[OPINION] Celebrating safe spaces and diversity in schools

Ralph Jervis M. Bangan
'It was during my college journey that I fully accepted who I really am'

(This is the valedictory address of Ralph Jervis M. Bangan during the commencement exercises of the Far Eastern University on Tuesday, June 26.)

As a child, I admired people with great intellectual capacity. I was so obsessed with the idea of becoming like my relatives and classmates who excelled in academics.

After every quarter when I was in elementary and high school, I listed names of honor students, arranged according to rank. But here is the catch: I was on top of that fictional record, which allowed me to become our batch’s first honor – at least in my imagination. I did this to satisfy one of my daydream-binges: that is, to build a character that was identical to the people I admired.

I carried this with me until I entered FEU when I was 16. I was a small-time probinsyano who was constantly in need of family support. I must say that the start was so difficult because I had to be accustomed to what they call the “Manila life,” a life of combined liberty and danger. (READ: Be brave, be great, and be good: A valedictory address)

Everything was a culture shock for me. I was not used to how things worked in Manila; the dirt, the noise, the bad smell, and the heavy traffic were just too much for a probinsyano to bear. Each passing day seemed like torture. I longed for my family, for my friends, and for the humble town that shaped my identity. I felt isolated. I endured a suffering that was fairly greater than academic breakdowns.

Loneliness was just so powerful. It made me ask myself: why am I doing this? Is this even worth it? Am I capable of becoming like my relatives and classmates whom I admired? I was about to lose hope, but FEU was there to provide me a shelter. It became my new home, along with all of you, my fellow graduates.

I believe I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that FEU opened an avenue for us to experience and to learn a whole lot of new things.

Aside from eye bags, sleepless nights, anxieties, dreadful exams, and countless sabaw moments, FEU gave us friends who come from different circumstances. It made us value the importance of diversity. It had been – and will always be – a constant reminder that living with integrity gives us honor; that optimism builds fortitude; that effort helps us reap excellence; and, that doing good is worthy and it makes us upright. (READ: Words of wisdom: 7 memorable grad speeches)

But more than this, FEU offered a safe space that allowed us to explore our capabilities based on what or how we feel about ourselves. It became an area where we can genuinely express who we are without thinking of what other people might say.

FEU presented itself as a sanctuary of free-expression. It showed us that our circumstances do not matter because there will always be a haven – whether a family, a friend, or an institution – that is there to embrace us completely.

It was during my college journey that I fully accepted who I really am: isang mataba at maingay na bakla na kaya rin palang tumayo sa sarili niyang paa; na kaya rin palang maging siya at totoo sa sarili niya.

Ultimately, FEU showed us that we are not capable of becoming like the people we look up to. Instead, life in FEU gave us our greatest challenge – and that is to become our own best version… to accept ourselves completely. We have our own identity that is distinct from others. Now, I do not need to put my name on top of a fictional record to be a copycat of my relatives and former classmates who excelled in academics. FEU already did it for me.

We could turn our imagination… our fiction… into reality. We just have to overcome our personal struggles and learn how to accept our identity, because by doing these, we become happy. And by being happy, we get to inspire others. And by inspiring others, we create a bigger and a brighter future for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, and of course, for our nation. (READ: Antonio Carpio NCPAG 2018 graduation speech)

We must keep in mind that doing good to others is not an act of kaplastikan or pagpapakitang-tao; that siding with the truth makes us neither Dilawan nor ka-DDS; that expressing ourselves based on our sexual orientation and gender identity is not a sin and is not an act of kalandian; that dressing simply or choosing budget meals does not make us mahirap, hampas-lupa, or promdi.

Our identity should be anchored on who we really are and on what we believe in; it should not be grounded on what society expects us to be. We are a Wonderwoman, a Superman, a Darna, or a Cardo Dalisay of our own making. Yes, we have countless challenges and struggles, but as quintessential heroes, we can end up winning against our adversaries. Our FEU journey taught us to be brave – to keep moving forward courageously without forgetting who we are. We must show that Tamaraws are like unicorns – we have horns but we can also have wings.

At this point, my fellow graduates, it is important to recognize the people who helped us surmount our struggles and who supported us to become who we are today.

To our parents and family: thank you for being there when we almost gave up. Thank you for reminding us to do our best when we said na “di na namin kaya.” Thank you for offering us love, comfort, and care.

To FEU and to our dear faculty members: thank you for teaching us beyond what we should know. We were able to discover ourselves because of all of you!

To our treasured friends and batchmates: thank you for the 4 long years of friendship and love. May we always remember to dream, believe, survive. Starstruck!

Again, good morning, and congratulations to everyone! – Rappler.com

Ralph Jervis M. Bangan graduated summa cum laude in Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and one of 5 valedictorians of Far Eastern University (FEU) Class 2018.