Commencement speech before the U.P. College of Medicine graduates on 20 May 2012 at the U.P. Theater in Diliman campus.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am the UP graduate who has, in a modest way, focused national attention on the political malady known as logopaedics, the branch of medicine that deals with speech disabilities and their treatment. Kasi ang ibang tao sa impeachment trial, hindi marunong magsabi ng totoo, kaya binibigyan ko sila ng speech therapy.
For politicians like me, commencement speeches are a regular feature of the calendar year. But when the invitation comes from U.P. graduates, I consider the invitation to be more powerful than a subpoena, above any “Objection!” It is not only a professional honor; it is an invitation to return to the sublime cradle of the most intellectual and the most idealistic leaders of the professions in our country. I love this school which has the highest standard of academic excellence and the most unforgiving standard of moral excellence – the great University of the Philippines.
Today, you stand at the cusp of your medical career. You bid goodbye to the distant past – when your parents struggled, emotionally and perhaps financially, to send you to the best medical school in the country. You also bid goodbye to the recent past – when your professors audaciously took the clay of your undergraduate studies and molded you into the 159 youth I see before me now – each one of you a young, godlike person, trembling on the edge of an entirely new and dazzling universe, or perhaps of many universes. Whatever astrophysics may conclude, each one of you stands as a master of the universe.
At this point, let me share with you what the wise man said:
The adventure of life is to learn.
The nature of life is to change.
The purpose of life is to grow.
The challenge of life is to overcome.
The Adventure of Life is to Learn.
Your graduation is not an end point in your education. Now that your proud professors have done their best, you must start the adventure of learning from life itself. Michelangelo said that genius is eternal patience. And Gandhi put it in another way, by saying that there is more to life than increasing its speed. I will simply say that life is what you make it. Dare beyond your strength, hazard beyond your judgment, and in extremities, proceed in excellent hope. Bear the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.
To paraphrase the advice of a wise man, you should live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws. You should be led by permanent ideals. If you do that, you will be patient when the world ignores you, and you will be calm and unspoiled when the world praises you.
You are trained doctors – heal yourselves. The wise man said that we should seek elegance rather than luxury, refinement rather than fashion, worth rather than respectability, and wealth rather than riches. You have studied hard. Now think quietly, talk gently with your patients, and act frankly. In addition, listen to stars and birds, leaders and sages, with open heart. Await occasions and never hurry. Your most important lesson is that in the common, mundane things in life, the spiritual, the hidden, and even the unconscious will slowly enlighten you.
The Nature of Life is to Change.
You will live and work in circumstances far different from today. The changes in the medical profession will be dictated by at least ten medical breakthroughs:
1. Scientists now use cloning to create stem cells. One day, stem cells may treat diseases such as spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s.
2. There has never been a vaccine against a human parasite before, or against malaria, which infects millions of children each year. But a first-ever malaria vaccine – which cut the risk of infection by half – has been tested in children in sub-Saharan Africa.
3. HIV treatment can also serve as prevention, by protecting HIV-free people from becoming infected.
4. The food pyramid is now presented as a food plate. It has four sections: fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein.
5. In a new world of regenerative medicine, healthy body tissues can be created to replace diseased ones. Scientists have already created in the laboratory a real functioning urethra, but right now it costs US$5,000.
6. Colon cancer could likely be caused by bacteria. Two research groups have reported that a bacteria called Fusobacteria seem to flourish in colon cancer cells.
7. In the world of weight loss, researchers reported that obese patients taking an experimental drug called Qnexa lost 10 percent of their body weight in a year. The pill combines two existing drugs: the weight-loss drug phentermine, and the anti-epilepsy medication topiramate.
8. German researchers have found that if trained, dogs can detect the presence of cancer on a person’s breath.
9. Researchers from UCLA have reported that it may now be possible for scientists to glean the age of a dead body from genetic material. They work with saliva samples.
10. At Uppsala University in Sweden, researchers reported that a simple blood test may be able to predict who is most likely to die of heart disease or cancer. They found that people with higher levels of an enzyme called cathepsin S were more likely to die.
The Purpose of Life is to Grow.
What is the meaning of life? This meaning is not for you to find, but for you to define. The meaning of life is found in the purposes that we pursue as we grow older. Each one must interpret individually the meaning of life. You must read meaning into the situations you find yourselves in, case by case.
From my book, Philosophy of Religion, let me read for you:
Even if life is meaningless, we have to go on living, as a form of rebellion against cosmic meaninglessness. Your slogan should be: “Dare to become what you are.” If there is no God, and no other world than this one, then we are the creators of our own values. The supreme value is life-assertion. And the next highest value is the will to power over evil. We must confront the most difficult truth about ourselves. In a godless world, we have no alternative but to choose – and in that sense to create – our own values. In other words, we create the meaning of our life.
Perhaps life has no meaning, but perhaps those who are religious can find meaning in the four categories of human experience: suffering, hope, effort, and grace. The various religions are responses to the realization of the agony of life. Religion seeks to transform the underlying agony and anxiety of life into the joy and gratitude we can feel for the gift of love.
The Challenge of Life is to Overcome.
Now, allow me to read the conclusion of my book, Philosophy of Religion:
If we want to build earth pyramids pointing to the stars, the best procedure is not the infliction of selfish cruelty on those we wish to make our subjects, but to enlist their free commitment to the human enterprise. You should struggle for freedom from selfishness, from hatred, and from slavery to pleasure and instant gratification. We should find inspiration in our Third World circumstances, and thus empower ourselves in the pursuit of excellence in creativity, compassion in poverty, and happiness in serving others.
Life is not a race among the vain. Vanity merely yields the prize of material riches, which endanger the spiritual outlook. Life is a journey to the absolute truth, in the course of which we develop the ability to communicate with God.
Nothing that any person does, no matter how rich or famous, really matters. All that matters is the faith to believe that something is better than nothing. If this something contains evil, it is conscious and constant revolt against evil that gives life its value.
In the final analysis, life is a kaleidoscopic process of education sourced from the infinite intelligence, the dazzling supermind.
Class of 2012: You have received more than others in health, in talents, and in education. Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – all these will come to you. But you have to pay the price. Like all UP alumni, be prepared to render an unusually great sacrifice of your life for other life.
During this, your date with destiny, I quote the famous poem “Ode to Duty,” by William Wordsworth:
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And in the light of truth thy Bondman let me live!
Class of 2012: Like all true UP alumni, embrace the spirit of self-sacrifice, of reason, and of truth! Never forget that I – together with millions of our fellow alumni – are marching in lockstep, on your transport into the beckoning future. On that journey, you have our highest respect and all of our love.