Ricky Lee's words to the PUP Class of 2019 is the pep talk our weary hearts need
MANILA, Philippines – It’s never too late to fulfill your dreams, and acclaimed screenwriter Ricardo "Ricky" Lee proves just this.
At 72 years old, the award-winning Filipino writer, journalist, novelist, and playwright finally has a degree to his name, graduating from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) with an honorary doctoral degree in Humanities on Wednesday, May 8.
Asked to deliver a commencement speech to a room of 3,000 graduates, Ricky humbly agreed, and shared how this moment was one he waited for for many years.
"Akala ko di na ako gagraduate. Ilang dekada ko rin itong hinintay (I thought I was never going to graduadate. I've waited for this for decades)," he chuckled as he began his speech. "Masasabi ko na ngayong graduate na ako. Nakatoga pa!"
Ricky never finished his studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman, due to the Martial Law under the regime of the late Marcos.
His speech drew tears, smiles, and rounds of applause from guests, with Ricky sharing his struggles and triumphs as a working student – hunger blackouts and constant rejection included. In his speech, he shares with PUP graduates his rags-to-riches story and the top 3 valuable lessons he's learned along the way.
Rejection – an old friend
After graduating from high school in Daet, Bicol, Ricky ran away from his adopted family that couldn't afford to put him through any Manila colleges. Ricky was determined to pursue an undergraduate degree.
"Mahalaga sa akin ang edukasyon," he said. (Education is important for me.)
He began studying AB English at UP Diliman, but after having to stop due to martial law, Ricky changed gears.
"Bata pa ako gusto ko na magturo. Pero hindi pwede dahil wala akong degree," he said. "Kaya nagpa-workshop ako sa bahay ng ko nung libre mula 1982. Tapos, sinubukan ko mag apply sa UP sa Filipino department. Tutal naman, ginagamit naman nila mga short stories ko sa subjects."
(Even as a kid, I've always wanted to teach. But I couldn't because I had no degree. So I held workshops in my house for free in 1982. After, I tried to apply at UP's Filipino department, since they use my short stories for their subjects anyway.)
Ricky said he applied thrice and was rejected three times.
But Ricky, stubborn in the best way possible, continued on, eventually being accepted degree-free by Ateneo in 1986, followed by the UP Mass Communications department, and then UP's Filipino department shortly after – a success he attributes to 3 reminders he wishes to impart onto the next generation.
Lesson 1: Remember, 'laging kulang silya.'
Ricky was accompanied by 4 fellow struggling friends when he left Bicol. "Hindi namin alam kung san kami titira, kung ano magiging trabaho namin sa Maynila, kung anong ay naghihintay na kapalaran sa amin," he shared. (We didn't know where we'd live, what our jobs would be in Manila, or what fate had in store for us.)
All they were sure of were the dreams brimming inside of them.
Soon after, 3 of them ended up working at an umbrella factory, while Ricky and another friend waited tables at a pizza parlor in Pasay. Together they lived in a small apartment, dining at a table that lacked one chair.
"Aapat lang ang silya namin kaya kapag kumakain kami ay laging may isang nakatayo," he shared. "Habang nakatingin ako sa kasamahan naming nakatayong kumakain, pinangako ko sa sarili ko, balang araw makokompleto ang silya." (We only had 4 chairs, so one of us had to eat standing up. I'd look at him while eating, and promise myself, 'one day, our chairs will be complete.')
After the 5 went their separate ways, working student Ricky worked a variety of jobs simultaneously, juggling being a salesman, accounting clerk, tutor, student assistant, and proofreader.
In between, Ricky would skip lunch to save money, enduring 5-minute blackouts due to hunger. But after every fall, he'd wake up, remembering that one missing chair.
"Tinanggap ko na. Sa buhay na ito ay laging hindi kompleto ang silya. Hindi nakaabang ang mundo para ibigay sa'yo ang lahat ng kailangan mo," he said. (I accepted that in this life, the chairs will never be complete. The world isn't waiting to give you everything you need.)
"Hindi ka entitled.You have to be resourceful. You have to work hard," he told the audience. "Kailangan mong pagtrabahuhan ang kulang na silya." (You have to work for that missing chair.)
