On being men for others

Jay Jaboneta
If you catch yourself working hard and loving every minute of it, don’t stop. You’re probably on to something big.

Jay Michael O. JabonetaI am honored to be with you today at your commencement from Ateneo de Zamboanga High School. I could never forget my own high school graduation day because I gave the valedictory speech that day.

I too graduated in an Ateneo school, in Davao City, for college.

And though it has been a few years since the time I was studying in Ateneo de Davao University, there is one belief that has remained in me since I graduated and will probably remain with me until the rest of my life, it is a belief deeply ingrained by the education I got in Ateneo, the belief that an Atenean is a man for others.

In all the 7 years it took me to finish my college education (yes 7) – that has been one of the driving points of our university. Learn and graduate not only to be good at what you do and what you want to do, but to be able to help others as well – in short, to be in service of others.

And I am glad I took that mission to heart. And that is what has brought me here today. So you see not everything you learn in school is useless in real life.

In most of my other presentations and talks, I would usually start with my favorite quote and I’m sure you’re all familiar with it, because it comes from the movie called Kung Fu Panda. How many of you have watched that movie?

In that movie, there was this kung fu master, who was a turtle, Master Oogway, and in 3 instances in that movie, he mentioned this quote. 

What was the quote?

“There are no accidents in life.”

And it is my belief that it is no accident either that we are here today.

Earlier, I mentioned to you that it took me 7 years to graduate in college. 

Let me now share with you my story.

I was born in Cotabato City and probably like most of you, I am also from Mindanao. I lived most of my life in Cotabato City where I also graduated in high school.

And though we were not particularly rich, we were also not particularly poor. My parents were Overseas Filipino Workers then. And for the most part of my childhood, my sister and I lived with our grandparents. Sometimes with grandparents on the mother side and sometimes on the father side – that is probably the reason why I can’t seem to stay in one place for a long time.

That might also be the reason why I grew up so fast, imagine talking to them most of the time. They have all the time in the world. 

For your lolas and lolos with us here today, thank them. And I hope you will try your best to get as much wisdom and lessons from them as you can. They surely know more about the world than we do.

After graduating in high school, I moved to Davao City and enrolled myself in Ateneo de Davao University and I took up Computer Science, it being the “in” thing at that time. Like most of my batchmates, I also dreamed of working abroad – it seemed to be the best ticket to success then.

But alas, God I think had other plans. During my second year, I failed in 2 major subjects and the division was forcing me to shift. I felt rejected (I was!) and I left school for good! Or so I thought.

I went back to Cotabato City and after a few months of not being to take more of my parents’ rumblings, I went to our farm in Lebak, Sultan Kudarat. There I lived with the farmers. I learned how to climb a coconut tree, how to plant rice, learned about the common insects that attack rice stalks, and basically, learned about life in the countryside. I also learned how to drive a motorcycle.

You could say that it was like I was living in a dream. 

But then Sept 11, 2001 happened and it brought me back to reality. My birthday falls on September 13 and on that particular week when the unthinkable happened in America, I woke up on my birthday and realized that I was not using the skills that God gave me. And so reluctantly, I decided to go back to school.

I went back to Ateneo de Davao, swallowed my pride because I would be the most senior in my class, and took up Management Accounting and graduated in 2005.

That experience taught me one very important lesson: Life always gives you second chances.

That whole experience made me realize that life is not what happens to you. Life is what you do with what happens to you, or how you react to what happens to you.

After you commit a mistake or a failure, you can choose to wallow in self-pity or you can choose to move forward and take a new direction. Life is not about perfection on Day 1. It is about making those little choices every day and adjusting along the way. As the famous Steve Jobs (God bless his soul) said, you can only connect the dots looking backward. 

Life is not about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance. 

You will rarely be 100% sure it will work. But you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work. Sometimes you just have to go for it!

Most of you are still young – so I encourage you to make a lot of mistakes. What I mean is that you should try as many things as you could. Only by doing that can you better understand what it is you want out of life.

Which brings me to my final story today, the story of the Yellow Boat Project – it is a story about HOPE.

When I got invited to speak in France last January 20, the only Asian speaker invited to share my story in TEDxMontpellier, I thought long and hard about what I could share to them. It seems that Europe is now looking at Asian models of success and success stories.

