A Revision of Manny Pangilinan's Ateneo Commencement Speech

Okay, the big news – slow news day, after all – was that Manny Pangilinan apparently read from a plagiarized speech in front of the graduating class of the Ateneo.  Having nothing better to do, I tried to revise as much as I can from MVP’s speech – that apparently took weeks to prepare – in about an hour of outlining and typing.

Here goes nothing!  BTW: this is all just for the sake of practice.  I mean no harm, and I don’t intend to do harm, revising – or attempting to revise – Mr. Pangilinan’s speech.  Some bits and pieces thrown in, though.

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Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.  I want to thank Father Benjamin Nebres and the Ateneo community for the honor of this doctorate.  My congratulations also go to our Law School, for having 7 out of the 11-10 topnotchers in the recent Bar exams!

Father Nebres, Father Magadia, trustees, faculty and staff, parents and siblings, graduates of 2010, many congratulations. Thank you so much for this gift of fellowship with the sesquicentennial class. You’ve earned your diploma from a great learning institution, and you have every right to be proud. I have wracked my mind and heart with what I should say today.  It took me around an hour to ask someone to write this speech for me – and an hour for him to write about it – as I told him the story of my own graduation day 44 years ago.

The honorary degree that I am receiving today may seem to some as another feather in my cap; another testament to the successful story of MVP.  Yet feathers blow away in the wind, and testaments to success stories often one-upped and perhaps even refuted.  On this day, where your remarkable achievements are made permanent with a march, a bow, and a diploma, I say to you, Graduates: you cannot rest on your laurels.  You cannot rest easy that your Ateneo degree guarantees you success, or acts as your aegis against the constant scrutiny of the world.

In your years here, you were expected to succeed, all right, but the measure of this success always lies in contrast with others.  The Ateneo has been a host and benefactor, the careful and doting tutor – to batches of billionaires, powerful and influential people, and individuals who have changed the world.  They are people with the very same things you dream of as graduation gifts or as short-term goals: fast cars, big houses, money in the bank.

For the longest time, money and material wealth were the barometers for success.  If you speak of material success, I can speak at length about making the right business decisions, investing in the right industries and enterprises.  I can talk to you about the wealth that could be found in telecommunications and real estate.  Perhaps even philanthropy and the wealth of wins in college basketball.

Yet the lure of success is tethered to a line of failures.  In this life, as you pursue your careers and move on to the next important stages in your lives, you will encounter failure.  Failures that will divest and strip you of the material wealth you have amassed.

They speak of Manny Pangilinan as a success story, but I have encountered my own fair share of failures as well.  I failed in business: when the telecommunications industry in India was starting out in 1995, First Pacific invested in 49% of a local telco, so we asked an Indian partner to hold the 51% majority; the minimum required by Indian law.  They couldn’t provide the counterpart capital.  Our business relationship soured, and we had to divest of the venture.  We lost big money in the business.  It was a humbling learning experience, but we bounced back.  We learned our lessons, we moved on.

I failed in my personal life: when I was in my senior year in high school, it was an open secret that students cheated – in religion class – to pass exams.  I was in contention for valedictorian, but I felt that I had to do the same to protect my grades.  We got caught.  I was asked by the Principal to name names, but I refused to comply; I was stripped of all my honors.  Yet from that massive blow to my record – and to my ego – I bounced back.  When you’re at the very bottom, there’s nowhere else to go but the very top.  I persevered, struggled, sought the counsel and support of my parents, my friends, and my family.  I did so, until I became who I am today.

Ultimately, those are things I sometimes forget.  Surely, getting caught with a plagiarized speech can be seen as the ultimate failure, the coup de grace, but I do not see it that way.  Success give you the confidence to push ahead, but failure gives you the humility to take a step back, and reflect on the directions of your ambition.  Failure, graduates, will not kill you.  In fact, failure will teach you lessons that sometimes, success cannot.

Graduates, I urge you to take a look back at your measures of success, and look beyond what you want to achieve in the short term.  Money and fame are nice things, but they can be taken away from you in one instance of a failure.  Do not be afraid to fail, fellow Ateneans, but at the same time don’t hesitate to succeed, either.  Meaning in life is a healthy balance between the wealth of the wallet, the wealth of the mind, and the wealth of the spirit.  As you will invest in the things that will make you rich, take the time to invest in a meaningful life.

As you leave this hall and take your long, last walk along the corridors and pathways of the Ateneo, let me give you the gentle reminder that when you first stepped into this school, your teachers, friends, and the community gave you that first dividend for you to invest in a meaningful life.  Look back at the Ateneo way: to serve God, by serving others.  Dedicate your life not only to amassing great wealth, but to give back to the community and to the nation.  Satisfy the hunger of your belly, but do not forget to quench the thirst of your spirit.  Invest in a meaningful life.  Learn from your failures, and be proud of your successes.

Take care of your body.  Let your mind loose with ideas, do not stop learning new things.  Be open to new ideas, to criticism, and to the lessons learned from your personal successes and failures.  Help the less fortunate; do not wait until you get wealthy and make millions to help others have a better life for themselves.

Let me take the time to congratulate all of you today, for the greatest achievement that you ever made in your young lives.  In four years your teachers have inculcated in you a great investment in meaning: an education that only the Ateneo can offer.  The same integrity that you lived and breathed through the four years you studied here should be the shining light that guides your way into your success in the real world.

Let me be the first to congratulate you on your success.  I will let you go now, and let you savor, and revel in, the memory of the product of four long years of an Ateneo education.  May the grace of God lead you to a life’s journey full of success.  Thank you for the honor, the courtesy, the trust, and the privilege of letting me speak before you today, albeit with a revised speech.  God bless you, and congratulations.

4 thoughts on “A Revision of Manny Pangilinan's Ateneo Commencement Speech

  1. Bravo! I clapped like 3 seconds non-stop after reading this. Had I felt that I got cheated of getting a faintly glowing envoy that’s supposed to guide me through the first days or months of my professional life since the commencement speech we got was, much like most local pop songs, a two-cent cover version of a great original, and having read this, I’d take a deep breath and get myself ready to leave that fiasco behind me. Easy said than done but you can’t have the mistake of a penitent man jinx the life you have before you a. Circus over. You go on ahead and partay to the indie groove of the great opportunity life has laid before you. That one’s still up for grab. Congratulations, Ateneo graduates!

    1. ” When someone has the wit to coin a useful phrase it ought to be acclaimed and broadcast or it will perish” — Jack Smith. Here’s another quotation from Wilson Mizner; ” Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s research” Good/Bad research MVP! he..he

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