UP summa cum laude: ‘Make your dream mean something to others’

Patricia Nabong
UP summa cum laude: ‘Make your dream mean something to others’
What does it mean to be an Iskolar ng Bayan?

The very first book my mom read to me was entitled “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, which was about a boy and a tree who grew up together. When the boy  was young, he used to pluck leaves from the tree and stitch them into a crown, pretending to be king of the jungle while eating its apples. The tree was happy. But they both grew, and the boy left.

Years passed and the boy finally returned. The tree told him to come and play. But the boy was already a man, and only needed money and a house. The tree said, “I don’t have money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and be happy.”  And so the boy did. And the tree was happy.  As for the house, he told the boy to cut her branches off so he could build a roof over his head. And so the boy did. And the tree was happy.

It took the boy half a lifetime to come back. The tree asked him to play but by then, the boy was already sad and old. He just wanted a boat to take him far away. So the tree told him to cut her trunk down so he could build a boat. And so the boy did. He left with the trunk. The tree was sad to see him leave, but she was happy.

I grew up with this story in my head, and for the longest time, I thought it was about a boy who was never satisfied, but it was only recently that I realized that the moral of the story wasn’t about selfishness, but about selflessness. It wasn’t about the boy. It was about the tree. It was about growth and about giving.

My fellow graduates, like how all trees began, we were planted in this university. We started as seedlings, shy little freshmen, afraid of speaking up in class, but secretly brimming with questions like, “Ano yung blue book? Toki o Ikot? Sino si Professor TBA sa CRS?” (“What’s a blue book? Toki or Ikot? Who is Professor TBA in CRS?”) 

But slowly, we took root in this university. We learned the uno-able profs and the terrors that would teach us the best lessons. We learned how to beg- I mean pre-rog- for classes. Our language slowly evolved from “kamusta?” to “ano na ‘teh?”

Naturally, as mass comm. students, we learned how to use the words, “hegemony”, “kebs”, “semiotics”, “chaka” and “hypodermic needle theory” in a sentence.

As we were exposed to the different realities that plagued our country, we started to speak up and learned to understand people from all walks of life.

We became experts in balancing extra-curricular work with academics, with some of us majoring in orgs. After all the sleepless nights, finishing school work or org work in our college, UP became home – literally – whether we liked it or not.

Yes, there were frustrations over crammed prods, which were still rendering 5 minutes before the deadline; there were 100-page articles that we needed to read overnight, which ended up stained with coffee, our tears or… our drool; there were sleepless sleepovers and revision after revision; for my fellow film students, there were 29-hour shoots without sleep or bathing; and most of all, there was self-doubt and fear of not being good enough.

But then here lies this undeniable fact: like the tree, we grew. Our proof of education is not determined by our grades but what we experienced and learned in the process of getting them. And we learned, in the truest way possible, that there is growth in every struggle.

Now, my fellow graduates, I share with you this great joy and fulfillment in knowing that we’ve overcome part of it. Congratulations!

But remember that the struggle continues outside the confines of the university. It continues in the struggle against the killing of journalists, against hegemony, unemployment, poverty, censorship, against gender, racial, and religious discrimination, against all forms of violence, injustices, and oppression, and the struggle against the violation of the rights we were promised as Filipinos and human beings, etcetera, etcetera. The list goes on.

But it is the true that the greatest lessons are acquired in the midst of difficulties and the awareness of these struggles, because the most valuable lesson that I learned in U.P. and I hope you, too, will retain after our graduation is this: the ability to think. To doubt. To ask questions. Why am I here? Why is this happening?

CMC taught us to see beyond what is within our fields of vision. Once our eyes were opened to the possibilities and to what exists beyond the comfort of this university, it is difficult to stop asking questions. Where are we now? Where are we going? And the most relevant question we all face now: what does it truly mean to be called an Iskolar ng Bayan?

