Nababagabag, nag-iisa, nawasak: A valedictory address

Delfin D. Villafuerte

Delfin D.


Fr. Jose Cecilia Magadia, Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, Mr. Eduard Go, Chair of the Board of Trustees; Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin of the Society of Jesus, University President; Dr. John Paul Vergara, Vice President for the Loyola Schools; Other Vice Presidents of the University, Mr. Rodolfo Ang, Dean of the John Gokongwei School of Management; Dr. Evangeline Bautista, Dean of the School of Science and Engineering; Dr. Maria Luz Vilches, Dean of the School of Humanities; Dr. Filomeno Aguilar Jr., Dean of the School of Social Sciences; members of the faculty, administrators, beloved parents, dearest guests, and fellow graduates.

A pleasant afternoon to all of you.

Perhaps you are thinking many things right now such as “what is he going to say?” or “how long is this going to take – gutom na ako”, or “is he going to make us cry again like this morning?” So please allow me the privilege of addressing all of you for a few minutes by sharing some experiences here in the Ateneo which I hold close to my heart – you all don’t have a choice anyway.

In my first draft of this address, I was stuck with the mindset of making it so relatable, so engaging, and so universal that I made it as general as I could. However after a few words with some mentors, I was told that this would be the worst way for me to achieve what I wanted. To be universal, I have to be personal. And so here I am about to open up to all of you on how the Ateneo has changed me. And though I may be just one Atenean, I AM an Atenean. So here goes.

It was in my semestral break in third year where my life took on a 180-degree turn because of two experiences. My first experience was in a 5-day leadership congress in Antipolo. We were to choose between a health, environment, education, or business area to immerse ourselves in for an entire afternoon. People who know me would typically think that I would choose the business area – after all, I am a business and economics major and a leader in a business organization. Surprisingly though, and even I surprised myself, I chose to go to the education area. We went on a 2-hour hike up and down a mountain and across a suspension bridge only to reach a closed and underwhelming public school whose gate we had to climb just to get inside. The Atenean in me would tell me to stop, reflect on this experience, and undergo a so-called conversion to action.

But before I move on, let me share the second experience. Immediately after this congress in Antipolo, I headed to Baguio as a facilitator in a leadership training seminar for high school student leaders nationwide. For a few days, we were to teach the most eager of children that I have ever met, what it would mean to be a leader, a good citizen, a Filipino. The problem was that if I were to complete all the days there in Baguio, I would have to cut the first day of classes. And again, for those who would know me – I never cut class. No, not even NSTP, not even PE, and not even Intact, – well, at least consciously. It is at this point when I had a most profound problem in my life, which really shook my identity. As shallow as it seemed, cutting class was never part of my vocabulary and that to miss one day seemed to contradict everything I believed in. But I decided to stay. Here, I made the decision, for the first time, to cut class. You may be wondering and thinking at the back of your minds, “ano ba yan, nag-cut lang ng class nagbago na buhay niya.” Or even “ang #firstworldproblems naman niyan, eh puro syllabus lang naman first day.”

Luckily for me, all of my classes for the first day – were free cut. Inspite of the ADAA memos saying that there is no such thing as a free cut. But on a more serious note, the simple act of visiting that public school and of choosing to stay and facilitate made me realize so many things – that I love the youth, I love teaching, and most importantly, that I love the Philippines, to the point that I was willing to risk changing the me I was used to everyday. It is likewise in these two experiences that I realized that the me I was used to everyday was not the real me. These two experiences made me realize that I was disturbed, I was alone, and I was broken.

MOVING UP. Parents, siblings and friends attend the graduation rites of the Ateneo de Manila University. Photo by Rappler/Katherine Visconti

MOVING UP. Parents, siblings and friends attend the graduation rites of the Ateneo de Manila University.

Photo by Rappler/Katherine Visconti

I was disturbed because I thought I had already figured out my life. I had two degrees in business and economics, I was an active student leader, I had a decent academic standing, and the opportunities were just coming in. But it did not feel right. I was disturbed because the next thing to do was no longer clear. I was not used to this. I was disturbed because I hesitated giving up one day of class to stay and teach kids what it meant to be a Filipino – when I was not even a good Filipino myself.

