[Address. ADDU Graduation of the College of Law and the Graduate School. 28 April 2018.]
For this year at Ateneo de Davao, this has been my fifth graduation. In the past, I only had four. But this year, the SHS graduations commenced. I started off with the grade school graduation. I end with yours, the highest of our graduations. Among you are Graduates of Law, Masters and Doctors of various disciplines. You have reached the highest levels, seven and eight, of the Philippine Qualifications Framework recognized and respected throughout ASEAN and the world. You are to be congratulated.
You have worked very hard. Demands were made on you, sometimes almost unbearable. Examinations had to be passed. Recitations had to be survived. Theses had to be completed. Dissertations had to be defended. We needed to pressure you to achieve what you celebrate today. We do not apologize for the pressure. We stand to our standards, and the pressure necessary to maintain those standards. These are not the standards, as some have suggested, of a fascist CHED and government. They are the standards of Ateneo de Davao University. You did not buckle under the pressure. You did not kill yourself because of it. You did not kill us for applying it. You met the standards. And therefore you graduate today.
You have much to be grateful for. Most of you have not been full-time students; you did not have that luxury. Most of you are already working, and work did not stop for you to pursue graduate degrees. Many of you are already married and carry responsibility for spouse and children. Many of you have maintained commitments to your Church or religious communities while you did your research and wrote your papers. For you to have reached this day, budget had to be set aside, pleasures had to be sacrificed, adjustments had to be made in your workplace; there was less time for your family, and less time to work with those you serve. But you did not give up your graduate studies. Indeed, from your spouses, your children, your colleagues, friends and communities, you even found much support. When you were close to giving up, they encouraged you on.
This year, with the support of President Duterte, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931) was passed. This did not affect you, for it benefits only those taking first degrees, and for now, mainly those going to State Universities Colleges or CHED-accredited Local Colleges and Universities. But RA 10931 signals a massive push of the State towards universal higher education. The country is not satisfied with basic education, even with basic education that might enable its graduates to join the labor mainstream. The country is instead pushing for higher education, convinced that for the prosperity of this country in a global knowledge economy it is not enough to build, build, build physical infrastructure, but absolutely necessary to build, build, build people with higher technical skills, with deeper humanistic insight, with competitive professional know-how.
With the huge amount of money and resources now being poured into higher public education, it might be construed that over time higher private education will disappear, and all Philippine education will be melted down to one monolithic system of public educational provision for all on all levels. That would indeed, I am convinced, effect a melt down of quality education in the nation, where a single system of education publicly funded and centrally administered by the State may be easy prey to corruption, unending political interference, stagnation and quality erosion. Today, as you graduate from a private university, you might be grateful for a constitutional provision, Art. XIV, Sec 4 (1) of the 1987 Constitution, which insists on the complementarity of public and the private schools in the Philippine system of education. It is there not just to increase access, but to guarantee quality to higher education. Reflecting on this, you might be grateful for the private resources that have been poured into the contractual relation between this Ateneo de Davao University and its students and stakeholders over seven decades, that have allowed the scholars, the teachers, the professors, and the support staff to come together in academic freedom, and using the buildings, classrooms, libraries, laboratories and facilities of this school, to produce the 24 graduates of law, the 27 Masters of Arts, 8 Masters of Science, 2 Masters in Psychology, 36 Masters of Business Administration, 19 Masters of Public Administration, 18 Masters in Nursing, 12 Masters in Engineering, and the 13 Doctors that we celebrate today, on top of our 1,543 college graduates, our 1,676 senior high school graduates, our 473 junior high school graduates, and our 467 grade school graduates. One must be grateful that this remarkable provision of education on all levels, but even at the highest levels, at but one private institution, the Ateneo de Davao, happens without major cost to the taxpayer. It happens simply because of the private commitment this University makes to the public good of quality education for its students, and the private support this University receives from its students, their families and their benefactors in achieving that public good. That public good is the quality education you now embody for the good of the country, that is, education that surpasses government’s minimum standards to reach standards of excellence; education that implements our school’s mission and vision in all aspects of its operation, education that satisfies its stakeholders not only in industry but in society as a whole.
As you graduate today with the highest of ADDU’s degrees, remember that you are this university’s most important contribution to the common weal. You graduate not for yourselves alone – that you might now finally get higher compensation or a better assignment – but you graduate to be a leader in society, but especially in Mindanao, in the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue and the defense of the environment. Fulfill this mission as men and women of higher education, never hesitating to allow your higher learning to lead you throughout your lives to ask questions critically and to seek their answers persistently. Let your higher education allow you to address the worst poverty in the country still in Mindanao, the worst deficit of education in the nation still in Mindanao, the worst manifestations of social injustice in the plight of the Bangsamoro and our indigenous peoples in Mindanao, the consequent alienation of the poor and marginalized but also of idealistic youth from mainstream society in Mindanao, and their penchant to attempt to escape frustration and despair in misleading ideologies and violence in Mindanao. In Mindanao, let your higher education celebrate the richness of our diversity, the strength of our spirit, the hope of our nation, and the light of our faith. The highest of ADDU’s academic degrees impel you to the humblest of conceivable service in memory of the Lord. At Ateneo, in the quiet service of your teachers and mentors, the Lord has washed your feet. “If I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, so too ought you wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14), the Lord said. But he also gave you this admonition and challenge: “To whom much has been given, much will be required; from one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be required. I have come to ignite fire on this earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 48:49).