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

Patrick Simon Sy Perillo
'Excellence is found not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well'

This speech was delivered on May 22 at the Columbia Law School graduation in New York City. 


On the 13th of August, 2013, 287 individuals from 53 countries and speaking more than 50 languages began to walk the halls of Columbia Law School—eyes filled with promise for the year that was to come. We had our own reasons for coming to this lionized institution. But to sum it up, these reasons reflected the restlessness of our hearts and of our minds. We yearned for change; for development; for excellence. We were looking to evolve into something greater. The LL.M. year seemed perfect to facilitate this. But we were time-bound: we only had one year.


Mindful that our moment was fleeting by the day made us realize the value of every minute that we spent with each other. Indeed, together, we created wonderful memories and forged lifelong friendships with the people we now call family.


The LL.M. Class of 2014 has so many positive attributes. Cliché as it may sound, our unity amidst diversity kept us strong throughout this experience. The beauty in our class is that we celebrated our differences and enjoyed each other’s company, yet did not compromise our ideals and respected each other’s views. The love, courtesy and respect that we showed to each other were far too great to create antagonism.


The LL.M. Class of 2014 is optimistic, selfless, persevering and resilient. We rose above every challenge that came along. We never lost hope even in the most stressful days. We found strength and comfort in each other, which kept us pushing harder until we reached the finish line. The rest is history. Here we are, dressed in our beautiful Columbia blue regalias, beaming at our professors, friends and loved ones. We have thus, in many ways, evolved.

BE EXCELLENT. Patrick Perillo speaks at the graduation ceremony at Columbia Law School in New York City. Photo contributed by the author 

But besides our personal achievements, what does a Columbia legal education entail? Harlan Fiske Stone said that success is measured not by one’s physical attributes but by the power to influence the minds and hearts of people. As Columbia Law graduates, we should aspire to become bearers of influence and change. The question is: how and in what capacity? These are good points to leave you with to ponder. But allow me to convey two general thoughts.


A public servant once said that excellence is found not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Power or authority is not necessary to make a change. We therefore begin with excellence. Whatever we find ourselves doing, let’s strive to perfect what can be perfected.


The legacy that Philip C. Jessup, Oscar Schachter and Louis Henkin left at Columbia is among the many reasons why the institution remains strong. To date, this legacy goes on as reflected by the School’s exceptional faculty in virtually all fields of law. And I personally feel privileged to be under the tutelage of Professor Damrosch. Being with the world’s legal luminaries is already the greatest honor for one who is in the quest for learning. But just by looking at all of you makes me realize how much more fortunate I am. Being in the company of such intelligent and kind-hearted people is a truly humbling experience.


The legal scholarship however, from one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world puts us in a position not only of privilege but more importantly of responsibility. To borrow the words of Professor Cleveland, education should not be passive. We ought not to be mere recipients of learning. We have to take an active role in imparting our knowledge to others: whether in academia, in public service, or in private practice. Our experience at Columbia thus serves as an important tool to better not just our lives and those dear to us, but equally of those who have less in the law. Once we have fully realized our capacity for change, then perhaps we have fully completed our evolution.

HALLOWED HALLS. The Columbia University Library. Photo courtesy of the author

Today, 22nd of May, 2014, is a beacon of that change. We look back to our first day in August, knowing that we have achieved more than what we had hoped and come here for. We have evolved, and have at least mitigated—the restlessness that we once felt. We have a renewed vigor to make a change and are prepared for a fresh start. As one adventure ends, a new one unfolds. The evolution does not and will not end. But armed with our Columbia education, we are prepared to take up another challenge that leads us to greater heights, and bigger dreams, goals and aspirations.


I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dean Schizer for his 10 amazing years of service to the school. To Dean Polo, Jill Casal, Katie and Megan, we thank you for your undying patience, enthusiasm and assistance to the LL.M.s and the J.S.D.s. And to our loved ones, who have given us all the love and support—to my family—this milestone is for you.


Before we part not to say “so long,” but only, “‘til we meet again,” I’d like to leave you with a quote that has always inspired me to live life, and make a mark in others:


Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.


Explore. Dream. Discover.


To our friends, to our families, and to us, the Columbia LL.M. Class of 2014, Congratulations! –


Patrick Simon Sy Perillo is a recent graduate of the Columbia Law School (LL.M.). He previously worked with the Supreme Court of the Philippines and interned at the UNDP Headquarters in New York. He plans to return to the Philippines to work in the executive branch.


Read other graduation speeches by Filipino lawyers in America:


Filipino Penn Law grad to classmates: Be responsible world citizens


Filipino Cornell grad to lawyers: ‘Serve your people’



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