By Mr. Winston A. Maxino, Corporate Executive

(Message delivered during the 58th Honors Day Convocation held February 15, 2016 at the Silliman University Gymnasium.)

Distinguished Officials of Silliman University led by our dear President, Dr. Ben S. Malayang, Respected Members of the Board of Trustees of Silliman University led by Professor Emeritus Leonor M. Briones, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Betsy Joy B. Tan, Vice President Jane Anette L. Belarmino, Vice President Cleonico Y. Fontelo, dedicated teachers, faculty and staff, proud parents, accomplished honor students and co-curricular awardees, friends of Silliman, mga kaigsuonan, kapamilya og kapuso, maayong hapon kaninyong tanan.

This is truly a wonderful afternoon for me because I am very happy to be back in this great institution that was my second home for 15 years. From Kindergarten through College, dear old Silliman was where I acquired knowledge and expanded my capabilities. Her classroom walls and the 319 acacia trees stood as witnesses to my hard work as a student, to my mischief as a little boy, to my successes as a student leader, and to my secrets as an adolescent growing up to be a man. It is here where I first laid eyes on my wife, Alina, walking down Hibbard Avenue to get to the Engineering Building. On Hibbard Avenue, is Katipunan Hall, which used to be the Silliman Mission Hospital, and was my refuge as an asthmatic student gasping for breath and clinging to life. Ironically, the pollen from the acacia trees was one of the causes of my perennial asthma attacks, but I did not leave Silliman’s side. I am proud to have stayed loyal to this beautiful campus beside the sea.

Another reason that makes me very happy this afternoon is because of the illustrious company — Today, I am with the best and the brightest of Silliman. The positive energy is simply invigorating. I can feel the joy of the honor students and the co-curricular awardees who receive their rewards after all the hard work and sleepless nights. I can feel the pride of the parents who are rejoicing at their children’s achievements. I can feel the fulfillment of the teachers who see their best students get the recognition they so richly deserve. I was once an honor student and a most outstanding student awardee as well, I am a parent with children who have garnered honors in school, and I also used to teach — in other words, I can very well relate to all your feelings. “Gets na gets ko” the significance of this day to all of you.

Today, I want to contribute to the positive energy by talking about a positive topic: Happiness. The timeless question I have often been asked is, “How do we stay happy even during the worst circumstances of our lives?”

In 2010, I was awarded the Happiest Pinoy from among the hundreds of nominees from all over the country. The judges saw me as the “person with a constantly cheerful face and optimistic outlook, who has the proven ability to rise above life’s challenges, and who makes a positive impact in the lives of others.” Yes, my life is indeed challenging because of my many health issues. If Ms. Universe Pia Wurtzbach is confidently beautiful with a heart, I lay claim to being confidently handsome… with a heart… problem. I have a serious case of hypertension that requires daily heart maintenance medicines for the last 26 years. Ever since I was a small boy, I suffered from chronic acute asthma that has put me on the brink of death on many occasions. As if those were not enough, in 2000, I was diagnosed with a rare, incurable, painful and debilitating disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis that requires me to take pain relievers everyday for the rest of my life. I also have thoracic scoliosis, osteoporosis, uveitis, allergic rhinitis, nephrolithiasis… etc, Amen.

My medical troubles may be lifelong and life threatening, but I choose to focus on what makes my life worth living. Yes, I suffer, but I am cheerful. Yes, I struggle, but I am hopeful. Yes, my life can be very difficult, but I refuse to stay depressed and defeated. I do not think that I am a rare breed; there are many admirable Filipinos who hold on to the same happy spirit in the face of suffering. Happiness is our strength as a people — we Filipinos smile a lot, we love to laugh, and we know how to bear our burdens with grace and good humor. Therefore, we Filipinos are already at an advantage for having the never-say-die spirit.

But, there is yet one other source of the happy disposition that is second nature to me; we Sillimanians are fortunate to own it. I have inside of me the happiness seed, and this happiness seed was planted here in Silliman. This seed has grown and flourished in me, and it continues to bear good fruits in my life. This is the seed that has given me the indomitable Silliman Spirit!

My happiness seed is the Silliman motto: “Via, Veritas, Vita”. I still remember the portion of the Silliman song that says:

When we leave the halls of Silliman,
Roam the world o’er near and far;
Still the faith and truth she gave us
Will remain our guiding star.

“Via, Veritas, Vita” has always been my guiding star. This motto is the foundation of Silliman’s Christian education and it is rooted in the immortal words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

John Chapter 14 starts with Jesus telling his disciples: “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God; believe also in me.” In modern lingo, Jesus would have been saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.” And so, if we believe in Him, Jesus is teaching us that “Via Veritas Vita” is the path to happiness.

