Delivered during the 10th Summer University Commencement
Who among you are graduating from a course you have always wanted to graduate from?
Who among you here originally wanted a different course, but for one reason or another, ended up with this course that you are now graduating from?
I belong to the second group. I did not always want to become a lawyer. When I was a kid, I wanted to be many things – none of them involved becoming a lawyer. When I was 5, I wanted to become a farmer because I thought that farmers never ran out of food. Then I wanted to become a scientist and ride a rocket ship into space. But my biggest dream was becoming a doctor. I dreamt of becoming a doctor from the time I was a small child all the way into High School.
But something happened in High School, and it changed the course of my life. Instead of pursuing medicine, I ended up pursuing law. Do you want to know what happened in High School?
Well, if they invite me to speak again, I will tell you. But today, my only point is, starting at a very young age, children already know what they want to become. I don’t know with you, but I started dreaming of becoming someone – or something – as early as the age of 5.
Society makes sure that our young children start thinking about WHAT THEY WANT TO BECOME as early as possible. As a matter of fact, parents start thinking about WHAT THEY WANT their kids to become even before the child is born. Almost as soon as the mother knows that she is pregnant, she begins to dream. “What do I want my child to be when she grows up? I want her to become Miss Universe. If it is a boy, I want him to become President of the Philippines!”
When the kid comes out, and even before she starts talking, her parents start to tell her what they want. They might tell her, “Anak, you should be Mayor of this town one day.”
When the child is older, people around her will ask her one of the most popular questions that is ever asked of kids, and that question is: “Hey kid, what do you want to be when you group up?”
The kid is then pushed into making a choice. Sometimes, for lack of other known options, the child will mimic the dream of the parents. So, when people ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she might say “I will be the Mayor of this town one day” – even if she has absolutely no idea what being Mayor is all about.
When the child is older, we shift from the WHAT to the HOW. We stop asking her what she wants to be. We start telling her HOW she can become what she wants to become.
We start giving her the rules. Among the popular rules for young school children are:
- Wake up early! You cannot be late for school.
- Always do your assignment.
- You should have a tutor so you will be in the Honor Roll.
When she goes to college.
- You must have good grades.
- You cannot flunk any of your classes.
- You cannot have a boyfriend until you graduate! *
- Study hard! Be in the Dean’s List. The better grades you have, the better chance of getting a good job in the future.
But my mom was different. When I was leaving home for college, she called me aside and said: “You cannot have only one boyfriend. You should have many boyfriends. That is how you will learn about boys. And if you get pregnant, do not run away. Come home and give the baby to me.” I was in Silliman for 8 years. Guess how many boyfriends I had: zero. Oh, there was one, but he does not count. You see, my mother was a master in reverse psychology.
And about studying, she would tell me “Don’t study too hard, you will damage your eyes! And no need to be in the honor roll. It is enough for me that you are such a loving daughter.” I told you, she was good.
Oh, I tried that with the kids. It did not work.
As a society, we are deeply concerned with the HOW. We all want our children to be successful, to become rich, so we teach them to choose the course that will likely land them a good job. We encourage them to go abroad, or work for a big company, or go into business. The young Political Science graduate will be told to affiliate herself with the politician who is most likely to help her run for public office. The young lawyer will be told to join the country’s biggest law firm and work at becoming either a Senator or a justice of the Supreme Court one day.
We are fixated on the HOW, and this is reflected in the videos we watch on YouTube. Consider these 5 videos I picked from YouTube:
- The Secret to Making Money by Starting A Small Business – 2,331,477 views
- 10 Habits of All Successful People – 3,639,281 views
- How to Succeed in Life (Jack Ma’s Advise for Students and Young People) – 4,377,575 views
- Life Advice That Will Change Your Life – 6,437,708 views
- How to Become a Millionaire in 3 Years – 7,497,097 views
Ladies and gentlemen, just in case you get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with trying to learn how. As a matter of fact, the HOW is just as important as the WHAT. If you want to go from Cebu to Dumaguete, for example, you better know what direction to take and what boats to catch, or you will never get there.
