I thought of reposting this for the second time since it’s graduation season in the Philippines and, well, #throwbackthursday. This is a speech I delivered in March 2011 before graduates of Davao Central High School.
FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR DREAMS
I was exactly in your place more than 10 years ago. On that day in early March, I woke up earlier than usual, excited about the day ahead. That morning was one of the happiest days of my life: my elementary graduation in this school. It was my first experience of graduation because I skipped preparatory school. I was very ecstatic that day, and I suppose many of you here today are.
I was 11 years old then: a good boy whose daily life revolved only around home and school, well behaved, diligent, and irresistibly cute according to my mom. I had awards in oration and declamation, won in spelling contests, was an active boy scout and class officer, was consistently on the honor roll, and was a teacher’s pet because I rarely made it to the noisy and standing and not-in-proper-seat lists posted on the blackboard.
But don’t get me wrong: I was not a gifted child. I never even considered myself one. I was like many other kids my age who liked to play lupa-langit, tigso, and other street games upon getting home after school. I collected game cards featuring my favorite cartoon characters. I hated waking up early in the morning to go to school. And I was the happiest person in the world whenever classes were suspended.
Looking back, I believe what made me achieve some things at a young age was not because I drank milk that turned babies into geniuses, or that I was simply born that way. I believe it was because I was very, very in love with my dreams.
I wanted my dreams so badly they became my driving force especially during my growing up years, when I had an enormous sense of wonder and thought nothing was impossible. It’s the power of my dreams, my vision of what I’d want to become and do for the rest of my life, that led me to where I am today—doing what I know I do best, being where I feel I am needed, and making a living out of it.
I was a very ambitious child. When I was in grade 1, I wanted to be a priest. In grade 2, a lawyer. In grade 3, a teacher. In grade 4, an actor and singer. In grade 5, all the other ambitions I saw listed on my friends’ slum books.
It was late in grade school when I decided that I want to be a journalist, and it all started in this school. When I was in grade 6, one of my teachers encouraged—well, forced—me to join the school paper, The Centralites. That sounded crazy to me at first, because I didn’t know how to write! But the promise of bonus points was enough to convince me to just give it a try.
If I remember correctly, my first article was about the cell phone craze that was just beginning to sweep students at that time. Immediately after the thrill of seeing my first byline on the magazine, I fell in love. I started reading national newspapers and magazines and observed how professionals did it. I began watching news programs regularly and imitating anchors and reporters.
Like a person who just met his or her soul mate, I woke up one day telling myself that being a journalist is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
And so, driven by love, I spent most of my student life preparing to be a journalist. I was always part of the school paper even when I transferred to other schools in Iloilo and Laguna. I followed the news on TV, newspapers, and radio. In college, I took up AB Communication, specializing in journalism. I became an editor of the college newspaper and joined internships to hone my craft outside academics.
Now in the media industry, I continue to seek learning opportunities and consider myself a work in progress.
With God’s help, I was able to consciously design the kind of life that I have now. I am that in love.
It is never too early or too late to fall in love with a dream that would set a direction for your life. The key is to fall in love, or in a way, be mad about it. When you do things out of love, everything seems possible—or even if not, you yourself become driven to make all things possible.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe of the Society of Jesus once said: “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
This holds true for our dreams. My love for journalism shaped the kind of life I have today, and even before. When I was in school, this love made me endure countless sleepless nights to meet my school paper deadlines while hurdling my subjects in school. I never quit despite the pressure. It motivated me to live and breathe news even while I was a student, not just to keep myself updated, but also to improve my skills. Because of this love, I strived to be the best student I can be, never wasting all the great opportunities I have been given.
This love continues to guide me in my current job, helping me decide in favor of truth and compassion in every story I make. I continue to be idealistic about this profession despite some of its harsh realities that have turned some people jaded and cynical. I also remind myself of this love whenever I feel tired and burned out.
There’s a certain magic in desiring something. In his best-selling book, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes: “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”
“And that’s where the power of love comes in,” he states further. “Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”
But how exactly do we know what we love, or what to love? It’s not as easy as it seems. I know a lot of people, including some friends, who still struggle to find something they would want to do for the rest of their lives. They feel they’re in an endless search for meaning, even after finishing school.
Well, some people just know what they want to do for life and never run out of opportunities. Very, very lucky people—and very rare, too.
Other people realized what they want it because of opportunities they were initially reluctant to seize but eventually embraced. That includes me. I will forever thank my teacher who forced me to join the school paper.
