What they didn’t tell you at graduation-A A +A
Friday, March 8, 2013
THEY come literally a few times in our lifetime, on purpose, during graduation rites.
They’re the graduation speakers – from captains of industry, to five-star celebs, national leaders, and top minds in many disciplines – who’d descend upon campuses to give graduates what could well be their final and most important pep talk.
So their message indelibly stays with us, or slowly fades away over time.
I graduated high school at the beginning of the Cold War when the “domino theory” was America’s global thinking in the fight against Communism. Then paranoia was exceedingly widespread. Our guest speaker, who was the American Consul in Davao, preached that communism was evil and proposed its total rejection. I graduated top of the batch so I delivered the valedictory. It was, you guess, an unwavering anti-communist piece.
In 1996 when I stood in Moscow’s Red Square, it seemed a faint echo of that speech which was in limbo for a long time drifted past us.
My college graduation was hardly impressive. I have no recollection of what the commencement speaker said to us. But I vividly remember that I looked terribly funny in toga and so were others who didn’t possess the height needed to look dandy in any outfit. My mood then was unabashedly juvenile, I now think.
What do graduation speakers really tell graduates?
A few would tell graduates what China persistently tells its people: “produce goods more cheaply for the world and goods the world hasn’t even thought of.” It’s a tough challenge, the kind that pushes people to work hard, and, most importantly, to think smart.
In troubled times, most speakers would challenge graduates “to climb every mountain, ford every river, and follow every rainbow” en route to the citadel of success” wishing, perhaps, that canned verses might work wonders with their sense of determination.
Those with strong motivational bent would charge graduates to go, change the world, and, further, go, fight the windmills.
A friend, the head of a law firm in San Francisco, California, once wrote: “When you start work in a profession, you don’t know what you’re doing. You hope someone will show you the way, or there will be a book with the title, ‘Do This.’ You stumble your way through, by intuition, by luck and by skill.”
Unlike this lawyer, there are a few things graduation speakers may not willingly tell you. They could, but they wouldn’t in public settings.
Your graduation speaker didn’t tell you about my father’s favorite theme. Wasting no metaphors, he would say “in our time, we slogged through rains and mud and crossed three dangerously raging rivers to go to school. In college, I swept floors of dorms at Silliman University.” It was his way of saying our crowd never had it so good -- courtesy of his hard-working generation. Like the rest of his cohorts, father wasn’t lying but he wittingly inflated the truth. The two were hardly rivers, the third was definitely a creek. The bleakness of his themes was not exactly anybody’s idea of a dinnertime homily. (At home we called his essays in life as I was poorly born hour). But like it or not, it was a compelling rhetoric on the Filipinos’ relentless passion for education or more to the point, the homespun strategy for success. Theirs was the proud generation that went though the educational system the Americans established at the turn of the century. In a country that reveres its elders for their wisdom and trademark decency, their voice carried peerless insights of 10 modern-day graduation speakers. I’m quite sure it re-echoed in many homes at the time. Although it was said at an earlier and simpler time, its maxims could not be more contemporary.
Your graduation speaker didn’t tell you the skills my mother drilled me long before graduating college to prepare me for life. She taught me how to sew holes in my socks, do (hand-washing) laundry, press clothes, and “survival cooking” -- real lessons in living that, then and now, are as useful as a college diploma in a sort of way.
Looking back at it now, they were unerringly the skills that I needed most when I went to Manila -- with an incredibly tight budget -- to begin my search for a job in journalism – and survived through it all.
Missing my father’s I was poorly born lectures and my mother’s “hands-on training,” your graduation speaker didn’t tell you this: if your family owns a multinational firm and, further, your dad is its President and CEO, you’ve got it made. Don’t bother with a resume. But be warned; work hard to keep the job he had given you on a glitzy silver platter. Stay way ahead of the game -- or your siblings may pounce on you so hard you wouldn’t know how dizzyingly swift you slid from the top down to the mailroom on the basement.
Your graduation speaker didn’t tell you this one, either: if your family has had for a long time loyally supported (with money and busloads of voters) a politician who’s now an enormously influential official in the country, you’ll be glad to know how truly lucky you are! If you haven’t yet, now is a good time as any to collect a handsome payback. Avoid the rush. With your parents happily in tow, go and see him for a job.
A degree from a prestigious university plus a respectable last name are significantly high points in a resume, but your graduation speakers wouldn’t tell you what my favorite Chilean novelist Isabel Allende wrote in her best-selling novel “The House of the Spirits” that often enough “success requires godparents.” It’s a centuries-old system in which some cultures reward one class of people for their fidelities and neglect others. It’s still with us.
In a country that’s facing tough economic times, rampant corruption and relentless political strife through which people suffer or triumph, what would guest speakers advise today’s graduates? Would they be at ease telling them to look for employment (in the Philippines) at home? Could they be honest?
At a time when seven out of 10 job-ready Filipinos opt to leave the country to work in foreign lands and doctors study nursing so they can get employment abroad as nurses that would be the most radical thing to say to a young graduate. (Some 3,500 Filipinos leave the country everyday for employment abroad. Other sources claim the number is 4,000.)
On my first day on the job as a deskman in the Evening News in Manila many years ago, a senior editor handed me the layout of two inside pages, one was for provincial news, and the other for foreign news with instructions to complete them in an hour. (They do it quite differently now). I had been editing campus publications all throughout my years in high school and college, so I breezed through the task within the time he allocated solely for the purpose of showing him I could do the job.
“Where did you graduate journalism?” he asked.
“I didn’t, I graduated law here (in the Philippines) and a master’s degree in international studies in Japan,” I told him.
“Oh, they taught you this in law school?” he asked, rather jokingly.
(Cris D. Kabasares is a retired journalist in the United States)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 09, 2013.