Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Manuel V. Pangilinan before the School of Humanities & School of Social Sciences at the Ateneo de Manila University on March 27, 2010.
MAGANDANG hapon sa inyong lahat. I want to thank Father Ben and the Ateneo community for the honor of this doctorate. And congratulations to our Law School for having 7 of the 11—10 topnotchers—in the recent bar exams!
Father Nebres, Father Magadia, trustees, faculty and staff, parents and siblings, graduates of 2010, many congratulations. Thank you so much for this gift of fellowship with the sesquicentennial class. You’ve earned your diploma from a great learning institution, and you have every right to be proud. I have wracked my mind and heart with what I should say today. The weeks of fear and worry at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight (taken from a speech of J.K. Rowling), and sleep. And I’ve asked myself, what I wish I had known at my own graduation day 44 years ago.
The sad truth is that I don’t even remember who the speaker was at my graduation, or a single word that was said. So I begin these remarks with the expectation that I will soon be forgotten.
I’ve been cautioned that on an occasion as this, graduates are only thinking one of the following thoughts: One, I hope these ceremonies finish soon because I can’t wait to take my vacation. Two, inspire me, please. There aren’t too many doing that these days. Three, if MVP stops talking before I stop listening, I’ll give him a big applause. Four, if you hand out free tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert tonight, we’d give you a standing ovation. Yes, I’m happy to say that Smart will be giving away four free tickets right after this ceremony!
Now that you’ve been sufficiently humored and bribed, let me earn my honorary degree, and turn thoughtful and traditional. More to do, more to achieve. I come here today with the thought that despite what may seem to be the culmination of a successful life with this honorary degree, there’s still much to do. I come to say that one’s title, even an honor like this, says little about how well one’s life has been led—that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to learn, more to do, more to accomplish. So I want to say to all of you, that despite your remarkable achievement, you too cannot rest on your laurels.
Some graduating classes in the past have marched into this place in times of peace and progress. In those easy times, we could have called on you to keep things merely going, and not screw things up. But we’re gathered here at a time of trial and transition, not only for this country but also for the world.
Our economy slowed down last year because of a global recession—the result, in part, of greed and irresponsibility that rippled out from Wall Street. We continue to spend beyond our means. We avoid making the tough, unpopular choices. And in 44 days, we will elect a new set of national and local leaders.
For all of you, these challenges are felt now in more immediate and personal terms. You will soon be looking for a job—struggling to figure out which career makes sense in this economy of ours. Maybe you have loans, and are worried how you’ll pay them down. Maybe you’ve got a family to help. Maybe you’re asking how your siblings can have an Ateneo education like you had (taken from a speech of US President Barack Obama).
Against these issues, you may be tempted to fall back on the more visible markers of success—by chasing the usual brass rings. How much money you make, a fancy title or a nice car. Being on the roster of the rich and famous (or the most invited) guest list. But the choice of form over substance, fame over character, short-term gain over long-term goal, is precisely what your generation needs to end.
Coming from the Ateneo, I know that the pressure to succeed is immense. In fact, your biggest liability is the need to succeed. And your biggest fear must be the fear of failure.
But first, let me define what success is.
Let me tell you, money’s pretty cool. I’m not going to stand here and tell you that it’s not about money, because money is sweet. I like money. It’s good for buying companies and things—and for putting up a few buildings here and there for Ateneo. But having a lot of money does not totally make you a successful person. What you want is both money and meaning. You want your life and your career to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings real richness to your life, to be surrounded by people you can truly work with—because you trust and treasure them, and they cherish you in return. That’s when you’re really rich, that’s when you really succeed (taken from a speech of Oprah Winfrey).
Fear of failure
Let me now deal with failure. On this wonderful day when you stand on the threshold of what is called real life, it is—ironically—the best time to talk about failure.
Nobody’s life is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. If things go wrong, you hit a dead-end—as you will many times in your life—it’s just life’s way of saying, time to change course.
