*Delivered during the commencement exercises of Justimbaste – Remandaban National High School, Tabontabon, Leyte on the 30th day of March 2007

*Guest Speaker: Marlon Bignotea Raquel, Fellow (Master of Arts in Demography) of the University of the Philippines Population Institute, UP Diliman, Quezon City with the funding support from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Inc.

Thank you Ma’am Irene for your kind introduction. Our honorable Mayor Priscilla R. Justimbaste, our energetic secondary school principal, Mrs. Teresita V. Coquia, honored guests, parents, visitors, and most importantly, graduates of Class 2007 of Justimbaste-Remandaban National High School, warm greetings to each and every one of you.

In this memorable occasion of your life, I am honored to be asked to deliver a commencement address to you today. Actually, I was not expecting that I will be the one to speak before you. What I expect is that I will be the guest speaker next year, two years after my college graduation just as what Ma’am Coquia had told me once when we talked. When I bought my plane ticket, I was so excited that at last, I will be delivering a message as a guest speaker to the graduates of Jabong Elementary School where I graduated from, not realizing that my joy and excitement will be tripled later on when I was about to be informed that I would also be sharing a commencement address to you, young graduates of Justimbaste – Remandaban National High School. So I heartily extend my gratitude and thanksgiving to Ma’am Coquia and our teachers for choosing me as the guest speaker today. Thank you so much, Ma’am and Sir!

Current visions of preparing students for the 21st century advocate that students must be enabled and empowered in the present and for the future. The theme for this year's commencement exercises "Student Empowerment towards Greater Productivity (Lakas ng Kabataan Tungo sa Maunlad na Kinabukasan) is thus very timely. Filipino adolescents are growing in number. The latest 2000 Census counted 15.1 million adolescents aged 15-24 years old and is estimated to reach 30 million by 2030. Of 15.1 million adolescents, 62.8% ages 15-19 are studying in schools in 1994 and increased to 67.8% in 2002, as revealed by the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) study conducted by the UP Population Institute in UP Dililan, Quezon City where I preently taking up my master's degree. These figures show that our parents have the unwavering desire to educate their children. I salute and congratulate our parents who are here today for their efforts despite cycles of economic difficulties experienced in the last few decades. You really deserve to be honored in this occasion.

As a political scientist brought up in UP environment, the word "power" is not new to me. We discussed it every class meeting. And even beyond the four corners of the classroom, power was often the center of our discussions. It is not the magical powers that you usually see in televisions such that of Super Twins or Power Rangers, or any other fantasy movie. Student empowerment has something to do with the ability of the studdents to take control over their lives and valued resources through development of social skills and allowing them to freely exercise their own powers and responsibilities. Teachers are encouraged to share powers with their students instead of dominating or controlling them. To our dear teachers, continue developing the potentials of your students. They need you. Empowering students is not just something that can be turned on and off but needs to be consistent and persuasive. I am very grateful to our dear teachers of this institution for helping me develop my skills--in both academic and leadership. Without them, I may not be here speaking before you today. They deserve honor and respect for inculcating the value of education to us.

To the graduates of Class 2007, I am so proud of you. Congratulations! You have completed high school education. Check that off to-do list, you’re off to great start but it is only high school. Your education and life has only begun. Remember the past days and years, look back and relish these memories forever, but don’t forget the future. Don’t linger in the past. It’s time, graduates, to move on towards bigger and better things, a brighter future.

I remember five years ago during our high school commencement exercise, in this same place, that one of my teachers (who is here today) gave me a bookmark after I delivered my valedictory address. A powerful quote is written on it which says, “Believe in God and believe in yourself, together you can do unbelievable things.” Imagine how this quote became a source of inspiration to me since that moment and until now. It became a guiding principle in my life. The Philippines, as a nation, has been known worldwide, as the only country in the whole continent of Asia which is pre-dominated by Christians. In fact, the latest 2000 Census reveals that about 85 percent of Filipinos are Christians. Personally, I am proud to be a Christian. I am thankful that God is always there for me. I went through a lot of difficulties when I was still a college student, but God has been my Helper and Comforter. (Share some life experiences.) No matter how intelligent, successful, famous, handsome or famous you are, if you don’t acknowledge God in your life, it makes no sense. To paraphrase the statement of the famous scientist Blaise Pascal, he said that if “I believe in God and you do not believe in His existence and it was proven that there is no God at all, then that’s okay. But if it will be proven that there is God Who sees every man in this vast universe, you’re the loser and I’m the winner.” To our dear graduates, as you go out the portals of your beloved Alma Mater, always remember to seek God in your life and make Him your topmost priority and all things you desire will go well with you.

