(The U.P. Centennial celebrations kicked-off yesterday, 7 January 2008. As I was reminiscing about the time I walked the UP campus, I’m reminded of Joseph Nathan Cruz’s valedictory speech delivered on 15 April 2000 at UP Diliman).
UNDERSECRETARY Rosario Manalo, Dean Josefina Agravante, esteemed faculty, dear parents, fellow graduates, good evening.
Let me begin by saying that my mother is a domestic helper. In other people’s homes she cooks, does the laundry, cleans in the bathroom, and takes care of the infants. She put me through school doing that kind of work because that was the only thing she could do. She never finished high school, never enjoyed bourgeois luxuries.
And later tonight, we’ll be going home to our hovel in a squatter area in Taytay, Rizal dubbed Coco Village because most of the houses are made of cheap, coco lumber.
And yet, few of my classmates know that. Most are comfortable with their neat picture of the world. Comfortable with cute, little concerns in the university like projects and papers, reports, boyfriends and girlfriends, torn hymen, cheap thrills in the lagoon, concerts, cell phones, night lives. And in this age that flaunts globalization and the advance of technology, we are led to believe more and more that we have entered an age of solidarity, unity, an age where there is inter-connection in a global village that continues to spawn genuine development for all mankind.
Indirectly, it leads us to a complacency supported by the lie that the world is all right. After all, we feel all right. The pain and suffering exists somewhere out there among a few insignificant people. I have walked among you. But lost in anonymity, I am assumed to be no different from anyone even by some of my friends. When I was a freshman, a close friend of mine enjoyed lambasting the squatters, the jologs, for their bad behavior, their bad smell, their propensity for breeding baby after baby whom they cannot support. My friend did not recognize that I was from that background. He did not realized that I grew up watching my friend die of sickness, or get pregnant too early, or get injured or killed in petty street wars, or go to jail, or resign themselves to the typical, monotonous lifestyle of the poor. And the assumption that everything is all right grows with the lie that we are more or less the same, that we are united, that the dawning new world order has started to bring the sought-after solidarity.
But the right approach to true solidarity and unity is not one that denies difference, denies the pain of the oppressed just because it is not beautiful, or as our country’s President says, “It is too depressing.” The right approach is to expose the truth, highlight the difference and work for its remedy.
For as long as there are poor people, Moros discriminated against, oppressed women, abused children, and multitudes of other categories consigned to the margins because they threaten the image of unity and stability that feeds the established status quo, there can be no true solidarity. But the creativity of the artist, the magic of their potent images, the words of the men and women of letters – these have the power to transform, the power to wake our people from the stupor that gives them dreams that are lies.
Power to destroy myths and create a world that is beautiful and true. Of course, the arts and letters can be used the other way. The way that sells out, aids corruption, subverts the potentiality of what is good. But will you?
As graduates we are in a phase that continues to taunt us with the question, “Who do you sell your brains to?” It is easy to be complacent. To believe the lies. But we shouldn’t. We owe it to our teachers who taught us patiently despite the low salary, our parents who worked so hard for us, and to our people whose blood and sweat built this institution and continue to put us through school. We owe it to them to become the prophets of this age that will preach the true gospel of solidarity. Only then can be all be truly one in a world where it would make perfect sense to celebrate the fact – squatter ako, katulong and nanay ko – and we are proud because, and not in spite of, the fact.
I’m sure all of us have issues about which we keep silent because of the power of the lies. This is the day to be free. I call on you – fellow scholars and artists, unite!