By Henrylito D. Tacio
FINALLY, the time has come when graduating pupils and students will bade goodbye to their alma maters. This is the moment the graduates will receive their certificates and diplomas. Honor pupils and students will get their ribbons and medals.
Also part of the commencement exercises is listening to the words of wisdom from one of the alumni of the school or university. Speakers are selected from various walks of life but mostly those who are chosen are people who have made a mark in their own chosen professions.
Yes, I have delivered graduation speeches before but I cannot remember what I have told the graduates. I don’t know if those who listened (I assumed they did) during my speech could still recall some lines which I had spoken to them.
There are graduation speeches that linger on because they are still very relevant to the times.
Take the case of the very thought-provoking speech delivered by Steve Jobs – yes, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Apple, which he co-founded in 1976, and Pixar, the Academy-Award-winning animation studios which he co-founded in 1986 – during a 2005 graduation at the Stanford University.
Jobs shared three stories and one of them was about death. “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” That was what he read when he was 17 and it made an impression on him. In 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas,” he told the graduates. “The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months.”
His doctor advised him to go home. “He told me to get my affairs in order, which is
doctors’ code for prepare to die. It means to try and tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure that everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your good-byes.”
Later that evening, Jobs had a biopsy. “I was sedated but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope, the doctor started crying, because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and, thankfully, I am fine now,” he said.
Based from that experience, he told the graduates: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Another leading figure in the computer industry is Bill Gates. Recently, he was invited by his alma mater, Harvard University, to speak before the new graduates. “My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here – never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’
Gates continued, “When you consider what those of us here in this university have been given – in talent, privilege, and opportunity – there is almost no limit to what the world has a right to expect from us. In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would be phenomenal.
“But you don’t have to do that to make an impact. For a few hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them. Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”
Successful people should help their place of origin. That was one of the main message of Menardo “Butch” Jiminez, Jr. in a speech delivered before the graduating class at the Silliman University a couple of years ago.
One way to serve this country, he said, is to stay here. “Just stay in the country,” urged the senior vice-president of the retail business group of Philippine Long Distance Telephone. “You would have actually done a great service to our country just by staying. But if you can’t stay, or you don’t want to stay, that’s fine. If you think you want to make it out there in the world, that’s fine with me.
“But I want to ask two things of you. First, go out there and show the whole world how great the Filipino is. In whatever field you’re in, prove to the world how special we Filipinos truly are.
“Second, don’t just plan to come back. Plan to give back to the country. If you do that, if every Filipino who goes out there into the world — and there are millions of us already — proves to everybody how great the Filipino is, and not only plans to come back, but actually plans to give back to this country, in less than one generation, we will be an even greater nation.”
His parting final statement was: “In the last 42 years of my life, I have realized one thing, ‘There is no destination beyond the reach of those who walk with God.’ So when you go out there in the world, take God’s hand and walk with him. Because when you do, whatever destination it is you are hoping to reach, if God walks with you and takes you through, there will be no destination beyond your reach.”
To end this piece, allow me to quote the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick. “No horse gets anywhere till he is harnessed,” he wrote. “No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.”
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