To Ms. Maria Ressa, I apologize. In your final words in yesterday’s commencement speech you told us to “sleep well tonight. Dream. Wake up tomorrow. Make it happen.” I apologize because I slept well, dreamt, yet I woke up with the lack of strength to follow through. I know you did not mean for your words to be taken literally, but I cannot help but feel disappointed in myself.
These past few weeks, speakers from various fields, have told us, AdMU 2015 graduates, to find our place, change the world, to set it on fire. And yet, I woke up this morning with nothing but a feeling of fear and dread in my heart. The type of fear that paralyzes us when we most need to move, to take that first step towards achieving all that they ask of us. It is an overwhelming feeling. Which leads me to ponder all these messages. Our worlds right now are at a crossroads where everything we have come to know and love in the last four years is rapidly transforming. It is ironic that we are called to be instruments of change at a time when our own lives are changing so much. I have never been so frightened in my entire life.
To Ms. Ressa and all the other speakers, thank you for your inspirational messages. It will no doubt drive us to make a big difference one day, in the distant tomorrow when we finally have the ability to do so. But for the near future, I hope we had gotten advice. For the next few days, weeks, even months of our struggle to face the real world, I wish someone had told us how to handle it all. I wish someone had told us to “take it easy.” “Breathe.” Because that seems to be the best course of action for us right now.
We tend to romanticize our lives. I, myself, belong to this generation that dreams big, bigger than anyone else before us. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s the natural tendency for a lot of people and the default hard-wiring of some of us. The Ateneo education contributes a lot to this mentality. Our years of philo and theo have left us asking the big questions: “Who am I?” “What does it mean to be human?” “What is my place in the world?” “How can I be a person for Others?” And though our brand of humanities reminds us to ground everything in the realities of everyday life, we cannot help but be stuck in the grand, theoretical world of transcendence, love, justice. We were asked to stand on the hill. And from that height, we saw the world. We learned about being human from that unique and privileged vantage point. Perhaps why Ateneans tend to romanticize their lives. Up on the hill, it is easy to see your place down below. It is easy to see that point in the world where you want to be. And looking at that dot from up there, we tend to ignore all that is in between. All that we must go through. Down from the hill, it will be infinitely more difficult to find that little dot. Down from the hill is an overwhelming sense of confusion, the loss of the privileged vantage point. Now we must struggle, day by day, dot per dot, to find that marked point we saw from up above. And that’s why I had hoped for someone to tell us to “take it one step at a time,” to “relax.”
We are far from our dreams. At this very moment, I can feel the distance. I dream of becoming a writer for TV and film one day. Looking at my essays, my attempts at fiction, and even this blog right now, I know I’m a long way to go. There is much room for improvement but the challenge — and admittedly the frustration — comes from the scale of things we have to go through. We are all guilty of imagining our successful selves this early on. The dream version is a stark contrast to our present reality. I am light-years away from that Oscar or that Emmy. I don’t even know if I wrote that last sentence right. For anyone who feels as paralyzed as me by the enormity of the challenges that lay ahead, I’ll reiterate what I constantly try to tell myself. “Take it easy.” We often mistake drive as that unstoppable force that empowers us to break through that heavy wall, when it is, in fact, the stubborn hope that keeps us alive as we struggle with the frustration of chiselling away, brick by brick. It’s not the bellow of that marine corps officer, violently urging you on. It’s the sweet and gentle voice of Bobby Guev, telling you “O! Okay ka lang?! Sige lang! Kaya mo ‘yan!”
There were so many inspirational words, us graduates, were lucky to have listened to. And although they were moving, they were also quite overwhelming. To be completely honest, I think of my place in the world as much as I think about that leftover grilled quarter-pounder I’ve been saving for breakfast. The romantic and the mundane often intertwine in our daily lives. The struggle, my struggle, our struggle is to keep the former from leaving us frustrated with the latter. I know the daily grind won’t be pretty. It will be far from that fulfilling life we were told about in school but I know it is part of it. I know it’s something we have to go through.
Fellow graduates, I speak to you not as a Maria Ressa, a Fr. Jett Villarin, or any other successful person out there. I’m probably worse off than you when it comes to working hard and actually achieving something, and far more romantic with my dreams of the future. I just wanted to tell all of you that I know what the struggle is like. I know how paralyzing the fear and frustration can be. We all know we can dream but our challenge is to stay awake when the night is not as glorious as we thought it would be. After four years of working our assess off in college, we must now face a more difficult task of venturing off into the real world. We, somehow, have to keep ourselves sane. To remind ourselves to breathe. To take it easy and relax. Take it one step at a time. We still have a lot to go through but I know we’ll all make it.
(here are some pictures of our beautiful campus that helped all of us relax during our hell weeks)