Dream on

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By Stella A. Estremera

Spider’s web

Saturday, March 29, 2014


(This is the speech I delivered as Graduation Speaker last Thursday for the grade school and high school students of the Philippine Women’s College of Davao held at the RSM Events Center in Matina.)

THE first time I was a graduation speaker here was over a decade ago, I can no longer remember what year that was.

I was young then, and full of myself. I wrote the speech as soon as I confirmed my attendance confident of my writing and speaking skills, and believing I was full of wisdom worth sharing.

More than a decade later, I can hardly muster enough courage to think up a topic.

Wisdom indeed comes with age. While before, there was the brash confidence in the belief that anything I say will be taken as gospel truth, now there is this petrifying fear that anything I say will be taken as… gospel truth.

So I will keep my message simple, so that there will be no need to rewrite the gospel when you’re already out there creating your own life.
Go into the world, and make a difference, your graduation theme says. How?

First, start with a dream. Claim it as your own, feel it like it’s already fulfilled.

It was at the Philippine Women’s College where I honed my social graces, skills, and even nerdiness. I was a regular tambay of Mrs Barba’s art room. I was often reminded by Mrs Lopena, the librarian, that the bell had already rung. I also learned how to dance, and yes, wear high heels and walk with grace, not like a grasshopper with both knees bent. Although of course, a grasshopper has more than two knees… that’s not the issue.

Back to the grasshoppers… I mean the dream.

Your dream is all yours to conceive. No one else can ever have the same dream as you have. Your classmate and you may dream of being a doctor or a nurse or a teacher, but the individual doctor, nurse or teacher of your dream is your own creation and yours alone. The details can only be conceived by you, the dreamer. It cannot be made by anyone else for you.

Without the dream, you can get lost meandering, and go back and forth thinking about grasshoppers and their knees, or maybe even wondering if their leg joints are called knees.

That’s what I went through after college.

I’m lucky. I have more brains than the normal kid, and so I somehow managed to shine on my own merits, without intending to.

That is because I was taught to compete, to be better than the rest. But I was never told to dream. And so I meandered along, winning awards, writing a lot of stories, having fun, but never ever having an anchor that will put together all the achievements, writings, and fun into a comprehensible whole.

I am from a generation when dreaming was discouraged; I am from a generation where compliance ranks higher than innovation. I am from a generation where academic excellence was the measure of a person.

Let me tell you, this: It is not.

I’m not belittling the academic achievements of all honor students. That is an excellent job you all did. Congratulations. I’m not belittling the grim determination that those on the top of the class had, just to be… on top of the class.

But, think: there has never been a graduating batch that had more on top of the class than the regular folks with nary a recognition. There will just be around maybe ten or at most 20, making their parents proud with all those ribbons and certificates and medals and trophies, while the rest of us make do with just being one of the many graduates.

Does that make us, who have no medals nor certificates, any less of a human? No. In fact, we are the majority, and in sheer numbers alone, we can rule and make a greater difference.

When you dream of becoming whatever you dream to be, you create your own vision of a future that will be your guiding light, as you step out from elementary and high school, and then realize that there’s more of all that you have been through in college, and that all these from kindergarten to college is not even a close replica of the real world.

At 16, just a few months short of graduation, I was asked, what I wanted to be. I didn’t know, and so I let the guidance exams tell me what I should be. Sad to say, the guidance exams told me, I can be anything I wanted to be. Getting no specific answer, I let my college aptitude test determine what I will be.

In the University of the Philippines College Aptitude Test or Upcat, I listed down my three choice courses as instructed.

Number one was architecture, not because I really liked architecture. I liked fine arts, but my mother didn’t like fine arts, and so I wrote down what I thought was quite near fine arts – architecture. Of course, I was wrong. Between fine arts and architecture was algebra in first year and art subjects for four years as compared to algebra, trigonometry, calculus, strength of materials, physics, quantum physics, and a lot of other number-crunching mind-blowing subjects from first year to fifth year.

As second choice, I wrote civil engineering because I thought that was somehow near architecture. I also get to design, although this time I design bigger structures.

At number three I wrote journalism, just because I couldn’t think of any other course and I seem to be writing a lot.

When the Upcat result came, I learned that I qualified for my first choice, and so I took up architecture. Look where I am now.

That is what having no dream can do to you. I don’t regret anything. All I’m saying is life can be easier if you only know the short-cut–to dream and hold on to that dream.

I am also not forcing you to have a dream right now. Sixteen years old, twelve years old, you are very young indeed. You are allowed a few more years before you face the real world. Not having a dream right at this moment does not make you a lesser human being just like not having any honors. Take your time, figure it out, no pressures. Just make sure that you do end up with a dream.

Now, if you are one of us, who still couldn’t think of the future at your age, here is my second advice: have fun.

Actually, we should have fun in everything we do, including having a dream. I just mentioned having a dream first so that this will leave the best imprint in your mind, before your thoughts drift away as you wish me to end this talk and for the program to close.

Life will not be easy. You have to learn the ropes. But I promise you, all those difficulties and trials? They will all be telling you that life becomes better if you enjoy it.

Don’t focus on the problems, rather work on the solutions and imagine what happiness there will be once you’re over the hump.

Don’t fester in sadness and grief, instead, understand that every day comes to an end just as every hurt feeling will mend.

Don’t worry about tomorrow, because there will always be tomorrows and there will still be you having to face what tomorrow brings, with or without worries.

I congratulate you all for the new level in life that you are progressing into. Let me just sum up what we have listened to today:

It is not whether you are better than your classmates and friends, it is about becoming the best of yourself; a self who is looking forward full of dreams, faith, and enthusiasm way into the future, beyond all graduations.

But, in times when you feel lost, because there will be times when you will feel lost, whether it be for words or action, just think of grasshoppers and their knees… Meaning, don’t give any attention on the feeling of being lost. Take a break, have fun. Find joy in simple things. Rejuvenate.

A meaningful life after all is not about how we win battles against others and everything around us; it is all about the battle within ourselves.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 30, 2014.

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