Thoughts on a graduation

The following is my column for today at the op-ed section of Manila Standard Today.

TWICE a week, I roll up my sleeves, put on a serious countenance, and stand in front of a sea of faces whose expressions range from the utterly clueless, to the hopelessly bored, to the genuinely curious. In short, I teach. Despite my crazy schedule, teaching is something that I have refused to give up because I truly believe that every generation has a solemn responsibility to help mold succeeding generations. As a human resource management practitioner, I also believe that people in industry have no business complaining about the output of academe if they are not part of the crafting of solutions to the problems. I continue to rant, thus, I continue to teach.

Teaching still offers many psychological rewards despite these uncertain times. Seeing faces literally light up in the classroom as validation that, son of a gun, they finally got the solution to that vexing problem is still a continuing source of wonder that can sustain a teacher until, well, the next perplexing problem statement. Rubbing elbows with former students in some industry functions and embracing them as professional colleagues (never mind that you will forever be treated with a certain degree of reverence and will always be addressed as “sir”) is another.
But watching former students resplendent in their graduation gowns as they walk up the stage to receive their diplomas still tops the list among the most fulfilling moments in the life of any teacher. I found myself in that poignant situation last Saturday when I attended the graduation ceremonies of the college where I teach.

Graduations tug at the heartstrings of a teacher’s life. On one hand, there is that surge of pride that comes from the realization that no matter how insignificant one has contributed to another person’s growth. But on the other hand, it also brings to the surface that nagging question that every self-respecting teacher must confront at some point or another. It is the question that lurks in the deep recesses of our minds: Did I do enough not only to impart knowledge and skills, but more importantly, to help build character? This was a question that was on top of the mind among us teachers last Saturday, as abetted by valedictorian Yar Thant’s speech on behalf of his graduating class. I will get back to Yar Thant, his graduation speech, and the fascinating context of his speech in a while.

What got me into this reflective mood is the fact that recently, it has become very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a teacher’s main job description is to cover as comprehensively as possible the talking points contained in the course syllabus. Perhaps as a result of the stiff competition even among educational institutions, the focus of most instructional efforts has largely been on enhancing global competitiveness, often at the expense of other loftier educational goals.

As a consequence, we have become a country that produces tens of thousands of nurses and caregivers and yet very few are taking care of our sick, and there is a dearth of decent health services in the country. We have too many lawyers, yet the wheels of justice are clogged with the debris of the many injustices that litter our justice system. We have business graduates who can compute income and business taxes accurately up to the last decimal point, but who will most likely cheat on their taxes when they eventually put up their own businesses. We have graduates who can discuss the provisions of the Bill of Rights, but who think voting in elections is an unnecessary nuisance. We have graduates who can identify significant landmarks of Philippine geography, but will not stand in the way of some local government despot’s mad quest to demolish whatever little is left of our historical and architectural landmarks. We seem to be producing graduates who are trained to save the world, but do not know how nor possess the inclination to help their own country.

In short, if teachers are still doing such a great job in influencing minds and hearts, why are we in such a sorry mess as a country and as a people? This is a question that teachers must ask themselves because if there is one profession that holds the key to many of the solutions to the problems of this country, it is the teaching profession. Perhaps it is really time for teachers to reclaim the whole essence of what the profession is about. It is not just about imparting information, knowledge or skills. It is also about strengthening our collective conscience as a people.

To go back to the interesting sidelight about the class valedictorian’s speech, Yar Thant delivered his speech in straight Filipino. You are probably thinking: “Huh, so what, we converse in the language every day.” The big deal is that the guy is not even Filipino. He is Burmese, but he took the trouble to deliver his speech in the language of his host country. His enunciation of certain Filipino words was often hilarious and on many occasions, he had to repeat and restate some phrases for clarity. Still, most of those in the audience did not realize that he was a foreigner until he came to the part when he addressed his parents (who, he said, had no idea what he was talking about). From that point on, he had the audience at the palm of his hand as we savored with undisguised appreciation every mispronounced Filipino word.

Yar Thant talked about the difficulties and triumphs of a college student struggling to act as an adult at a time when most of our leaders are behaving like children. He acknowledged the hardships that parents had to suffer in order to provide a better life for their children. He paid tribute to the college, his teachers, and his friends. He articulated the optimism and fears of today’s generation of new entrants about a workplace that is getting more and more complex and competitive. In so doing, he affirmed that dreams and hopes, just like anxiety and fear, are indeed universal; and that that affection and celebration are concepts that defy all kinds of borders.

Graduations are indeed poignant occasions. But I think that more than anything, graduations are important reminders that whether we like it or not, generations give way to the next, and the world will continue with or without us. And so I will end this column by paying tribute to former students who have given me more than enough reason to be confident that regardless of our monumental mistakes as parents and teachers, this country will be in safer hands. Congratulations and good luck Aldous, Kent, Joanna, Czarina, Luigi, Michael, Karen, Aiza, Don, Xandre, Jay, Sheena, Gretchell and the rest of the graduating class of DLSU-CSB 2006. May your generation deliver this country from the morass it finds itself in today.


jef said…
I only wish that I had the chance to sit in your class and hear you teach. From the looks of it, your one hell of a teacher...

Continue being the light that shines brightly in the heart of your students.

"The world is moved not only by themighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."
Anonymous said…
Hello Bong.
This blog of yours once again touched a chord. Recently, I was asked to teach an undergrad course after years of being in research in this state university, and after years of frustration at seeing and experiencing the low priority given to R&D in this country. My accepting the offer was at first more of a "survival" move (not a career move), as researchers/scientists, no matter where and how hard we trained and what degree we are armed with, are treated like 2nd class citizens in a cash-strapped state university. You want to be promoted as fast as humanly fair? Grab a faculty position as fast as it becomes available, it doesn't matter if you are a committed researcher. Let me cut my woes here now for I could write a tome about these frustrations.
I just want to say that after having my first lecture I felt differently. The realization that this is my opportunity to share my knowledge and experience has made me slowly love where I am right now. I will be part instrument in shaping the minds of this bunch of youth who expect a lot out of their UP education, and it is such an overwhelming feeling. I've long resisted becoming a teacher, even if 2 sisters are devoted ones (one in LSGH and another the principal at La Salle Lipa). I always said I don't have the patience, my 5 kids are enough for me! But we never really know what we'd end up doing, we just work hard and the world turns. I'm still a researcher and teach only part time, But honestly, I'm having a great time! Your blog has made it even more worth trying further. And I'll make sure I become a good teacher. Thanks, Bong!
Ciao, MommyJo
BongA said…
Jef, you can sit in my classes; at any given time, my classes are overflowing with students - not necessarily all enrolled in the course for the term, some are former students who like to sit in just to review. But thanks for the nice words.

Many of my students actually read this blog often, so i am not sure they all agree though.

Mommy Jo, wow, a researcher and a teacher. I wish I can do both too. I actually do occasional thesis advising - but i guess i have no patience for data, i have this weird tendency to want to cut the process and come to a conclusion at once. haha. thanks for leaving a comment again.

jtagregado said…
Sooooo mega attend ka na pala ng graduation ngayon? tapos yung niyayaya ka namin sa graduation namin di ka sumisipot!
jtagregado said…
Hmp! tampo na kami nyan! lolz

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