Graduation Address: A Farewell Request

Atty. Monico Jacob, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Gina Lopez, our honorary doctor, graduation speaker and AdNU alumna, Dr. Salvador Mediavillo, representing CHED-V, Dr. Rebecca Torres, the AVP, Mr. Enrico Evangelista representing the ADNUGAA, Mr. Marbril Agor, President of the Graduating Class 2011, distinguished members of administration, faculty, staff and studentry here present, but especially the members of the graduating class 2011:

Thank you all for these beautiful graduation ceremonies. Special thanks to Ms. Gina Lopez, who came not only from Manila, but from San Francisco, USA ,to be with us today! Thank you for your inspiring words, Gina, that lead us to pledge ourselves specially to care for the environment – from darkness to light. Thanks to Mr. Mike Padua for providing us the “friendly” Bikol weather. During the first graduation I presided over in 2000, a typhoon forced us to have the ceremonies in this gym. During my last graduation, I guess we can say that Mike Padua’s convinced us to have the ceremonies here!  He predicted the rain. And he was right!

Since this is the last time I shall speak publicly as President of the Ateneo de Naga University, allow me some personal words.

I never thought that as a Jesuit I would be in formal education. Originally my special studies in philosophy were designed to prepare me for priestly formation as my primary apostolate; my secondary apostolate, which for a while actually became my primary preoccupation, was the urban poor. It was due to the untimely death of my predecessor, Fr. Raul Bonoan, that I was missioned to Ateneo de Naga University. At that time I came having only one friend in Bicol, one of my former seminarians. It was a tough beginning here, with some in the community and many alumni not understanding me. Under a new administration, power roles in the university had to be clarified; resource allocations had to be decided – that were different from those of my predecessor. But the tough beginnings were weathered. The big projects were undertaken, the grand challenges were met towards steering this university to excellence. Today, at this time, there is no need to again list the achievements. The bottom line is: You graduate, this evening, from a University of excellence you can be proud to be alumni/ae of; you graduate as this University is proud of you!

Being your President for twelve years has brought many varied experiences: the thrill of working on new construction projects, the joy of supporting new academic projects, the satisfaction of initiating meaningful changes in administration and administrative structures in the university, the pain of seeing long-time collaborators leave the University through choice, retirement or death, the exhilaration of seeing co-workers helping each other as friends in the Lord in obedience to a shared mission, the awe in witnessing this university proudly animated and nurtured by Bikolanos who have taken seriously to the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I have had my bad days, but have been blessed many times over with good days. Among the best of the good days were graduation days, when I would shake the hands of happy graduates. They had been tested, and they had not been found wanting. And being part of their celebration was a genuine joy.

Having dedicated myself before coming to Naga to trying to improve the lot of the urban poor, I helped articulate one of the key goals of this university: the alleviation of poverty in Bikol. We have our outreach projects. We have even been complemented in these projects by the outreach projects of the Madrigal Foundation. But among the deepest of my joys here is having been privileged to witness how students coming from acute situations of poverty can join this university, work hard, struggle to succeed, even fall, but pick up after falling, then move on to graduate, often with honors, then to find a job that enabled them to help pull themselves and their families out of poverty. These cases, often supported by scholarships, or even more often, supported by the earnings of hard working parents complemented by contributions of their uncles or aunts, grandmothers or grandfathers, are a quiet testimony to the ability of such an institution as the Ateneo de Naga University to contribute to the battle against poverty in Bikol. For every successful scholar, for every successful student supported by generous relatives, a family can be pulled out of poverty, and the future can look much brighter in that corner of the world.

It is in this context that as a parting request I would like to request you, and through you all the young alumni and alumnae of the Ateneo de Naga University, and specifically of its colleges and graduate school, to support your alma mater, your Ateneo. Support it in gratitude. Support it in its mission. Of course, you can ask, “Why should I support it in gratitude, since I paid my tuition and fees.” The answer is simple. Your tuition and fees contribute to the ongoing operation of the school. But they never quite pay for the education you have received. They never really pay for the lifelong sacrifices your teachers and formators have made to say no to lucrative jobs elsewhere in order to remain in university service. They never pay for the tradition of service and excellence that the university has handed down from generation to generation, improving and enriching it with every generation. They never quite pay for the long hours and years your teachers and Jesuits have invested into becoming competent or improved teachers and administrators for your benefit. They never quite pay for encouragement and inspiration and friendship found at the Ateneo.

So, my plea, support your University in gratitude. Concretely, what do I mean? I mean, as college alumni, continue to love your alma mater and be active in the Alumni Association not only to keep in contact with each other, but also in order to help the Ateneo de Naga. [If Dr. Gina did not ask you for any money, now I will.  I beg all over the world for scholarship support.  Tonight I shall beg from you!]  Henceforth, Mr. Karl Llorin will be animating the alumni and alumnae from within the university in collaboration with our various alumni associations. My suggestion: regularly, for the rest of your lives, contribute a fixed amount to the Ateneo de Naga University for scholarships. This can be daily or monthly or yearly. It can start small and remain small, or it can start small and with every increase in your income grow proportionately. It can be one peso a day, or ten pesos a week, or fifty pesos a month, or a thousand pesos a year. Give it in support of the Ateneo de Naga scholars. If as a class you could give Ateneo one peso a day, increasing it by 5% each year, you could support six scholars to graduation every four years, that is 75 scholars by the time you reach your golden jubilee. You smile. But imagine the strength of this proposal if every graduating batch could support scholarships with just one peso a day.

Sharing money is the least you can do. Support your Ateneo de Naga University also in prayer. Pray that it continues to be a university of excellent instruction, or persistent research, and of relevant community service, where it always serves first the Kingdom of God – Primum Regnum Dei.

For me, it has been a great privilege to serve you over the past years. Thank you for your understanding in my shortcomings and weakness; thank you for your collaboration and support. Farewell! God bless you all!

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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