Bar topnotcher’s valedictory address

Raoul Angelo Atadero
Full text of the valedictory address of Raoul Angelo Atadero, the 2011 Bar Exam topnotcher, during the Ateneo Law School's commencement exercises last year

BAR TOPNOTCHER. Raoul Angelo Atadero was the Ateneo Law School's valedictorian in 2011. Photo from Atadero's Facebook page

(Full text of the valedictory address of Raoul Angelo Atadero, the 2011 Bar Exam topnotcher, during the Ateneo Law School’s commencement exercises last year)

Father Bienvenido F. Nebres of the Society of Jesus, President of the University. Dr. Alfredo R.A. Bengzon, Vice-President for the Professional Schools. Dr. Edna P. Franco, Vice-President for Administration and Planning. Mr. Jose F. Santos, Vice-President for Finance and Treasurer. Father Joaquin G. Bernas of the Society of Jesus, Dean Emeritus of the Law School. Dean Cesar L. Villanueva. Associate Dean Lily K. Gruba. Associate Dean Sedfrey M. Candelaria. Dr. Cesar A. Mansibang, Registrar of the Professional Schools. Atty. Aleli Angela G. Quirino, President of the Ateneo Law Alumni Association. Atty. Melencio S. Sta. Maria, Master of Ceremonies.

Distinguished members of the Faculty, administration, and staff of the Ateneo Law School. Parents, benefactors, family, friends, guests, and fellow graduates. Good afternoon.

As we wound down our final months as law students graduating as the diamond class of the Ateneo Law School, it was hard to ignore the flurry of activities going on around campus. With the rededication of rooms, special masses, and a coffee table book to launch, [1] the Law School both looks back and takes stock of its shining achievements as a force in Philippine Law for the past 75 years.  For the many legal minds who have had the distinct privilege of being molded here, the mood is mainly of fond homecoming —class masses and fellowship nights being but some of the events drawing our alumni to revisit their alma mater this 2011. [2]

While revisiting the Ateneo seems like a notion worlds away from our graduation night, I feel that the idea of a homecoming gives us much to reflect upon, as we embark on the next phase of our journey, which is to earn that eminent title of “Attorney” before our names.

Perhaps, having graduated from college five years ago, I fancy myself as a jubilarian, too.  Maybe it’s because seeing these alumni who attended the Salcedo and Padre Faura campuses years ago, I can’t help but wonder how they made and managed it, with no SCRA photocopies from Blessings, no computerized notes emailed for last minute cramming, and – most mind boggling of all – without recitation coaching via the laptop of the classmate in front of you.

More appropriately and less self-incriminating, however, I think the concept of a diamond jubilee homecoming is relevant tonight because of the insights we may draw from it. Through the many masters that have walked the halls of the Ateneo Law School be it in Padre Faura, Salcedo, or Rockwell, the school has sought to form, shape, and cut diamonds to bring light to Philippine Law, worthy gems that gather light and scatter their brilliance as dazzling fireworks.

I imagine that every homecoming activity that the school holds is an inventory of such gems – the Ateneo valuing, appraising, and grading its diamonds, rightfully taking pride in those stones that have remained bright, pure, and constant in reflecting the light.  But we must not hedge from asking, too, about those who didn’t quite make the grade. Maybe, in every homecoming, the school also goes into subtly disowning those that have turned out as puwit ng baso – a masquerading lump of glass that fascinates you with its fire and blinds you with its brilliance, obscuring the fact that for all that jazz, it is worthless in the greater scheme of things.

puwit ng baso looks like a diamond, shines like a diamond, and dazzles like a diamond, mimicking its brilliance. Made merely from brittle glass, however, one careless drop also shatters it. What sets a diamond apart from its doppelganger, therefore, is its substance.  Having integrity down to its molecules makes a diamond tough, the hardest of minerals, enabling it to withstand and endure in its brilliance.

In quite a similar way, two lawyers can be equally bright, skilled, and virtually indistinguishable. Like true gems, therefore, it is not our brilliance alone that will set us apart but that indestructible core that we’re made of – what the Ateneo has impressed upon us down to our very molecules – BRILLIANCE WITH INTEGRITY.  Brilliance without integrity makes us puwit ng baso, breakable and fleeting. Integrity allows us to withstand and constantly scatter light, enduring with brilliance.