I was alone because I was afraid to open up. I kept these thoughts to myself, I tried to be an articulate businessman, I attempted to be an expert in economics. But I was certainly more than that. I was alone because I wasn’t true to who I was, and because I was afraid of how other people would judge me for choosing to climb up the gate of that public school.

I was broken because I was resisting. I was too stubborn to change, I was against being different, I was too proud to move. But I broke under pressure. I was broken because I fought the tides that would lead me. I was broken because so many things about me had changed and so many pieces had to be picked up.

And all of these happened because of what the Ateneo has given me. I realized that what the Ateneo has really given us was time. Time to wait and hope, time to enjoy and work, and time to find ourselves. Four years may have seemed like a long span of time before, but this moment, this afternoon, and this graduation, most especially, tell us that maybe the four years weren’t enough and that the four years went by too fast. Four years told us to slow down and find that there is much more to learn – most especially about ourselves in a profound and humbling encounter. But only to find ourselves, yet again, disturbed, alone, and broken.

A few days ago, a good friend of mine [named Kenric Uy] said in an address that he was not ready to graduate and that he is not prepared to face the so-called real world – but he said that maybe that’s how it should be. That we should really graduate not ready, uncertain, and hesitant, but still full of hope.

Alam mong Atenista ka... kapag sinulit mo ang panahon mo sa pamantasan upang hanapin ang iyong sarili, pero sa pagtuklas sa katotohanan ng iyong pagkabagabag, sa iyong pag-iisa, at sa iyong pagkawasak – ikaw ay nagpatuloy. Ikaw ay nagpatuloy sa pagtahak sa landas hindi tiyak. Ikaw ay nagpatuloy sa landas na mapanganib. At ikaw ay nagpatuloy sa landas ng isang Atenista – hindi takot mangahas mangarap, magtaya nang ganap, at walang pag-iimbot na mag-alay. At lahat ng ito ay laging umiikot sa pinagkaloob sa atin ng Ateneo – ang panahon.

Ang araw na ito ay tungkol doon – sa libu-libong estudyanteng sumaibayo sa agos ng panahon at nagpakatao sa loob ng pamantasan upang tuklasin ang sarili.

At this point, fellow graduates, I invite you to look to your left, look to your right, and look at all the people around you. These are the people who have been with you ever since day one, and just like you, had their own set of highs and lows, gains and losses, triumphs and defeats. And though we may all be different, we are all the same in that we have shared the same four years here in the Ateneo. Look at the people around you, take it all in, and let it finally sink in – we’re graduating. No more hiding from kuya guard because of not having an ID, no more sleepless nights because of that dreaded oral exam, no more 15-page research papers, no more trying to understand whatever Marcel or Levinas was saying, no more stressing about the dress code, no more hell weeks. But as we bid goodbye to these things, we also say goodbye to the people around us.

A few weeks ago I posted on my facebook account a goodbye message to my home organization, MEA, and the Council of Organizations of Ateneo President, Gigi de Villa, also spoke of that one line in my message – that to love is to let go, but not by just letting go and disarming ourselves, but by letting go with a push. We let go with a push, not to push Ateneo, but rather this time, to push ourselves away. Dahil sa ating paghihiwalay sa Ateneo lamang natin malalaman kung mayroon tayong natutunan, kung mayroon tayong pinagsamahan, at kung para saan nga ba ang ating pagkabagabag, pag-iisa, at pagkawasak. Kung kaya mo ba talaga na humiwalay sa organisasyong pinagsilbihan mo nang kay tagal, kung kaya mo ba talagang magtrabaho nang walang gumagabay sa iyo, at kung kaya mo na ba talagang matuto ng mga bagay-bagay sa labas ng silid-aralan.

We must also come to understand that our education is not just an investment of tuition and miscellaneous fees. It is the investment in us by our peers, our professors, our mentors, and our parents. And this is what makes our education so amazing – the time that Ateneo has given us is largely the time other people have invested in us. And ultimately, all we can really say to these people is maraming-maraming salamat.

