University of the Philippines

[New School] A valedictory address that won’t inspire you

Val Anghelito Llamelo

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[New School] A valedictory address that won’t inspire you

Nico Villarete/Rappler

'I don't want my story to be your source of motivation. I am not a role model. I firmly believe that no one should have to endure the same structural barriers I faced...'

The following is the valedictory speech of Val Anghelito R. Llamelo, valedictorian of University of the Philippines Diliman’s class of 2023. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

The inspirational and motivational types of valedictory addresses are the common types we hear during this graduation season. This time, however, I wish to deviate from that norm and standard, so I chose not to inspire you with my speech today. But first, let me tell you my story.

At an early age of 18, I began to feel and understand my family’s financial instability, so I started to earn my own money by working for a BPO company as a call center agent. At 19, I juggled two jobs, as a marketing assistant and tutor in learning centers, to support not only my academic needs but also those of my family, as the COVID-19 pandemic had caused both my father and older brother to temporarily lose their jobs. At the age of 20, I decided to be the breadwinner of my family because it had always been my dream for my father to retire, as I know how hard it was for him to work as an OFW since I was young. I did all of these while studying, and now, at 22, I am very proud to say that I am the first UP graduate in my family, having received the university’s highest academic distinction.

As you can see, my life and academic journey is similar to those that are frequently featured in the news and social media. Kwento ng isang mahirap na estudyante na nangarap, nagpursige sa buhay at pag-aaral, at ngayo’y magtatapos na sa kolehiyo. Taon-taon na lang hindi mawawala ang ganitong uri ng kwento. Parati tayong may mababasa na trending posts na “Tricycle Driver, napagtapos ang tatlong anak sa kolehiyo,” “Mag-aaral mula sa IP community, nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral,” at marahil ngayo’y mapapasama na ang aking kwento na “Working student at anak ng dating OFW, nagtapos bilang summa cum laude sa UP.” These headlines and narratives draw a lot of public attention and praise because, aside from being inspiring, the society we live in today finds it “unusual” or “surprising” that a poor and marginalized student graduated from college, and sometimes, with flying colors.

In the past, I used to celebrate this “success” like others, but the privilege of having a UP education taught me to question why such a fundamental human right as education, which must be granted to each of us, is not a natural occurrence – na tila hindi pangkaraniwan sa paningin ng iba na may nakapagtapos na isang mahirap.

To all who are listening to me, especially those who find themselves in similar situations as mine — those who are juggling work and studies at the same time, acting as the breadwinner of their family at a young age — I urge you not merely to be inspired by my success and story and wonder, “Paano niya ‘yun nagawa? Paano siya naging summa cum laude sa kabila non?” I feel uncomfortable answering those questions because I do not want to be your inspiration. I don’t want my story to be your source of motivation. I am not a role model. I firmly believe that no one should have to endure the same structural barriers I faced just to get a diploma and reach where I am today. My journey and story should not be a standard for success, but a testament to the need to dismantle the barriers we have in our society so that we can create an equitable path for all.

Rather, what I want you to feel is to feel discontented, frustrated, and even disgusted towards a system that has forced students like me to work twice or thrice as hard just simply because the current system makes obtaining a college degree seem like an unattainable feat for many of us. I want you to be disgruntled enough with the system to the point that we demand for something better and not settle for less. To yearn for a system where working students, Indigenous People (IP), and individuals from impoverished families have equal chances to finish their degrees. Because as long as stories similar to mine persist and continue to be “surprising news” for others, it speaks volumes about the prevailing reality we live in today where access to quality education remains a privilege, dependent on one’s socioeconomic status, rather than a right that is accessible to all.

