Rev. Fr. Orlando Cantillon, Ms. Lolit Evangelista, Grade School Principal, members of the Directors Council, grade school faculty and staff, proud parents, and most of all, graduates.
It feels so good to be back in Pateros Catholic School, my Alma Mater. The school has grown and improved in leaps and bounds. I return an alumna proud of PCS’s humble beginnings and evolutionary history.
To tell you the truth, this is my first time to share an inspirational message in a commencement rites and yes, I am nervous. But I would be lying if I tell you that I did not dream of this. I just did not expect that it would be Pateros Catholic School who would first invite me to stand and to deliver. Somehow, the task of writing a graduation message became doubly challenging. When I was preparing for this, I scraped and scoured the Internet for samples and models to follow. In the end, I realized that what I needed to do was to dig deep into my experiences as a grade school student of Pateros Catholic School (PCS) to do this well, if not, make it memorable at least.
I graduated in 1986.
When People Power broke out in February of that year, I was worried of ever graduating from grade school. I looked forward moving up to the high school department of PCS. The EDSA Revolution of 1986 posed possibilities of change and reform on Philippine government and politics. Yet, there I was, glued to the TV, praying anxiously for People Power to end so that I could go back to school, finish sixth grade and graduate. All that mattered to me at that point was the milestone of graduation day. Yes, at twelve years old I only thought of myself.
There were two things I remember on my graduation day. Bishop Socrates Villegas who was our guest speaker and one sentence from his speech. At that time, he was still a young priest, good looking and very amiable. He studied in PCS but entered San Carlos Seminary at the start of his sophomore year in high school. One line from his lengthy speech struck me -- “Write your name in the hearts of men, and you will never be forgotten.”
What did it mean to me? Let me tell you this story.
In my early years in PCS, my goal was to always make it to the Top Ten of the class. My parents and I never came to school for recognition day nor did they put a medal round my neck. I, however, made sure to study well; to ace every quiz and perfect every exam; to submit projects on time; to complete expected requirements and get a perfect attendance despite my constant asthma attacks. I read a lot and spent great amounts of time advanced studying. I followed the topics to be discussed every quarter. I was a certified nerd. A geek. My grades defined me. This was how I measured success and achievement. I enjoyed competition too. Many times I joined singing and oratorical contests. I relished the thrill of victory. I basked at the glory afforded by superiority. In fact, I became conceited and a downright smug. I had few friends. Relationships and friendships were secondary to me.
Then, in grade five I failed Math. I was devastated. I belonged to the pilot class under the class advisory of Mrs. Llilian Cruz. For a student in the star section, the pilot class, to fail in one subject was a living nightmare. My Math teacher, Mr. Bautista, was uncompromising. A 74 is a 74. I didn’t know which was worse: the shame of a red failing mark on my immaculate report card or the disappointment I gave my parents. More than the external conflict, the embarrassment I endured among my peers and the frustration I gave my parents, the thought of attending summer class in Math was the real bummer. I had no choice but to face the music. The following school year, I was sectioned in the hetero class.
Failure has a companion -- loneliness. Then again, it has benefits as well (Rowling, 2008) I found myself alone on many occasions during my grade six days. This led me to do three things: one) I read more voraciously than ever; two) I kept a diary and wrote in it on a regular basis; three) and I prayed more to the Blessed Virgin Mary. My days began with visits to the Blessed Virgin Mary inside San Roque Church. It was in PCS where I learned and caught the values of Marian devotion.
On graduation day that school year, as I listen to Bishop Villegas, I reached back to the many years I spent in grade school, success and failures all. Then I understood what he meant with those words.
Write your name in the hearts of men and you will never be forgotten.
It was an invitation to choose what is good over what is evil. It was an admonition to be compassionate towards others. It was an opportunity to exercise kindness, patience and generosity. It was a way to follow the path that Jesus has paved for us.
In the years that followed, praying the rosary became a habit that opened many images of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mother. These images helped me establish a personal relationship with God in the ensuing years.
My dear graduates, I was not converted into a saint by that experience. The truth is, trials and temptations came my way like a rain of arrows. Over the years, I have failed and succeeded, succeeded and failed. I fell many times on my knees, a position that is so ideal to speak and encounter God. If you find yourself in this position, thank God for it is a call to prayer. God is asking you to speak to Him. The generous and loving God listens and hears our prayers. Never hesitate to lift up all your dreams, hopes, even wants, worries and wishes to Him.
