Filipino Penn Law grad to classmates: Be responsible world citizens

'We do not need a self-proclaimed genius to change the world. We just need to have our hearts in the right place.'

This speech was delivered at the graduation rites of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, LL.M. Class of 2014 on May 18, 2014.


Truth be told. For more than a week, I struggled to write this speech. I desperately tried to seek some inspiration, and Divine Intervention. What on earth should this humble representation, this Filipino, say to the best legal minds and their families the world over?  What is it that I have learned this year that I should impart to you?  Believe me, writing this piece was more difficult than any pleading, memorandum or examination I have ever written (much more difficult than Prof. Jill Fisch’ Corporation Law exam). Mindful that I must deliver a speech worthy of the year we spent together, I started writing right after finals week in my small, quiet room in Sansom Place East (the cleanest, most modern residential apartment here in Philadelphia, 40 years ago). That proved to be a terrible idea, as I found myself eating chocolates my LLM classmates and I bought from our Hershey Park trip a month back. So I decided to step out of my room and start writing elsewhere. To my mind, the best place to write this piece, is of course where it all started – in the Penn Law School. There I could find silence and discernment, to be filled with grace, to let the Voice come to me.


But writing the speech in the law school courtyard also proved to be very challenging. Classmates, friends, faculty, librarians, school administrators and staff, even the guard would stop by my spot to chat for a while.  And so we chatted, for hours on end; and writing the speech got pushed back again. Then came life’s little celebrations:  birthdays, endless lunches and dinners with classmates, hallway discussions, karaoke sessions, the LLM Camping Trip to the Poconos Mountains, and the first LLM Graduation Ball, among others. We just did too many things in two weeks’ time. We just did too many things the whole year.


Then it occurred to me, what was I really worried about? With all the things we all have collectively experienced since day one, this speech should write itself. Yes, without a doubt, I learned a lot from Penn Law given its high level of academic excellence; but my true learning came not from books, but from my interactions with all of you in this classroom called life. My biggest treasures were all around me. Clearly, I knew what I had to say.

HELP FOR HAIYAN. The author with 2 LLM classmates and Penn Law Dean of Students Gary Clinton during a fund-raising adobo cookout for the benefit of Typhoon Haiyan survivors. Photo contributed by Rafael Calinisan 

On behalf of the LL.M. Class of 2014, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the whole Penn Law Community for making this year the best year of our lives. Dean Fitts, Dean Clinton, faculty and staff, our JD colleagues, thank you so very much. This truly is a collegial institution. I am blessed to have met all of you. True inspiration lives here.  We have learned so much.


To my LL.M. classmates, I personally want to thank you for the trust you have given me this past year, and for opting that I speak for you tonight. This is a distinct privilege for me and my country. I am honoured and extremely humbled. As I have constantly said, together we have enjoyed a lot, and have achieved a lot. We have matured as individuals, and grew as a class. I will be forever thankful for everything.


The spirit of solidarity is very much alive in this year’s LL.M. class, and in Penn Law. One particular event that really touched my heart was the time my country was hit by the strongest typhoon in the history of mankind; the LL.M.s, busy as they were, made the effort to cook their native dishes to help raise funds for the victims. As an LL.M. class and as a law school community, we were able to raise almost $4,000 for this cause. On behalf of the Filipino people and particularly the people of Tacloban City, Philippines, I would like thank you all. I will never forget it.  


But let us not forget that this day is not just about us and our efforts. Today would not be possible without the help of the special people in our lives, our parents and our loved ones. On this note, I request my LL.M. and JD classmates to please hug your parents for me before this day ends. My parents and my 94 year old grandmom wanted to come, but could not, due to health issues and their ripe old age.


Indeed, every beginning has an end. However, this graduation ceremony is by no means the culmination of our hard earned Penn education. On the contrary, it merely signifies the start of our continuing obligation to make a difference in the world, even in our own little way. Today is not just a celebration of what we have individually and collectively achieved. More importantly, today is a declaration, a covenant, of what we plan to do, not for ourselves, but for others and for our own countries, as responsible citizens of the world.


Undeniably, we have one year’s worth of wonderful memories to last a lifetime or two. Though much can already be told of our collective story, we still have so much ahead of us. Much has yet to be done. Our story has yet to be completed.  In a few days, I will be going back to my country. I will go back to my small government desk, and would try really hard, in my own capacity, to make my country a better place to live in. I will still continue to teach in our state university. This is my calling. Through all of you, I now have global solutions to local concerns. In a few days, you too will either be reporting for work in your new law firm in New York or in Washington D.C. or in Texas, or returning home to your native countries to do corporate or litigation work, and maybe government work too.


Clearly, we all have our different fields of practice, and that our roads would somewhat diverge today. Yet, in spite of the same, I am sure we all still proceed in the same direction: towards nation-building, towards building a better global community. 


Having known you this past year, I know that I am not alone. I am not the only dreamer. This said, I face tomorrow with practical optimism. I am full of hope, knowing that somewhere across the globe, there are like-minded individuals, with beliefs and aspirations similar to mine, bound by our Penn Law education. I am excited with the prospect of what we still can collectively achieve.


Classmates, I implore that in spite of all our past and future successes, we would still embrace tomorrow with all humility and gratitude. We do not need a self-proclaimed genius to change the world. We just need to have our hearts in the right place.


Today we continue writing our collective story. I wish for all of us a meaningful future ahead. Let all our stars collectively shine bright. Our beautiful shared tomorrow awaits.


Thank you very much. –


Rafael Calinisan recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School with an LL.M. and as class president. He plans on returning to his work at the Office of the President of the Philippines. He was previously the spokesman of the United Opposition. 

Read other graduation speeches by Filipino lawyers in America:


Filipino Cornell grad to lawyers: ‘Serve your people’


Fililipino Columbia Law grad to peers: Begin with excellence in mind

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