Via — Jesus is the Way that leads us closer to God. When we get close to God, He is on our side. To be happy, we must have faith in God, we must trust in Him. Even during the rough times, my faith leads me to believe that God has a purpose for everything that is happening to me. I may not understand it at first, but if I endure and continue to trust God, then eventually, something good will come out of my trials and travails — God will turn my burdens into blessings.

Let me share with you a very personal story about faith. In 1996, Alina and I were expecting our second daughter Brina Kei. I prayed to God for our child to be born normal and healthy. Little did I know that my faith would be tested. When the doctor came out of the delivery room, she told me that our daughter had Down Syndrome. A child with Down Syndrome used to be called “mongoloid” but that is no longer an acceptable term to describe them. Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder wherein the child suffers mental, physical and developmental delays. I was then devastated beyond words. We consulted another doctor, only to be told that because of Brina’s very poor muscle tone and her heart defect, Brina will not live long. My faith in God was shaken, and I asked Him, “Why are you giving me this problem?” But, I held on to my faith and I prayed for strength and guidance. I accepted God’s will and made one of the most important decisions of my life: I decided to stop thinking of Brina as a problem. I decided to see Brina as a blessing, not a burden. I resolved to love her with all my heart and to do my best to help Brina develop to her fullest potential.

Fast forward to the present day… Many years after the Doctor told me that Brina will not live long, many years after a Psychologist told us that Brina cannot even finish Grade School… Brina is now 19 years old and she is truly a great blessing beyond what I would have ever imagined. My child with an intellectual disability graduated from a regular High School, at the appropriate age of 16, as the Class Valedictorian. She already earned her Certificate in General Clerical Skills and her Diploma in Associate in Arts. She is now in College taking up AB History while working part-time as a pre-school teacher assistant. She is currently the Special Olympics Global Youth Ambassador representing Asia-Pacific. Moreover, because of the great job she has been doing in Special Olympics, she was invited to a dinner in the White House with US President Barack Obama.

Looking back, I now ask myself… What if I had lost faith and gave up on Brina? Then I would have deprived myself of so much happiness! Brina’s achievements are amazing! She is the best proof that God rewards those who have faith. I have realized that happiness does not only come from positive outlook but also flows from a feeling of security that with God on our side we will be victorious over any problem or difficulty. Winners are happy people and happy people are winners!

One other unique thing about real winners is that they win by honest means. Winners naturally believe in Veritas — Jesus is the Truth. Jesus did not say, “I speak the Truth” or “I know the Truth.” He said, “I am the Truth,” which to me, means that His very being is Truth. If everything about Jesus is Truth, His thoughts are true, His words are true and His actions are true. Jesus is teaching us that in order to be happy, we must always do what is right — in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions.

I have been working for a total of 34 years now. But, I still remember how it was to be a student. The challenges were a lot easier: how to pass the tests, how to get good grades, how to finish the projects on time, and how to juggle time between the studies and the girlfriend. But when I started working, I discovered that the hardest tests in life are not the kind that we answer with pen and paper; these are the tests that we answer with conscience and morals. The test of one’s integrity is the greater challenge that we must hurdle.

While working, I have experienced the classic test of integrity: a supplier attempted to bribe me with big bucks in exchange for my approval of his proposal for a big project. Of course, because I am a Sillimanian, I rejected it. After that, I would receive death threats saying that if I did not become a “team player,” they would eliminate me. Whose team did they want me to play for? — Because if one plays for the team of God, the rules are entirely opposite. God wants us to receive an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work; to stand up for what is right; to say no to people who tempt us with offers of money, power or privilege in exchange for favors; to resist the urge to lie, to steal, to cheat or to break the law to get what we desire.

When we play for the team of God, the rules are tough but He compensates our efforts with a gift that is far more valuable than all the gold and riches in the world: the gift of happiness that springs from a clear conscience and a peaceful mind. I am not perfect but I can look anybody in the eye and, with all honesty, tell him that my integrity is not for sale and it has never been bought. This is one of the reasons why I am happy! Bill Gates is the richest man in the world with wealth valued at $79.2 billion, but does being the richest man necessarily make him the happiest man? A happy person who treasures his honor and integrity, even if he has very little of wealth, can be just as happy or even happier than Bill Gates. Author and spiritual leader Dada Vaswani wrote, “Happiness, true happiness, is an inner quality. It is a state of mind. If your mind is at peace, you are happy. If your mind is at peace, but you have nothing else, you can be happy. If you have everything the world can give – pleasure, possessions, power – but lack peace of mind, you can never be happy.

As a corporate executive, I have the tough and unfortunate responsibility of firing employees. I do not fire them for lack of knowledge, skill, ability or intelligence. Sometimes, these employees are even among the smartest in the company. What they lack is the moral backbone to follow company rules, regulations and the code of conduct. The respected playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not a man of honor.” So I make this special appeal to our dear honor students and co-curricular awardees: Having a brilliant mind is not enough; develop your character, be trustworthy, strengthen the will to do the right thing, be committed to Truth, and God’s gift of happiness will follow you wherever you go.