Since we, Filipinos, love acronyms, I decided to give HOPE its operational meaning.

H is about harnessing one’s potential. It is about finding your passion in life. I personally feel, even after 16 months into the project, that I have found my life’s mission and it is to help children who struggle to go to school.

And more than that, it is to help bring communities in the Philippines the resources they need to get a better chance in life. Without discovering what you are passionate about in life, it is very hard to stay focused on a mission, on a project. You’ve got to find what you love to do.

It’s not easy and you usually won’t get it right the first time. I worked in the corporate world for 5 years before I decided to take on this unconventional career, if you can call it that. This would not have been possible without the Internet and the new digital tools that are now widely available.

O is about opening your mind and your heart. When I first heard about the story of the kids who swim to school here in Zamboanga, I couldn’t shake it off. I didn’t know what to do then. I shared it on Facebook, I texted friends like Anton Lim, not thinking that it would transform into a thriving national movement helping children in 3 communities around the Philippines.

In life, what’s important is standing up every time we fall. Failure is part of life. It is part of the process of life. Learn to live with it.

P is about perspiration. You cannot help people without getting both your hands and your feet dirty. When you want to help other people, you should act on it.  Only in doing so can you gain insights into how your actions can be made better. Perspiration is very good for the body and the soul too, as it cleanses our system. Personally, I have become thinner as a result of my involvement in the Yellow Boat Project.

It’s important for you to get out there. I consider the time that I lived in our farm one of my life’s greatest pleasures – it exposed me to rural community life and how the country has for so long neglected our agricultural sector. It made me realize our problem is not the lack of resources but rather it is the lack of faith in our capabilities as a people. 

So be out there! Take action!

The world has changed profoundly over the last quarter century and today it is quite possible for you to create the opportunities that you want in life. In my personal story for example, some people still cannot figure out that what I’m doing is a career, it’s an unconventional career, but still a career at that. I didn’t intentionally create it but after I realized that I could make it and myself sustainable, I embraced the idea and I’ve been doing it since I resigned from my job in government.

It comes with great personal sacrifice though, there have been many a times that I did have shouting matches with my parents but ultimately, you have to remember, it is your life.

To the parents with us here today, I hope you will empower your children to pursue their dreams in life, nourish them, support them and guide them – at the end of the day, allow them to choose where they want to use their God-given gifts. Remember the time when you were children and college students and how you could never go back to the things that you have wanted to do.

God knows our world needs more nation-builders out there. Our country could use some help.

E is about empowering others. And this is for me, where the challenge really lies, even when you think of our national leadership. In order to succeed sustainably, you and I must equip and empower more leaders (in your case, other student leaders) to take on the challenges in education and the other challenges our country is facing.

If you catch yourself working hard and loving every minute of it, don’t stop. You’re probably on to something big. And this is how I am feeling right now. This project makes me stay up late at night wondering about the possibilities. It also wakes me up in the morning so I can go out there and execute them.

Because hard work is not hard when you concentrate on your passions.

And to the wonderful teachers with us here today, thank you. And I hope you will continue to challenge more Ateneo graduates to be men for others. Let us empower an army of nation-builders.

Remember, education is a life-long process, you should never stop learning.

Life is all about learning. But too many of us, after we leave formal school, we also stop learning, we stop listening, we stop paying attention to opportunities to learn from others. I hope you won’t forget – learning is a process, not an event.

Let me recap what I have just shared:

First, there are no accidents in life.

Second, life always gives you second chances; and

Third, remember HOPE – harness your potential, find your passion in life; open your heart and mind; perspire or take action; and empower others.

Fellow Ateneans “you have the amazing chance today to make the world a better place as a result of what you do.”

I hope you choose wisely.

Love Our Country. Pro Deo et Patria! Congratulations!!! – Rappler.com

This was delivered by Jay Jaboneta during the commencement rites of the Ateneo de Zamboanga High School on March 23, 2012. Jay is also a regular speaker on social media, digital technology and youth leadership. He is a co-founder of the Yellow Boat Project (aka Philippine Funds for Little Kids) and a founding partner of One Awesome Company.


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