Now, I cannot tell you that failure is fun. Periods of failure in my life were dark ones. I’ve had a lot of success. But I’ve had a lot of failures. I’ve looked good. I’ve looked bad. I’ve been praised and criticized. And it hurt like hell. But my mistakes have been necessary (taken from a speech of Conan O’Brien).
I had no idea how far the tunnel of failure extended. And any light at the end of it seemed more hope than reality (taken from the speech of J.K. Rowling).
Now let me tell you about some of my biggest failures.
In 1995, First Pacific invested in telecommunications in India at a time when the industry there was just getting started. Under the laws of India, foreign investors are allowed to own not more than 49 percent of a local telco. So we invited an Indian partner to hold the 51-percent majority. You all know how capital-intensive the telco business is.
To our utmost regret, our partner could not provide the counterpart capital. The relationship soured, and we had to sell the business. Since then, India’s telecoms industry has grown exponentially. So we lost significant value by divesting. If we had managed to retain this business, I would not need to make a living giving graduation speeches.
But I have had personal failures as well.
I will now let you in on a well-kept secret. I was in fourth year high school in San Beda College, and was in contention to be valedictorian that year. It was an open secret that the majority of my classmates were cheating—changing answers from true to false, ironically, in our religion exams.
I felt I had to do the same to protect my grades. Several of us were caught, pero ako ang pinag-initan. I knew I was wrong, and deserved to be punished. Indeed, San Beda stripped me of all my honors.
Finally, with the suspicion about rampant cheating, I was asked by the principal to name names. I refused. I disappointed my parents deeply. It took many years for the pain and bitterness to heal.
Several years ago, I thought it was time to free myself from the rancor and memory of that experience. What better proof of reconciliation with San Beda than the three NCAA championships for the Red Lions?
Failure taught me lessons about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had imagined: I also found out that I had parents whose value was truly priceless.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you can be secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. And so rock-bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life, my career and, most importantly, my moral values.
So graduates, always remember this: Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts. MVP’s lessons for life, as I come near the end of my remarks, let me wrap up with some old-fashioned, feel-good graduation advice.
First, hug and kiss those who helped get you to this day—parents, grandparents, friends, teachers. If you’re too shy or uptight to do that, please do the old-fashioned handshake thing. But I recommend a hug and a kiss. Don’t let the sun go down today without saying thank you to someone.
Second, don’t forget that you have a body under your toga. Take good care of it. Engage in sports. It’s fun, and it is a laboratory for victory and adversity. How an athlete celebrates his triumphs, or overcomes defeat or injury, how he deals with a hostile crowd or a critical media, reflects what life is all about. Indeed, sports offers a richness all its own—it is a metaphor for life.
Third, remember you have brains under that mortarboard. You’ve been running it like crazy for four years, whining about all the books you’ve had to read, the papers you’ve had to write, the tests you’ve had to take. Yet thanks to that versatile, gigabyte hard-drive of yours, and a million Starbucks cups, you made it today.
Fourth, give P1 for every P10 you earn. I saw my mother pass away eight years ago, and she left this world without anything. Which means you’re not the owner of what you think you own. You’re only a steward, because everything’s on loan. So pass some of it on. If you don’t, government will just take it anyway.
As today’s door closes softly between us, those are my parting words. But there will be other partings and other last words in your lives.
But today will not be complete without acknowledging what Father Ben has done for the Ateneo these past 17 years as the university’s longest serving president—the new Loyola Schools, all the new buildings, the UAAP championships and the bonfires. It has been a pleasure working with him. Thank you so much, Father Ben.
I do have one last word for you, if I may. This was a gift when I graduated at the age of 19—the gift of friends with whom I sat on graduation day, who remain my friends for life. So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you will recall those of Seneca, one of the old Romans I met in search of ancient wisdom: “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” (taken from the speech of J.K. Rowling).
I will now let you go. Through God’s providence, may each of you travel well that precious journey called life. And may your future be worthy of your dreams. My deepest thanks for the courtesy and honor you all have shared with me. Many congratulations. God bless you all. Good day and good life.