Lesson 2: 'Di mo kailangan maging perpekto.'
Ricky shares a truth bomb: that upon graduation, people will judge you, test you, and even pit you against others.
"Mag-eexpect sila ng kung ano-ano mula sa'yo, na karamihan naman ay hindi na reasonable. Kung anu-ano ang gagawin sa'yo ng mundo upang ipakita lagi sa'yo na you don't measure up, kulang ka," he said. (They'll expect everything from you, most being unreasonable. The world will try to show you that you don't measure up, that you're not enough.)
And what does Ricky say to this reality? "Hayaan mo sila. Just keep working hard. Ipaglaban mo ang mga pangarap mo." (Don't mind them. Just work hard. Fight for your dreams.)
"Hindi mo kailangang labanan ang sarili mo, o pantayan ang iba. You are never worthless. Just be yourself. Langoy lang nang langoy, lipad lang," he reminded students.
About failure, he tells students that this is where you find yourself. "Huwag kang matakot magkamali. Di baleng malunod. Di baleng mahulog. Kapag bumagsak ka, doon mo mas mahahanap ang sarili mo." (Don't be afraid to make mistakes. So what if you drown or fall? When you fail, you will find yourself.)
“Nagsikap ako. Nagaral ako ng mabuti, para maging first honor, grade 1 until 4th year, para labanan inferiority complex ko."
(I worked hard. I studied well so I'd be the first honor from grade 1 until 4th year, if only to fight my inferiority complex.)
He reminded the crowd to find strength in their weaknesses as well. "Yung strength mo, pag nanggaling sa depekto mo, ay mas matibay. Dahil nakita mo na ung baba, mas naiintidhan mo ung taas. Dahil nanggaling ka sa dilim, mas natatanggap mo na ang buhay ay hindi puro liwanag."
(Your strength is stronger if it comes from your defects. Since you've seen the bottom, you'll understand the top better. Since you've come from the dark, you'll accept that life isn't always all light.)
Lesson 3: 'Makisangkot ka.'
"What's life without serving others?" Ricky asked the crowd rhetorically.
"Huwag kang kuripot. Ibigay mo ang buhay mo sa iba, maski na paminsan-minsan lang," he said. (Don't be selfish. Give your life to others, even if just sometimes.)
"Pumunta ka sa mga bukid, sa mga minahan, sa mga bundok, sa mga batang lansangan, sa mga home for the aged, sa mga inulila ng digmaan. Magtanong ka kung anong maitutulong mo," Ricky said. (Go to the mines, the mountains, the children, the elderly. Ask what you can help with.)
To Ricky, having a voice, alongside serving others, is also crucial. "Magkaroon ka ng opinyon. Mag-iwan ka ng marka." (Have an opinion, leave a mark.)
"Yang hawak mong diploma, para 'yan sa iba, hindi 'yan para sa'yo," he reminded the graduates. (That diploma you're holding, that's for others, not for you.)
His years as an activist during Martial Law, he said, was one of the most important phases in his life.
"Lahat ng mga personal na ambisyon ay kinalimutan ko. Ang buong buhay ko ay inilaan ko na para sa iba, para sa bayan," Risky said, who was jailed for one year in Fort Bonifacio. (I set aside all my personal ambitions. I devoted my life to others, to my country.)
Moments of doubt naturally rose, with Ricky questioning if giving up his personal dreams was the right thing to do. In the end, it was in doing things for others that Ricky found purpose.
"Naniniwala kasi ako na kapag nagbigay ka nang walang hinihintay na kapalit, ngingiti sa'yo ang mundo, ibabalik sa'yo ang ibinigay mo sa mga paraang hindi mo inaasahan," Ricky added. (I believe that when you give freely without asking for anything else, the world will smile at you, and it will give everything back to you in ways you wouldn't expect.)
Ricky ended his poignant speech by thanking everybody who helped him get to where he is now – his family, friends, students, coworkers, and PUP, for giving him the opportunity to inspire.
"Para sa akin, para sa inyo, mahirap pantayan ang araw na ito." – Rappler.com