Be brave, be great, and be good: A valedictory address

Syrine Gladys C. Podadera
'Be brave, be great, and be good. We do not know what we will encounter with each new turn but we should not be afraid to take the next step, because we are not alone'

Most of us love to hear success stories – stories about ordinary people who happily found their purpose in life.

But success is not always what it seems. It is like an iceberg. What we see on the outside is just the summit. Often times, we are blinded by awards and recognitions and we fail to see its biggest and most important part. But if we look closely, underneath the fame and glory are the hardships, struggles, and failures, and we will realize the climb to the summit of success is never easy.

I have always known what I wanted in life. But inevitable circumstances have made me realize that sometimes, the path I have laid out for myself is not the one meant for me. I was 14 when my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system. My mom couldn’t take her medicines because of allergic reactions so her condition aggravated.

When I was in high school, I assisted her in every bath, I spoonfed her and I also learned how to insert a catheter. At 16, I was already brushing my mom’s teeth. A week after my 18th birthday, she passed away. On that day, I didn’t just lose my mother, I also lost my purpose. But life is quite ironic because during the darkest times of our lives we have the biggest chance of seeing the light. I realized that we would never be strong if we’re always happy and successful. Sometimes, our most painful experience will turn out to be our life’s biggest lesson.

Think of life as a maze, yes, just like that one in The Maze Runner with all its twists and turns and dead-ends. From the moment we open our eyes until the day we close them for the last time, our main goal is to survive the maze and find the purpose of our existence. We came in this world with no instruction manual, which is exactly the reason why committing mistakes and experiencing failures are okay, and sometimes necessary. I’m not sure how to survive life without getting lost in the maze. But I am certain that life is bearable as long as we remember these three characteristics:

Be brave

First, be brave. Very familiar, right? These two words are easy to remember, but very difficult to live by. I know, because this is what I have been telling myself every day from the moment my mom passed away until today.

Think about your most painful experience – maybe you also lost a parent, or your parents separated, or your boyfriend/girlfriend cheated on you, or you are suffering from depression and self-doubt, or maybe your long-time crush in college turned out to be gay. At one point, agony wounded and left us with scars. Truth is, we can hate life all we want for all our failures and pains but life? Life goes on no matter how hurt we’ve been.

The words of our University founder, Dr Nicanor Reyes Sr is not exclusive to UAAP games. More than a chant and a statement shirt, “Be brave” is a reminder that giving up should never be an option. There are no success stories told without struggles and failures.

We do not have to see the entire way, we just have to be brave and have faith that there would be enough light for the next step.

Be great 

Second, be great.

Most of us equate greatness with academic excellence. I used to think so, too.

But excellence does not always mean being the best among the rest. Sometimes, it just means being a better you. I used to be an insecure freshman from Siargao who kept on comparing myself with other people. When my mom died, I was a hopeless mess.

I hated Parkinson’s disease but instead of breaking down, I used my situation as an inspiration. I created a Facebook page called Parkinson’s Diaries for families and patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s around the world to share their stories.

Time has healed my wounds and I used my scars to help other people heal by letting them know that they are not alone. I moved on from my hatred and tread the path of “greatness” by becoming a better person. We have our own stories and journeys. We have our own definitions of excellence and FEU has taught us to always be true to ourselves no matter what and who we encounter.

We should not unnecessarily compare our self with other people because our mazes have been designed to make us the better version of ourselves. We will bloom at our own time, at our own pace. We will become great and we can start it today by believing that we can be. 

Be good 

Lastly, be good.

Success and failure have the power to change a person. We have the tendency to be too proud and selfish when we reach the top and we might become bitter and desperate when we fall and reach the bottom. There was a point in my life when I didn’t know what I believed in anymore but I didn’t allow my pain to destroy me.

I remained true to my values and I did my best to do good. There will be trying times in our lives that will make us question our values. We will get hurt and we might compromise our beliefs because nothing is going according to plan.

But always remember that when we have nothing left, the more we should hold on to what we believe in. We will only survive life’s biggest blows if we know what we are living for.

Be brave, be great, and be good. We do not know what we will encounter with each new turn, but we should not be afraid to take the next step, because we are not alone. Our journey in college has been fortified by the constant encouragement and support from the following people:

To all our friends: We comforted each other after every failing grade and celebrated when we passed our thesis defense. We made it through the years of hardships and stress because we chose to stay and be brave together.

To our teachers and mentors: We thank you because we have learned not just concepts but real-life experiences that made us the better version of our selves.

To our parents, guardians, and families: Thank you for all your sacrifices. What we have achieved today is our gift to you.

To our Creator: Thank you for Your constant guidance. We may not understand Your will all the time, but we know Your plans will always be better than ours.

To my Mama: Thank you for holding on until I became strong enough to let you go.

Class of 2016: Let us remember what FEU has taught us, what FEU means in each one of us. Fortitude: Be brave. Excellence: Be great. And Uprightness: Be good. There are new challenges that will test our courage and faith. We will get hurt and fresh wounds would appear.

Just like in the past, these wounds will once again turn to scars – scars that will remind us how strong we’ve been. I have come to realize that the scars we got from our bittersweet experiences have the power to heal ourselves and other people. We are beautiful for choosing to go on even when we have been broken.

The future is uncertain but when we are on the brink of giving up, we should always remember that those who fall down the hardest are also the ones who bounce back the highest.

Thank you very much. – Rappler.com 

Syrine Podadera graduated valedictorian from the Far Eastern University, batch 2016.