Better to illuminate than to shine: A valedictory address
A 13th century priest, philosopher, the Angelic Doctor of the Church, and the patron saint of our university, St Thomas Aquinas reflected on the Dominican ideal. He was a true contemplative who shared the fruits of contemplation with others.
Just like us, St Thomas became a student too as he studied under the celebrated St Albert the Great. One document narrated that while he was in school, he remained quiet and very timid. He had countless magnificent ideas reeling in his broad mind. His brilliant arguments were multifold. However, he never had any kind of habits to show off his intelligence. St Thomas' silent demeanor and huge built made other students call him “the Dumb Ox”; but his mentor discovered that the young man was a brilliant thinker and proclaimed, “We call him the Dumb Ox, but he will give such a bellow in learning as will be heard all over the world.”
St Thomas became a living example of humility and beneficence. In a time where the creed is to flaunt what you possess, where self-centeredness becomes an attitude, where humility and charity do not stand a chance, this is when we, Thomasians, stand out. UST (University of Santo Tomas) has taught us that these are more than just virtues: they are a form of perception, a language in which the "I" is silent so that we can hear the voice of others with love. These Thomasian virtues open us to the world.
How time flies! It is as if we had never been clueless freshmen, who treaded the campus nervously. It is as if we didn’t gather all our guts to enter this new stage in our lives. As I think back on the years I spent at the University of Santo Tomas since my elementary days, my mind is filled with memories—happy, sad, frustrating, and even humorous.
My mind is still fresh with memories of my days within the fenced area of the UST Grade School as well as the occasional afternoon liberties I enjoyed at the “Coop Canteen” and at the Colayco Park where the Quadricentennial Park now stands. But perhaps the most poignant memory was during my elementary graduation. As my classmates receive medals and certificates with their parents looking at them lovingly and beaming with pride, I was just at the corner, silently watching and wishing I also had one. Although I knew, at the tender age, that my parents appreciated and loved me no less, I was longing to make them proud too, someday.
Instead of wallowing in sadness, I consider those moments as my inspiration to strive hard, to commit more of myself, and to try again. For me, school became very important, not because it was something I ultimately enjoyed, but because I understood that it was what I needed to do. My parents have fuelled my passion with unconditional love and support. Without which, carrying through would have been impossible. And for that, my dear parents, I say thank you. You inspired me to walk that extra mile to be the best student - which was once just a wishful thinking.
I also had vivid memories of high school, and my commitment in pursuit of excellence did not waiver. UST High School taught me how to be responsible and how to become a person for others. UST High School was a beacon of light that guided me in the formative years of my life. It made me realize that I, who was once an underachiever, can be a winner too. And this is the reason why I have always believed, and will continue to believe, that there is a kind of transformative magic that happens at UST High School.
The time I spent at the Faculty of Pharmacy in recent years will likewise not easily be forgotten. It was tough. It was not easy at all. Being a pharmacy student was indeed a challenge. But I have overcome those difficulties through the help of certain people. To all my professors, classmates, and friends, I say, “thank you.” I still remember staying long hours in the library just to study for tests and practical exams or in the botanical garden staring at the plants and carefully memorizing their taxonomic classifications, the memory of formulating and compounding medicines in the laboratory and feeling like a medieval alchemist, running in and out of the TARC just to finish our thesis, as well as other symbolic learning tools I will always remember: the periodic table of elements, the calculator, the mortar and the pestle.
This chapter in my life reeled at a dizzying pace, and before I could even pause to reflect on what I had become, it’s all over. But not without the numerous sleepless nights that accompanied oral defense, countless research works, comprehensive exams, and a whole lot more which were all tests of endurance.
I believe each one of us in this memorable gathering has faced the challenges that life has thrown upon us. Yes, it was difficult, we sometimes complained, but we worked because that’s what UST had imbued in us, to work patiently, to be steadfast in achieving a personal goal, to be responsible for our future, to attain a level of perfection that befits a genuine Thomasian. For me, being an achiever is more than the prestige or the compliment. It is more than the recognition for being the first B.S. Pharmacy student to reach this milestone. What matters most is that we become persons for others. Grades will always be grades. The 1.0 that we get now would be insignificant in time. Thus, it is our task to look for its significance. I think I am lucky to have found it. The high grades that I earned did not give me even a hundred pesos cash, but instead gave me a hundred chances to help others who are struggling in their academics. Those grades did not make me full during the times when I was hungry, but they became the threshold of my hunger of living up to the Thomasian ideals, just like what St Thomas said “It is better to illuminate, than merely to shine.”
I have witnessed UST’s transformation from the bare parking areas in front of this building which have evolved into the magnificent Plaza mayor to the wild bushes that surround the Arch of the centuries which have been refashioned to become the splendid Benavidez garden. With that physical reconstruction comes the holistic transformation of its students. We are fortunate because UST had generously given us what it could in spite of our initial reluctance and stubbornness. She had taught our feeble minds to satisfy the yearning for more knowledge to become men and women of science and letters who are firmly grounded on Thomasian values. UST, we thank you.
Where do we go from here? The new frontiers that await us still remain unseen. But as we leave the university and envision what is to come and what is to be, may we always remember that out there is a broad horizon where opportunities for self-improvement abound. From now on, we may be different twenty year-old graduates; well, in my case, an eighteen year-old. We may, to a certain extent, be different individuals in the coming years, but we are all the same Thomasians who emanate a high degree of competence, who reach out to others with compassion, who serve humanity with strong commitment— Thomasians who are and will always be imbued with unending grace. - Rappler.com
Christopher Dacanay is the over-all valedictorian of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Batch 2013. He graduated Summa Cum Laude, Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy, and is a Thomasian Silver Loyalty Awardee.
Editor's note: This version of the valedictory address was slightly edited for brevity.