Brilliance with integrity is Justice Lorenzo Relova (Bachelor of Laws 1939), distinguished for the depth of his knowledge of the law, lustrous in practice as a post-war prosecutor, professor of law at the Ateneo, and an eminent member of the High Court. [3] Justice Relova cast impasse-breaking votes against his appointing authority during those crucial years before EDSA I, shaping our history with his integrity [4] and cementing his unsullied reputation as a public servant. [5]

Brilliance with integrity is Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee (Bachelor of Laws 1940), radiant as a summa cum laude graduate, as the first Ateneo bar topnothcer, as Secretary of Justice, but most importantly as a justice of the Supreme Court. [6] In the face of great powers that oppressed, Chief Justice Teehankee was “the light that did not fail” during the dark years of martial rule, his decisions and dissents proving him a steadfast defender of the Constitution and revealing his unshakable fidelity to the rule of law. [7]

Brilliance with integrity is Dean Jeremias Montemayor (Bachelor of Laws 1952), luminous as the first home-grown dean of the Ateneo Law School. [8] Dean Montemayor championed the cause of agrarian reform, ceaselessly promoting the basic dignity of the Filipino farmer and concretizing the social teachings of the Catholic Church, [9] thus living a life of counterculture resplendent against a backdrop of poverty & want.

Brilliance with integrity is Father Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus (Bachelor of Laws 1962), proving that one needn’t look far for such qualities as the Class of 2011 has been fortunate enough to see these in Father B every day. While amicus curiae, framer of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, University President, and Law Dean are just some of the capacities where his genius radiated and for which he’s justly known for, [10] we were lucky enough to bask in, be terrified of, and ultimately be blessed by his brilliance in the classroom. That Father B has never wavered in his scholarly and well-reasoned defense of the constitution against the vagaries and vulgarities of Philippine politics speaks volumes of his integrity – that silly “guru of destabilization” [11] appellation notwithstanding.

As we join the school therefore in celebrating these men who like us have been cut and fashioned by the Ateneo de Manila Law School to glisten and gleam, to gather and scatter light in the legal arena, it will do us well to remember that our school does not deal in puwit ng baso. Tonight, the Ateneo sends forth real diamonds, with integrity down to their bones, down to their molecules.

As we sparkle as newly-cut gems, the Diamond Class of the Ateneo Law School, we pay tribute to our parents and benefactors, who, with much hope and expectation, have invested in unpolished stones, diamonds in the rough. We honor our school, its administration, faculty, and staff for cutting and polishing us into brilliance with integrity. We thank our family and friends who have brought and continue to bring sparkle and shine to this journey.

Indeed, graduating amidst the many homecomings this diamond jubilee year reminds us that even as we cease to be students of the Ateneo Law School tonight, every graduation leads to an inevitable homecoming. Years from now, when we are older, grayer, wiser, but mostly with hips and bellies that are scandalously bigger, it will be our turn to come back home to the Ateneo—to be valued, to be appraised, and surprise, surprise, to be graded once more. May the diamonds of the Class of 2011 prove gems of worth, stones of brilliance with integrity and diamonds brilliant with integrity.

We’ve made it this far, Class of 2011. It’s our time to shine.

Thank you.

The author cites with gratitude the invaluable assistance of others more brilliant, without the help of which this address would not have been possible. Boyet Dy, Ateneo de Manila Loyola Schools Class of 2011 Valedictorian, for his insights on homecomings the use herein of which is gratefully acknowledged; Dr. Danilo M. Reyes of the Loyola Schools Department of English, for his editing and generous infusion of style; Dean Cesar Villanueva for his comments and direction toward wonderful sources for alumni inspiration; and David Peralta, Oscar Bruce, Jr., Aya Silva, & Hazel Fernandez for their proofreading, editing, and cheerleading.

Mr. Raoul Angelo Atadero is the Class Veledictorian of the Diamond Class (Batch 2011) of Ateneo Law School. 

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