it will be worth it.
(Oh, and since this isn’t a speech and I don’t have a time limit…)
To the specific special people who got me through my five years. To old friends and new friends and (some, maybe) friends-no-longer but to everyone who mattered. To Esther Suson, Erin Locsin, Keren Pascual, Luis Mendez, Mike Kurfurst, Inah Lantin, Victor Collado, Angelo Racelis, Patriz Cruz, JC Bucalbos, Benj de Leon, Mrs. Danielle Calantuan-Mejos, Mrs. Kristine San Juan-Nable, Ms. Mira, Ms. Vienna, Fredkyle Celestra, Jian Manjares, Dan Buenafe, Keifer Cabugao, Em Paterno, Deb de Perio, Paula Belo, Ms. Ria Cayton, Dr. Joem Antonio, Sir X Vallez, Gmenier Mendoza, Jay-Ar Mira, A.G. De Mesa, Lolo Visco, Ikey Canoy, Pam Imperial, Kelly Lati, Glo-Anne Guevarra, Grant Delfin (God bless your soul.), Jek San Juan, Kitin Miranda (an honorary dragon), Carlos Victa, Zeno Pedrosa, Pat Cabatay, Camille Fernandez, Red Hernandez, Yela Lagunazad, Marius Reonico, Cesar Montano, Yua Valenton, Mari Barretto, Aaron Articulo, Xavier Peredo…to ViARE, to AIESEC, to REVERB, to UA&P-CWG…
To all of you, and to those I didn’t get to mention because my brain’s kind of running on different tangents at the moment, thank you so much for everything. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be anywhere without you. And whether or not I got to say it on a stage or on a blog, I hope you hear it all the same, and believe it, and know you’ve touched a life.
THANK YOU ALL!