Is it about having the courage to go out on the streets and to demand for justice? Is it about the grades we got? Is it about academic freedom and the liberty to speak our minds? It’s impossible to say that we’ve formulated an encompassing definition during our four to six years in this institution. The definition of an “Iskolar ng Bayan” should be fulfilled and justified even more so when we step out of this university.

Honor and excellence are only the first part of the equation. The second part is character. The third is purpose. What will we do once we march out of this university? Who will we allow ourselves to become? Will we become the boy or the tree?

On this soil we are rooted. This is where we have grown. But it is time to let our branches stretch beyond UP, and it is my deepest hope that we become just like The Giving Tree.

I read somewhere that your calling lies in the intersection of what the world needs and what you love doing. Whatever course you’ve accomplished, I sincerely hope your heart is in it. If it is not, have the courage to go after your passion. Never settle.

One of the things I’ve learned from shifting from one course to another is that there are no substitutes for dreams. Whatever dream that may be, make it mean something to others.

As future or current media practitioners, write or shoot the Filipino experience. No act is too small because seeds grow where they are planted. So go, contribute to the world through what we have and what we can do, in the best way that we know how. We can’t all be trees in the forest. Some of us have to be paper, furniture, apples, foundations, or maybe even become seeds again.

So I pose this question once again: what does it mean to be an Iskolar ng Bayan? It’s different for each one of us. But let this be our common denominator: our desire to share the fruits of our dreams, as unconditionally as the way the tree exhausted itself for others.

Let me conclude with an expression of gratitude for all the people who have helped us grow into the trees that we are now.

To the CMC staff and administration, thank you for maintaining our college. To our graduation committee and the CMC student council, thank you for your hard work, dedication, and service.

To the people who’ve come and go, thank you for passing by.

To our respective crews and organizations, thank you for helping us complete our theses. Thank you for being our second homes. To my U.P. Cinema and Tinig ng Plaridel family, thank you for showing me where I belong.

To our friends, thank you for the support and the battle scars we’ve shared. As Taylor Swift once said, “This is the worthwhile fight”.

To our mentors, teachers, and thesis advisers, thank you for the knowledge you’ve imparted to us. Thank you for the answers to our questions, and more importantly, for the questions you made us ask ourselves.

One of the most memorable lessons I learned in film school came from Professor Emeritus Nicanor Tiongson, who once explained in our Film Theory class that when you come out of the cinema, you must have, at the very least, learned a little bit more about what it means to be human. Thank you, U.P., for being the cinema we watched and played a part in.

To our parents, for being our very own trees, and for all the sacrifices and headaches we’ve put you through. Thank you for letting us grow.

To my mom and dad, my first and greatest teachers, thank you for teaching me how to dream and for always being there, especially in college – from the time I came running out of Palma Hall, crying because I thought I failed the UPCAT, to the three hours spent printing and binding my thesis. This is for you.

And finally, to whatever Higher Power you believe in up there, our sincerest thank You’s. None of this would have been possible without You.

The Giving Tree ends with the boy’s return. Old and tired, he comes back to the tree, and the boy tells the tree that he simply wants to rest. The tree, ever so giving, offers what’s left of herself– a stump. The boy sits on the stump. And guess what?

The tree was happy.

Fellow graduates, as we reflect on the hardships and victories we underwent during our stay in UP, I hope that you realize and bring to life the most important lesson of The Giving Tree: the tree grew in order to give more. It grew and became more than a tree; it became a house, a boat, a companion.

Let us never stop growing, so we will never stop giving, and vice versa. Our college is called the College of Mass Communication, meaning it is now our job to reach out to people through what we produce, whether in words, in pictures, or in moving images.

Again, congratulations CMC 2015 graduates! It is my deepest hope that like the tree, we become selfless enough to give as much of ourselves away. Happiness and fulfillment do not come from being complete. They come from knowing that we have helped make others whole. Thank you. – Rappler.com


Patricia Nabong recently delivered this valedictory address at her college graduation at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. She is the lone summa cum laude graduate from the College of Mass Communication, Batch 2014-15. Patricia also served as a Mover during Rappler’s #PopeFrancisPH coverage.  

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