But there are also people who actively search for their purpose, for that one thing they’ll fall in love with—those who may not have it at first but do everything to find it. I believe this is the best way to find out what you want to do in life—the career or life path you want to pursue—and fall in love with it. It is, of course, the harder way, and the harder way gets us farther.
Who else can do this best but you, graduates? Your young age and energy provide you great opportunities to explore and experience life. This is the perfect time for you to pursue your interests, learn various skills, and ultimately, actively decide what you want to be and what you want to do for life. At this time, you are ripe to be molded to be somebody someday.
A piece of advice as you move on to the next chapter of your student life: Go beyond your books. Never drown in your academics. The most successful people I know are not those who graduated with honors—although that helps—but those who had a lot of experiences while in school aside from studying for quizzes and acing exams. In the workplace, they are generally perceived as more prepared to face the so-called “real world” after school.
That’s what extra-curricular activities are for. You can learn many valuable things outside the classroom that you cannot learn inside. Join organizations that can help you enjoy your interests and improve yourself at the same time. Take part in competitions that challenge your skills. Ultimately, do things that will make you love life more and feel complete as a person. Aside from complementing your academic life and preparing you for real life, this will help you find your purpose.
In a culture like ours that places so much importance on the grade—often to the point that a student’s existence is reduced to mere numbers—I cannot emphasize this enough.
Pursuing your dreams, of course, would be easier with the guidance and support of everyone around you, especially your parents. It’s always sad to hear of students who take courses they don’t really like because they were pressured, or because the only consideration is landing a lucrative job after school. These are valid reasons, but they work to a student’s disadvantage. Students tend to lose touch with their inner voices and lose their drive to dream. And so I hope that most of you here, particularly the high school graduates, take up courses you sincerely want for yourself.
However, finding your dream and falling in love with it is not the end of the story. You have to do a lot more. Behind all these, you have to confront the question: “What for?”
What will you be a doctor, teacher, nurse, engineer, writer, or entertainer for? Why should you keep yourself in love with whatever dream you have?
More often than not, the answers are, “Because this is what I do best. I want to maximize my talents. I want to be happy. I want to be rich and famous.” Nothing wrong with them, except that they lack an essential shift away from the self. The motivations are self-centered, and they shouldn’t be. For you must reach your dreams not only for yourself, but also for something greater, something bigger than you.
When asked why I chose to be a journalist, I often say it’s because this is the closest I can get to public service without being a politician. Indeed, by telling stories and delivering the news, I believe I am serving people constantly in need of information, and helping make our democracy strong by giving people the means and the chance to scrutinize government.
Of course there are other reasons I love this job, from getting to talk to persons of power and authority and exploring the world to making my mom proud. But above them all is a desire to “make the world a better place,” as former ABS-CBN news chief Maria Ressa put it. It’s where my love for this profession leads: Journalism to make the world a better place.
The recent disaster in Japan reminded me of the power of my job. The images we saw on TV, chilling and disturbing as they are, moved the world and spurred an overflowing of sympathy and help from different countries. Here in the Philippines, information delivered by journalists from Japan helped us examine and question if we ourselves are prepared to handle similar catastrophes.
On a similar note, the vigilance of the Philippine press has also kept our democracy intact despite its imperfections. It has exposed corruption, helped overthrow erring officials, demanded accountability from authorities, and given ordinary and marginalized people a voice in society.
This noble purpose has kept me in love with my job through the years despite having to work overtime often and missing some family occasions and nights out with friends when there’s breaking news.
As early as now, graduates, start thinking of how your dreams can help you contribute to society, especially its members who need it most. As a future lawyer or judge, how can you make sure justice is served to everyone, rich and poor? As a future nurse or doctor, how can you cure those who can’t afford to be cured? As a future businessman, how can you provide jobs and livelihood to a country where many are unemployed?
Always seek a higher purpose for anything you do. It may sound corny to your friends, so just don’t tell them and keep it to yourself. Seriously, whatever you do has the potential of contributing to the greater good, if you just want it to.
And so as you decide on what career to pursue, think not just of what you want, but more importantly, where you are needed the most. This time of exploration will give you enough opportunities to realize where and how your skills and talents can be used to help society.
A while ago I quoted Paulo Coelho saying that when we love, we always strive to become better than we are. In the same book, he adds, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
Dear graduates, don’t dream just for yourselves or your families. Dream for our country, and ultimately, for the world. Realized together, your dreams, my dreams—our dreams—can indeed make the world a better place.
Congratulations, graduates! May you all conquer the world with your dreams