Siguro sa puntong ito, napapatanong na ang ilan sa inyo, ano bang pinagsasabi nitong si Val? Ano bang punto niya? Ang tema ng ating pagtatapos ngayong araw ay “Matatag at maasahang serbisyo publiko sa gitna ng pagbabago at kawalang katiyakan.” But before we delve into the question of how we can establish and promote a resilient and dedicated public service, a more important question that we must answer first is: “For whom do we dedicate this service?” By answering this question, we can lay the foundation for understanding the core purpose and beneficiaries of our collective efforts in public service. Masasagot lamang natin ang tanong na ito kung mayroon tayong kamalayan sa inekwalidad o hindi pagkakapantay-pantay na nanunuot sa lipunang ating ginagawalan. Dahil kahit na lahat tayo ay nakakaranas ng pagbabago at ng kawalan ng katiyakan sa oras na may kinakaharap tayong suliraning panlipunan, hindi natin maikakaila na magkakaiba ang paghihirap na ating nararanasan, at dahil ‘yan sa uri o “class” na nating kinabibilangan.

VALEDICTORIAN. Val Anghelito R. Llamelo, valedictorian of University of the Philippines Diliman’s class of 2023, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in public administration. Photo courtesy of Llamelo

Mahalagang parati nating isinasaalang-alang ang mga aspetong panlipunan gaya ng inekwalidad dahil ito ang paraan upang magkaroon tayo ng kamalayan sa iba’t-ibang konteksto, posisyon, at uri ng mamamayan na ating pinaglilingkuran para nang sa gayon ay makapagtaguyod tayo ng isang serbisyong publiko na hindi lang matatag at maasahan kundi may malasakit din sa tunay at higit na mga nangangailangan.

Upang mas maisakonteksto ito, magandang halimbawa ang COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 affects everyone regardless of class, the existing disparities and differences in our socioeconomic status influence how we experience its effects and how we deal with its consequences. In education, when we transitioned from face-to-face to online learning, not everyone had the privilege and resources to meet the demands and requirements of online learning because the harsh reality is that the middle and upper classes have better access to technology and other resources, while some of us who come from low-income families find it difficult to acquire the devices we need such as laptops, computers, and stable internet connection. With this digital divide, we can also expect significant differences in educational outcomes, which contributes to the perpetuation of existing class inequalities, as privileged students continue to flourish and thrive amidst this change while underprivileged students are more likely to fall behind.

At dahil ganito ang sistemang mayroon tayo, napipilitan ang ilan sa atin na kumayod upang makalasap ng kaunting pribilehiyo. Kaya nga minsan napapaisip ako na siguro kung hindi ko pinilit ang sarili ko na magtrabaho habang nag-aaral ay wala ako ngayon dito sa inyong harapan. Hindi ako magiging summa cum laude kung nagtiis ako na gamitin ‘yung nag-iisa naming laptop na sobrang lag at naka-dextrose na. Alam niyo ba ‘yun? Yung kapag tinanggal mo sa saksakan o magalaw mo lang nang kaunti, mamamatay siya? Fortunately, I was able to save enough to buy my devices for my college education. We know, however, that this is not the case for everyone. In reality, millions of students lack the resources they need for distance learning. So, instead of pushing these students to do what I did, what we should do is to demand and advocate for better public service in the education sector that will address this apparent inaccessibility. The same can be said for other aspects and sectors of our society.

Sa health sector, bukod sa pagbibigay bansag sa ating mga mga doktor, nars, at iba pang health workers bilang “bayani” dahil sa kanilang dedikasyon at malasakit na tumulong sa mga may sakit lalo na noong kasagsagan ng pandemya, bakit hindi natin sila bigyan ng sapat na pasahod at wastong benepisyo? Bukod sa pagkilala sa mga OFWs bilang “mga bagong bayani,” bakit hindi natin mas palawakin ang oportunidad dito sa ating bansa at itaas ang minimum wage upang hindi na kailanganin ng mga magulang natin na mangibangbayan? Sa usapin ng siyensa at teknolohiya, bukod sa pagbibigay karangalan sa ating mga scientists at inventors sa mga mahahalagang kontribyusyon nila sa kani-kanilang larangan, bakit hindi natin din sila bigyan ng sapat na pondo at maayos na pasilidad? Sa tuwing hinahagupit tayo ng sakuna, unos, kalamidad, o may kinakaharap tayong malalaking problema, bukod sa pagbibigay pugay sa katatagan o pagiging “resilient” ng mga Pinoy dahil nakagawa sila ng paraan para makabangon gamit gamit ang sarili nilang mga paa, bakit hindi tayo magmalasakit at bigyan sila ng tulong na kanilang kinakailangan?