Pray to the Blessed Virgin Mother as well. I would like to believe that she taught Jesus how to pray. Jesus is God, but He is also man. He had to learn to converse with God somehow. Boy, did Jesus pray! He prayed every moment He could! He prayed alone, in the desert, in the mountain of Olives, among his disciples. Mother Mary was instrumental on His prayerful disposition. A disposition he carried on till the day He died on the cross. In His last breath, He was listening and speaking to God till the will was done. This is the beautiful thing about our religion. It is showing us the great possibility of being close and intimate with our God through prayer. And Mother Mary intercedes and leads us to knowing God more through the Holy Rosary, the Novenas and the many songs we sing in praise and in love.
Jesus experienced being a teenager too. When He was twelve years old, He was brought to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. It was in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph lost Him. His parents found Him in the temple where teachers, doctors and priests gathered around Him. They were impressed by Him because at such a young age, His wisdom and knowledge was far beyond scholars or magi. On the one hand, Mary and Joseph were worried to death. It had been three days since Jesus had disappeared.
Teachings in the Catholic doctrine reveal to us this prophetic destiny of Jesus. Indeed, He is the Messiah that God sent to save man. That early, non-believers were already aplenty. That story from Jesus’ adolescence is a foreshadowing to the life He is meant to lead in the future.
But I invite you to look at the human aspect of this particular story. Let’s imagine and put our imagination to good use. Jesus was twelve years old at the time the story happened. The Holy Family was out on a “fiesta”. They probably had a grand time! For Jesus, it must have been an exhilarating experience that He wandered off, away from His parents. In the scripture, Luke narrates that Mary and Joseph rode the caravan leaving Jesus behind. When they realized He was missing, they went back to Jerusalem. When they found Him in the temple, Mary expressed how worried they were.
To this, Jesus replied, “How did you find me? Did you not know that I am in my Father’s House?”
Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. How could they? They were worried parents. All they wanted was to find Jesus. Period.
On the contrary, Jesus was not in panic mode because He was doing the plan and the design of God the Father. He was not out in the streets. He was not in a bar or a club. He was not in the Jerusalem Hall of Justice. He was in His Father’s house, a place where he belonged.
Since Jesus is also man, my dear graduates, parents, teachers and administrators, friends and guests, like Jesus, we all belong to God the Father.
Having said this, my special messages to you, Batch 2010, are these.
First, you are not alone. You will find that high school can be wonderful, loathsome, joyous, painful, complicated, common, and all the extreme adjectives put together. As you go through this roller-coaster ride, God is with you. He will send people and situations in your way to help you, to love you, to make you see that God’s presence is most alive in your life.
Life is indeed a roller-coaster ride. One day you are up. The next you are down. But God is sitting beside you in that roller-coaster cart or box. He is holding you firmly at times when the cart or box is driving down a slope. His arms are raised up in happiness when the cart or box is climbing up hill. In peaks or in valleys, hold on to God, dear graduates. You belong to Him.
Second, God gave you talents. Know what your talents are. Don’t burry your talents in the ground. It will not grow. Don’t hide them or cover them like an unused lamp. Let your light shine! You are meant to shine because God willed it. Accept your gifts and skills. Use them to make this world a better place. In your own little way, you can impact the lives of others. So if you ever get lost, your parents will know where to find you because you are using your God given skills, sharing your gifts and helping others.
Lastly, nurture friendships. Jesus had twelve. One betrayed Him. One denied Him three times and the other doubted Him. But the eleven were loyal ones. Good friends are hard to find. Choose them well.
To the parents of the graduating Batch of 2010, I congratulate you on the accomplishment of your children because it is also yours. Continue nurturing your children so that they will grow strong roots. The values and the strength of character you impart to your children are sturdy foundations. In time, your children will grow wings. Let them fly. Let them go! Entrust them to God! Our children are not ours to posses, but ours to empower.
To the administrators, staff and faculty of Pateros Catholic School, I wish you the best in pursuing the school’s VMG. You are partners of these parents who dream of raising upright Catholics. As an educator, I feel your joy in the school year that has ended. Consider this an accomplishment. Every school year completed is a feather in our cap. But let us remember that we are living in difficult and dangerous times. Therefore, the task of teaching and educating children should never fall below standards.
Congratulations to the graduating batch of 2010! Don’t let this day end without thanking the people who made your graduation possible. Do me a favor, please. Shake the hand of the person beside you. If he or she is a good friend, hug each other. Give one round of applause to your teachers and school administrators. Give one round of applause to your parents. Finally, clap your hands for God the Father, the source of all our strength and talents! He is the great provider.
These are all I have to say. Life is simple. Pray. Eat. And Love. Thank you for bearing with me. Good day to all. And God bless us!