Most Rev. Honesto F. Ongtioco, Bishop of the Diocese of Cubao; Fr Primitivo E. Viray Jr., S.J., Provincial of Society of Jesus in the Philippines; Fr. Enrico Eusebio, Jr., SJ, President of LST; Fr. William M. Abbott, SJ, our commencement speaker; Fr. Rogel A. Abais, SJ, VP for Academic Affairs, LST administrators, professors, our formators, benefactors, schoolmates, family, and friends, good afternoon! Today is a joyful day for the graduating class of 2022 and for all those who have accompanied us. The journey we started together has successfully ended. We came, we saw, we conquered! Congratulations, dear classmates! From this side of the room, you all look strange but smart in your togas. Well done!
Let me begin by thanking the classmates and faculty of this great school, who have surprised me by choosing me as the valedictorian for this graduating class of 2022. I’m so honored and humbled to stand here and address you on behalf of my classmates, to reflect on our shared journey of the past years, and to cast some light on the future that awaits us. Being the first batch to graduate in person after the pandemic, this class would like to call itself the “post-pandemic batch.”
Talk about education during the pandemic, and we recall how all of us – students and professors – struggled to adjust to online learning. Yet, our professors did their best to shape us into effective laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. During our comprehensive exams, we were cross-examined by the teachers and scholars of the law here at LST. If you want to know how difficult it is to be cross-examined by the teachers of the law, ask Jesus. Fortunately for us, after being cross-examined, we have been let off the hook, and now we are here to graduate.
And, of course, graduation has been both a personal and collective effort. Each of us has been challenged and transformed in different ways. Personally, it has been a time of unlearning and relearning. My studies have gradually led me to a deeper appreciation of our faith. At the same time, as I grappled with various theological questions, I felt that my faith was being deconstructed, especially by the study of history and the examination of scriptures. Each progressive semester showed me how little I understood the Triune God and how much more I needed to learn. The “thorn in my flesh” that really kept me awake at night is this: How can I speak about God and in God’s name if I know God so little? For a moment, I imagined myself as that legendary child with St Augustine at the seashore, trying to empty the whole ocean into a sand hole. Fortunately, my professors, who are also pastors, gradually helped me understand that not all theological questions have perfect answers. And when you come to think of it, this is true not only in theology but also in the challenges we face in our daily lives.
Dear classmates, no doubt you also faced various personal and academic challenges. Perhaps sometimes you also felt like clay in a potter’s hands. Nevertheless, we do not want to miss the forest for the trees. Our difficulties hopefully helped us grow into the persons we are now.
To surmount these difficulties, we have not only relied on our professors but also one another. We explained to one another what we did not understand from the teachers. We advised each other on which professors to choose, depending on their teaching styles. We navigated together the complex world of online learning and shared tips on how to keep awake during a Zoom class. We reminded each other about upcoming quizzes and shared tips on the best “excuse” to give the professor if one missed the deadline. We all know that the internet “suddenly disappears” on the day of the deadline, right? In sum, we have accompanied each other toward graduation.
Dear classmates, graduation is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. What does our next journey look like? Looking at the world as it is, no doubt much work awaits us. The world is still healing from the covid-19 pandemic, and our contribution to this healing will be valuable. We are already in a post-truth society and a politically fractured world, made worse by the pandemic of misinformation and lies. We can feel the effects of the senseless wars in some regions of Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. We see an upsurge in refugees, exacerbated by joblessness and climate change. We notice the decline of Christianity in the West, the massacre of Christians, and the burning of churches in countries such as Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and India.
In this state of our world, shall we become paralyzed, or shall we do something? Shall we become passive to the destructive winds of change, or shall we set some fresh winds of change in motion? Dear classmates, if these past four years have taught us anything, they have taught us at least one old but valuable lesson: together is stronger. If we wish to go far, we do it together. If we wish to go fast, we do it alone. Together, we can help overcome difficulties, and together, we can help build a better world. We have already shown signs of this solidarity.
When covid-19 struck in 2020, we locked our homes and communities to protect ourselves. But soon, realizing the need to be in solidarity with our suffering brethren, we calculated our risks and joined other volunteers in our neighborhoods. Whether it was making protective gear for the medical frontliners, repackaging food in the Ateneo covered courts, or delivering food packages to struggling families around our various communities, we witnessed how small efforts, put together, can become sources of healing and hope. This solidarity is a sign of God working in us and through us to create order out of a chaotic world. So dear classmates, no matter how hopeless the situation might appear in the vineyard, let’s not forget to share our five loaves and two fish because, when taken together and blessed, they may end up feeding a thousand.
Dear classmates and friends, you might know the African proverb that says: “it takes a village to raise a child.” On behalf of this graduating class, allow me now to conclude this address by thanking all the hands that have nurtured us on our journey through LST. We are grateful to the President of LST, Fr Eric, who ensured that our learning continued online even amid the covid-19 pandemic. In addition, although several of us are international students, Fr Eric and our professors have strived to provide a suitable environment for every student, no matter which part of the world they come from. A special thanks to our beloved VP for Academic Affairs, Fr Rogel Abais, who, since the advent of online learning, has gracefully endured a barrage of emails from each of us as we sought his guidance in various academic matters. Many thanks to our beloved professors, for they never compromised the academic rigor we deserved, even when we were not good students. Our professors are the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Many thanks to our superiors and formators, who did not have mercy on us but handed us over to LST to undergo a rigorous theological program. Last but not least, maraming salamat po to the benefactors of LST, whose support makes our formation possible and makes LST such an excellent school.
Dear classmates, however much we had a rewarding time at LST, all good things come to an end. In the words of Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances;” We came to the stage of LST, and we have played our part. Very soon, we will exit the neat, artistic hallways and patios of LST and set sail into the murky waters of the world. However, we will be courageous, hopeful, and trusting in the One who missions us. Above all, we will remember that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. Dear friends, thanks for coming to celebrate this joyous day with us. Dear classmates, Xin chúc mừng! Ang galing mo! Carpe diem! Congratulations once again!