Dahil kung puro papuri at paghanga lang ang gagawin natin sa mga napagtagumpayang paghihirap ng ilan nating kababayan, binibigyan natin ng pagkakataon ang mga pulitikong ating niluklok sa pwesto na takasan ang kanilang obligasyon at pananagutan sa ating bayan na paunlarin ang buhay ng mga mamamayan at bigyang solusyon ang mga problemang matagal ng kinakaharap ng ating bayan.

Fellow graduates, many of us will serve in public service and some of us may become the next Supreme Court Justice, members of the House of Representatives, senators, or even president. Huwag sana natin tularan ang mga pulitikong pinanday ng UP ngunit mas inuuna ang sarili bago ang bayan. As we embark on the next chapter of our lives, I do not encourage you to always be optimistic, that when we look at the struggles of our fellow Filipinos, we always look for the silver lining, because in reality, not all situations can be viewed through the lens of a half-full glass. Sometimes, looking at the glass half-empty is the better thing to do because it allows us to see the bigger picture and understand the systemic challenges faced by many. Using this half-empty perspective, it enables us to recognize the systemic root causes of our problems and challenge the status quo that perpetuates them.

Kung noon ang sagot ng marami sa atin sa tanong na kung bakit tayo pumasok sa UP ay “upang maiahon ang pamilya sa kahirapan,” sa paglabas natin ng unibersidad nawa’y ang bagong layunin natin ay baguhin ang sistemang ginagawang mahirap ang karamihan hindi dahil sa hindi sila nagsusumikap o nagtitiyaga sa buhay kundi dahil araw araw silang pinagkakaitan ng pagkakataon at oportunidad na umahon.

Saan man tayo dalhin matapos ang araw na ito, bitbit nawa natin ang lahat ng ating natutuhan hindi lang mula sa ating mga kaguruan kundi pati na rin sa iba pang kawani ng unibersidad, ating mga naging kaklase, mga naging kaibigan at pamilya, at higit sa lahat, ang bayang ating nais pagsilbihan. Patuloy nating palawakin ang ating kaalaman at karanasan sa pamamagitan ng paglubog sa masa at pakikiba sa kani-kanilang laban. Samahan natin sila sa pagkalampag sa mga politiko sa tuwing ang mga ito’y nagbibingibingihan at imulat sa mga panahong nagbubulagbulagan.

Ang malaking hamon na iiwan ko sa atin, bilang mga lingkod bayan, ay ang magtaguyod ng serbisyo publiko at pamamahala na mulat sa tunay na ugat ng problema ng ating bansa at paghihirap ng mga Filipino. Marahil iniisip siguro ng ilan sa inyo na parang imposible ito lalo na sa ilalim ng administrasyong Marcos na karamihan ang mga nasa taas ay may mga bahid ng korapsyon. Ngunit ito ang dahilan kung bakit mas pinili kong huwag magbigay inspirasyon ngayong araw, dahil mula sa kwento ko at iba pang kwento ng katatagan at paghihirap ng mga Filipino ay manaig sa atin ang pagkamuhi sa kasalukuyang sistemang pumapabor lang sa iilan, upang sa gayon ay patuloy tayong maghangad at lumaban para sa isang kinabukasan kung saan ang kakayahan na makapagtapos ng pag-aaral ay may katiyakan.

Mga Iskolar ng Bayan, tuloy lang ang ating laban!

Maraming salamat at pagbati sa inyong lahat! —

1 comment

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  1. ET

    First of all, congratulations to Val Anghelito R. Llamelo, valedictorian of University of the Philippines Diliman’s class of 2023. His unique approach of “not inspiring” his listeners/readers has indeed achieved the opposite – he has inspired them in an indirect way. Given our present social reality, his mission: ” … patuloy tayong maghangad at lumaban para sa isang kinabukasan kung saan ang kakayahan na makapagtapos ng pag-aaral ay may katiyakan” is gargantuan. Good luck and God bless.

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