The second part of the quote I just mentioned earlier says, “Believe in yourself.” Believing in yourself is very vital in order to accomplish what you want. Do not be afraid of the unknown. Extract the best of you. Strive for excellence. You’ve got your whole life in front of you. People won’t always be nice to you, things may not always come easy, and life won’t always be fair. It’s going to be tough times, I won’t lie, but you’ll get through, you’ll figure it out. (Share some life experience). Do not loose hope, please. Never give up. Keep trying. I know each and every one of you is an amazing person. I just hope that you will live up to the fullest potential and change the world. Do not be intimated by the people around you. Do not allow people to look down on you just because you are young, just because you are poor or just because you are not as intelligent as they are for they are just like you, running in a race called life journey. If your faith in God is as strong as a fortified city, and you firmly believe in yourself without a doubt, I am telling you right now: You can do unbelievable things – things you’ve never imagined before!

Be thankful to the people around you. You have to look back to the people who helped you and will be helping you build your dreams. I am the only one in the nine children of my family who completed a four year-bachelor’s degree in college. And as my father used to say, I just kept on going and going and going. Although I earned that privilege through hard work and perseverance, I know that I could not have succeeded without that great cloud of witnesses upon whose shoulders I stood. So please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the following people and institutions who have helped me a lot. First and foremost is my immediate family and relatives who tirelessly and unselfishly helping me throughout my 21 years of existence in this world of ours. I really salute my father and mother for the moral support they always give me especially in times of troubles. I also want to thank my friends here and abroad, Kuya Sean and Aaron of London, Raymond and JB of Taguig City, Jojo of Quezon City, Jay of Olongapo City, Kate of Eastern Samar, Jojo Ashser and Ate Alma of Canada, Rufino of Bulacan, Ate Hely and Marc of Caloocan City, Mark Lester of Catbalogan, James of Aklan, Kuya Tata of Davao City, Kuya Yuan of Laguna, Manong Russ of China, Jerome of Romblon, Kuya Josh of Misamis City, my other friends in Metro Manila, Rose and Gina of UP Diliman, Kuya Yel of San Juan, Mana Linda of Tacloban City, Kuya Matt of the United States, my spiritual leaders such as Ate Jean, Concepcion family, Ecija family, my church family, my Agape family, some employees and professors of UP Tacloban College, my teachers in both elementary and high school, our barangay captain, my barkadas, and even to complete strangers who became part of my life. I would also want to thank the entire Filipino people, through taxes paid to the government, for the scholarship I enjoyed for four years in UP Tacloban and just recently, to The David and Lucile Packard Foundation for awarding me a scholarship grant for my master’s study in the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. I am indebted to all these persons and institutions who over the years saw something in me that I could not myself see, and gave me their support in time, in prayer, in guidance, in mentoring and in providing financial needs. I made this list to encourage you, our dear graduates, that no matter how successful you will be in the future, don’t ever, and ever forget to thank those people around you.

Throughout the rest of your lives, Class of 2007, you are going to be at the top of a decision, ready to take risk and something might hold you back. This moment is critical! Assess your fears! Sometimes you delay action in fear of getting hurt or fear of hurting someone else. Be smart! However, if your hesitation derives from fear of the unknown future, remember: the moment you all were born, everything was new; emotional and physical discoveries were made every second, and they still are. Taking risks is part of your life. If you are afraid of the unknown, the solution is simple: make it known! It’s called “getting educated”. I’m not just talking about math, English, or science – but those are important too – I’m talking about understanding the world, the mechanics of it – the society itself – and understanding yourself: goals, values, what you stand for, what you want to get out of life, what makes you happy. Once you think all these things quickly though, reassess your risk. You go through this process everyday. Should I try to live on my own? Should I get married? Should I go to college? Should I take the risk? Is it worth it? In high school, there have been some obstacles, some trials, and some risks. But now they’re over, look back, reflect, remember, and move on. You’re ready, graduates of Class 2007, to venture into the real world.

As an alumnus of this school, it makes me feel wonderful to know that our teachers, alumni, and other people’s achievements and investment will result in a remarkable contribution to our communities. As Filipinos, you are called to serve this nation. I am hopeful that you will carry forward the values of care, justice and commitment as you take the next step of your lives. Your diploma will be your passport to another step in higher educational system. Remember this: each one of you is a bright explosion in the universe about to take off for a destination beyond Justimbaste – Remandaban National High School.

I want to end my commencement address today with this exhortation: “BE A SHOOTING STAR FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!” Dream, believe, survive!

Thank you so much and once again, congratulations, graduates of Class 2007! God bless us all!


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