Thank you to our professors who have opened our eyes to the many realities we have to face, thank you for dedicating your lives to other lives, and thank you for helping us be the Ateneans we are today. Higit sa lahat, salamat sa panahon na ginugol ninyo para sa amin. Nais kong pasalamatan ang ilan sa aking mga guro at tagapayo na naging malaking bahagi ng aking panahon dito sa pamantasan – Dr. Tonette Angeles, Dr. Randy Tuano, Mr. JC Uy, Mr. Eddieboy Calasanz, [to one of my biggest idols, Dean Rudy Ang, my mentor Dr. Mari-Jo Ruiz, Dr. Darwin Yu, Mr. Aly Yap,] at sa lahat pa ng ating mga guro. Maraming salamat.

To our parents who have tirelessly supported us ever since our prep days and to the dearest benefactors of us scholars – we hope we do make you proud. We apologize for all the times we may have disappointed you, or answered back, or not met your expectations, yet we are always grateful that no matter what, you have always been there. Sa paglipas ng panahon, kayo at kayo lamang ang siyang naroon mula sa simula – lahat ng ito ay para sa inyo.

Fellow graduates, I daresay that this afternoon, we are not the only graduates. Graduating with us are our professors, our mentors, our benefactors, and most especially our parents. Please join me and rise, turn around, and let us give these people the loudest round of applause that we can.

We are at a crossroads in our lives. We go down from the hill and are about to face life’s real struggles. We are battling against many things – against ignorance and injustice, against poverty and corruption, against indifference and apathy. We are struggling against the structures that oppress, against the systems that make us conform, against the darkness that seduces. But most importantly, we are fighting a struggle within. A struggle that makes you realize the responsibility that you carry – and so you are disturbed. A struggle that makes you doubt if you can do it – and so you are alone. A struggle that makes you lose your self-image – and so you are broken.

But we are ready.

We are ready because the time the Ateneo has given us is not just four years – it is a lifetime. It is in this lifetime that we that we should stay disturbed. That we are never alone. And that it is good to be broken.

We should stay disturbed. I have met many individuals who are a testament to the fact that what we have found in four years is what we will live by for a lifetime – precisely because they were disturbed.

Whether it be for OPM like Nikki Jurado, for equal human rights like Esa Banta, for financial inclusion like Julienne Lechuga, for social justice like David Lozada, for peace and human security like Arnold Lau, for responsible investment like Jarvie Ramos, or for the environment like Jenica Dizon. Whether you rally for student involvement like Moses Albiento, for socio-political change through design like Coco Navarro, or bring Christ to others like Eos Trinidad.

Whether it be for good business like Michelle Cruz, or mathematics education like Mac-Mac Sua, for business ethics like Carlo Africa, for social change through org development like Martin Medina, for responsible marketing and entrepreneurship like John Palma and Via Puyat, for sustainable livelihood through applied chemistry like Angelo Romasanta, or for public health like Gio Alejo and Sheldon Wong. Whether you follow your calling for public service like Dom Bulan, or pursue your social enterprise like Pamie Cruz, or devote yourself to be a teacher like Gian Dapul.

A few weeks ago during my silent retreat with some of our batchmates, a friend of mine, [Tegz Guzon,] slipped a letter for me under my door. He shared a quotation with me, which I believe is most apt for this occasion.

“The eagle is the only known bird that flies above the clouds to avoid the rain. Just like us Ateneans, we fly high above the clouds, but perhaps not to avoid the rain, but to be able to have a better view of what is below us and to see who needs saving.”

We go down from the hill from a flight finding the things in life that disturb us deeply, and we swoop down. Not because we must have the burden of being the saviors of this country, but because we know it is what we have to do. Manatiling nababagabag.

You are never alone. Who you are today is a result of all of the different people you have met along the way. Remember your successes – watching the results of the ACET unfold at the Blue Eagle Gym, finishing the course of your dreams, heading that project you wanted, acing an oral exam, winning an election, finally passing your thesis, getting your first job offer, mustering the strength to give your blue rose, and sitting where you are right now. But beyond your successes, remember your failures. Remember your failures because they have built us up just as well. Remember your first F, remember having to shift out, remember missing a deadline, remember losing a game, and remember missing a laude by 0.01. Remember these precisely because they have made you who you are today. Remember these failures because today tells you that the Lord has immensely blessed you. Today tells you that you did it. Despite everything, you are a part of Ateneo Batch 2013. And know that the joy is more and the pain is less precisely because you share this with everyone around you.

