Solidarity is taken from the personal mantra of lawyer Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, former vice president of the country and the invited speaker for the 84th Commencement Exercises of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu last July 21.

Though Robredo lost to the exiled despot’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in her bid for the presidency in the 2022 general election, the human rights and women’s advocacy lawyer continues to inspire many among the community witnessing the recent culmination of undergraduate and graduate studies.

Past leaden skies, a muted sun shone through and picked out in a sea of ecrus and blacks the variegated hues of pink echoed in the maroon swathes of the Sablay draping and completing the UP academic formal attire worn for commencement.

The Sablay spells out solidarity in “baybayin,” the precolonial Filipino script, from the “ukkil” that stands for the lifelong quest for knowledge to the triangles and chevrons representing indigenous cultures.

UP Cebu Communication faculty member Maurice Jitty Villaester’s Sablay is festooned with pins that celebrate, among others, Gay Pride and his passing of the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET).

Opposite his Sablay, the UP Cebu Mass Communication alumnus pinned a crocheted pink rose pin, token of Villaester’s street-to-street, house-to-house campaign as a volunteer in Robredo’s failed presidential bid.

Unfazed, the UP Cebu instructor volunteered and was selected to introduce Robredo during the 84th Commencement Exercises. Villaester was not the only one inspired that afternoon.

Addressing the graduating class of 2023, Robredo said that she was inspired by those who shared the stakes and moved to assist the vulnerable in society.

“Taken within the context of your graduation, solidarity could mean very simply that none of us ever gets to where we want to be on our own.”

Robredo stressed the connections that enable individuals and communities to surpass challenges, connections that do not arise from elitist privilege but from the organic gathering of individuals and groups that seek in altruistic service the welfare of others.

The importance of interconnectedness was reinforced when Robredo led on the morning of July 21 the groundbreaking ceremony for the Angat Buhay Dormitory for High School Girls at UP Cebu.

The Angat Buhay Foundation was initiated by Robredo as a private citizen when she resumed development work following the 2022 general election.

The Australian Government through the Direct Aid Program of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines and the UP Cebu co-sponsored the Angat Buhay Dormitory.

Girls and women confront educational access and retention. The Philippine Commission on Women and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization underscore how girls are not just prioritized last for education in poor families. They also absorb chores at home, such as caring for younger siblings and being surrogate parents.

The day after the UP Cebu graduation, UP High School alumni had their 30th reunion. An alumnus of UP Cebu High School and its Mass Communication program, lawyer Ian Vincent Manticajon, said that his high school batch had donated more than half a million pesos to the alma mater.

Manticajon wants his fellow alumni “to be inspired to give back more” to the alma mater.

“We (UP High School alumni) don’t have deep pockets but we can tap our networks (in the) community that we’ve nurtured over the years,” said the full-time practicing lawyer who also lectures in the university and heads its public information office.

Manticajon credits the private sector for valuing UP education, pointing out how local companies supported the award-winning robotics program of the UP High School.

“Just as we are never the sole and final cause of our achievements, so should we never be its endpoint,” Robredo reminded Batch 2023 on an afternoon when the sun broke through on a sea of ecrus, blacks and pinks.