And where is the best way to go? In the way of Vita — Jesus is the Life! Life is growth, advancement, productivity and progress. Jesus is the perfect model of Life that is meaningful and fruitful; His work and suffering brought us salvation. To be happy, we must continue to grow, improve, be productive and spread happiness to others.

I am a Person with Disability or a PWD because of my rare and incurable debilitating disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. The worse thing that could happen to me is that my spine will eventually fuse and I will not be able to walk, I will not be able to sit, I will not be able to move. I wake up everyday with pain in my feet, my hands, my neck and especially my back, which make it difficult to get out of bed. I have been in pain everyday for 16 years now, and I will be in pain for the rest of my life. As I speak to you now, I am in pain. I hope and pray that someday, scientists will find a cure for Ankylosing Spondylitis but, in the meantime, I am happy the way I am. Happiness is not having what you want, it is wanting what you have. I have graciously accepted that my body is broken, but that does not mean that I consider myself useless and worthless. I may have been sentenced to a life of pain, agony and suffering, but I want my life to still be meaningful and fruitful. I figured I have two choices: I can choose to be a grumpy, irritable, impatient man always complaining about my problems or I can choose to be a kind, productive, uplifting presence. For as long as I am alive, I will continue to strive to work, to learn new skills, to become a better person and to contribute to a happier world by spreading happiness to others. By choosing to be happy and by making others happy, this life shall be the best life I could ever live!

Happiness is more than just a feeling; happiness is an energy that moves people to positive action that benefits others. Happy people want to make others happy. This does not require grand gestures or a supreme sacrifice. Happiness can circulate from doing the small and simple acts that show you care — from greeting people warmly with a smile, from saying a well-deserved praise, from thanking people, from encouraging the hopeless, from guiding the lost, from comforting the grieving, from sharing with the needy, from taking the time to listen, and many more.

All these little gestures emanate from a loving heart that wants the best for others. It is love that gives meaning to our lives and bears good fruits. And the good thing about love and happiness is the multiplier effect. When we give love, we are loved in return. When we spread happiness, we are made happy in return.

I show my children that I love them very much in the best ways that I can. They return the love by being productive, competent and honorable young women who make good use of their talents. Our eldest daughter Alayne graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University last year and because of her outstanding leadership stint in College, she landed a highly coveted management-trainee job. Our second daughter Brina, as I have mentioned, has her impressive share of accomplishments. Our youngest daughter Carlin is a talented singer and she graduated First Honors in Grade School among about 500 classmates. She is my “liwat” in many ways, they say. God is good and generous all the time. The more I love, the more blessings flow into my life in many wonderful ways. Truly, I have every reason to rejoice and be happy for the rest of my life.

Having said all these, let me go back to the timeless question “How do we stay happy even during the worst circumstances of our lives?” I would like to provide the answer in my humble understanding of Via, Veritas, Vita. Via: Have faith that God is on your side and trust that He will turn your burdens into blessings. Veritas: maintain your integrity and always do the right thing to keep a peaceful mind. Vita: let your suffering bear fruit to transform you into a happier and more loving person who enriches the lives of others.

As a fitting end to the topic of happiness, I would like to celebrate the reasons for this happy occasion. Congratulations to the honor students and co-curricular awardees! God has bestowed upon you the gifts of intelligence and leadership; I enjoin you to use them to make this world a better and happier place. To the parents, thank you for the sacrifices that you had to bear in order to send your children to one of the best schools in the country. I urge you to make your homes happy and safe havens for your children. To the teachers and administrators of Silliman, thank you for your dedication to the noble task of education. I ask you to make your classrooms happy and enlightened environments conducive to growing and learning. By your example, you can show your students the living message of Via, Veritas, Vita towards building Competence, Character and Faith.

I do not dare say that only Sillimanians or Christians have the potential to be happy. If you watched the latest episode of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you would wonder why the scavenger Rey naturally possesses the force. You would then conclude that she must be a child of a Jedi. In the same way, all of us naturally possess the happiness force because we are children of God. We just have to learn how to harness it so that we will become Jedi masters of happiness. To harness this happiness force, we need to B – believe we possess it, E – endure the hardships and N – never give up. In short, B – believe, E – endure and N – never give up, or B,E,N, or BEN!

Today, I stand before you, proud to be a Sillimanian. Like the palm trees, tall and stately, I wave her banner in the breeze. I am what I am today, because of the happiness seed that she planted in me forty-seven years ago. This seed, which I have nurtured to bear good fruits, sustains my happiness force. May the force of Via-Veritas-Vita be also with you!

Cheers to Silliman!

Happiness to all!