As we march up the stage and bow in front of our batchmates, remember that we are graduating together, and that this is one of the very few moments that all of us would have shared. May pinagsamahan tayo. Hindi ka nag-iisa.

Ang lastly, it is good to be broken. Sa puntong ito, nais kong ulitin ang sinabi ng aking matalik na kaibigan na si Ray Pine – na winasak tayo ng edukasyong Atenista. Nasisira ang ating pagkatao, para lamang mabuo muli, unti-unti, na may kagat ng paninindigan at pagmamahal – at dito nating masasabi na “ito talaga ako.”

Brokenness is a gift – because being broken means that we have many pieces to give to others. So it is good to be broken. It is good to be broken because it reminds us that we are human, and that we are only full at the end of our lives.

Fellow graduates, the daunting task of changing the world, as audacious as it is, revolves around what we do with the pieces we give of ourselves. And to change the world, all we have to do is to choose. Pumili. Pumili at panindigan. Pumili at magtaya. Pumili at angkinin. Dahil sa ating pagpili tayo ay napapalaya, sa pagpapalaya tayo ay nabubuo, at sa ating pagkabuo, tayo ay handang mawasak muli. Napapalaya mula sa tanikala ng nakaraan, nabubuo para sa kasalukuyan, at nawawasak para sa kinabukasan. Sa ating pagpili, maging ito ay sa ating pagiging doktor, abogado, negosyante, tagapamahala, guro, manunulat, o anuman, atin itong panindigan upang makapag-bigay pa ng sarili. – mabuti ang ating pagka-wasak.

My name is Delfin Stephen de Dios Villafuerte, proud to be an Atenean, and I have decided to dedicate my next two years to teaching in a public school – because my own dreams have fuelled my 18 years in studying and I want this dream to fuel more Filipino children to dream bigger for themselves, and for this country. I want them to dream bigger than just wanting to become a dancer in a noontime show. I want them to dream just like us – who dare to change the world through public health, through art, through sports, through business, through law, through public service, through media, and through education. Mangahas mangarap. I am teaching because I am disturbed by the fact that I had to walk 2 hours to climb the gate of a public school. I am teaching because I want these children to know that they are not alone. I am teaching because I have been broken, again and again, and there is nothing else left but to give.

Before I end, I would like to take this time to give thanks to my dad – who is most likely taking a video of me right now. My mom – who is most likely running the lines of my speech on her mind. And my sister Cezanne – who is most likely crying right now. Thank you for being a stage family ever since. And thank you for being proud of me, not because I am earning 6-digits a month, but because I have the heart to change the world. To my Mama Aning and Tita Connie, thank you for making sure I have food everytime I come home and for always being there for me. And last, to my Papa Delfin, I know you’re up there but I reserved a seat for you. I hope I have made you proud.

And so fellow graduates, be grateful for the time Ateneo has given us, because this time is for life and that being an Atenean will still be an everyday challenge. We may be fighting the struggles against time, but perhaps time is not our enemy. We may be disturbed, but time will console us. We may be alone, but time will give us company. We may be broken, but time will make us whole again.

Sa aking ikatlong taon sa Ateneo, ako’y nabagabag, akala ko’y nag-iisa ako, at tila sirang-sira na ako.

Pero tinuruan ako ng Ateneo na manahan sa pagkabagabag.

Sa tulong ng aking kapwa-Atenista, natanto ko na hindi ako nag-iisa.

At lumalabas ako ng pamantasan tangan ang pag-unawa na mabuti ang ating pagka-wasak.

Para sa kapwa-Atenista, para sa Pilipinas, at para sa Diyos.

Congratulations, Batch 2013. We did it.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. -


Delfin Villafuerte recently graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with two degrees - BS Management Engineering & AB Economics (Honors Program).