But what is wrong is that we stop at the HOW. We spend all our energies – and every waking hour of our every day – learning the HOW, and applying what we learn to our lives, with the hope that it will get us what we want. In the process, we forget that there is a third and even more important question to ask, and that question is WHY.
Why do we want to be what we want to be?
When I was in college, people used to tell me: “You should become a Senator!” I asked them why, and their answers were disappointing. Some said: “Because you are intelligent.” Others said “Because you are eloquent and you have good command of the English language.” And still some others said (and this is my favorite): “Because you look like Miriam Defensor Santiago.” (That was before when, my hair was short and wavy, before I discovered the magic of rebond.)
Let’s talk about this seriously: I can become a Senator if I want to, but WHY? Why would I want to become a Senator?
I think I know why we don’t ask the question, i.e., because the answer seems very obvious. Why indeed would anyone want to become a Senator? Of course, because becoming a Senator will make him famous. And when a person is a senator, for one reason or another, he becomes rich in public office.
In other words, ladies and gentlemen, it all boils down to personal fame and gain. And that is true for just about everything that we long for. We want to be what we want to be because we want popularity. We want money. And we want power. We want a big house, and expensive cars, and signature bags and shoes.
But, ladies and gentlemen, should our WHY be all about ME? Is that all we have to struggle for – to give ourselves things? Shouldn’t our why be able to transcend beyond ourselves and find meaning and purpose on something higher, something bigger, something more permanent than our fleeting mortality?
Let us take money, for example.
My mother was a very wise woman. She taught me a lot of things which served me well in life. But there was one thing she was wrong about. You see, when I was young, my mother used to tell me: “You do not need money. You do not have to become rich. It is okay to be poor because God loves the humble.”
I do not know if that was another reverse psychology, but she was definitely wrong about that. It is NOT okay to be poor, because if you are poor, your ability to help other people is limited. You cannot give what you do not have. It is good to be rich, because the richer you are, the more people you can help. And you can definitely be rich and be humble at the same time.
So yes, it is okay to tell our children to work at becoming rich. It is okay to tell them “Go to the world and make money.” That is definitely better than telling them “Go to the world and multiply.”
But when we do that, we also need to help them understand WHY. We cannot tell our children to pursue money without helping them decipher their motivations.
Our problem is that we treat money like we treat sex. We are afraid to talk about it, we are afraid to admit that we want it, and we are ashamed to say that we want more of it. It is about time we change that attitude – about money, not about sex.
It is perfectly okay to talk to our kids about money. It is okay to tell them that it is okay to become rich. But it is our obligation as Christian parents to help them set their eyes on a goal higher than their own selfish interests.
So, let’s say your child says, “Nanay, I want to become rich.”
You don’t say, “No, Anak. Don’t! Money is evil!” Instead, you say, “That is great, Anak! I would be happy to see you with a lot of money in the future. But tell me, why do you want to become rich?”
And if your child says: “Because I want a big house, and a flashy car, and I want to have nice clothes and bags and shoes!”
Then you tell her: “Well, that’s nice. But if you want to become rich, you need a purpose higher than yourself, or your money will become meaningless.”
And she might say: “What do you mean by a purpose higher than myself?”
And you’d say: “Remember the homeless children we see on the streets whenever I drive you to school? Wouldn’t it be nice to have all the money in the world so that you can build homes for them and send them to school?”
It is never about how much money you have. It is about what you spend it on. Last Sunday, on Mother’s Day, my son Cris posted a poem on his Facebook wall. In part, it says:
We didn’t have much growing up, but what we lacked in money,
My mother made up for in love and wisdom.
Her work-shot eyes, and sweat-stained cheeks told me
“Life is about a greater purpose, and not about a greater income.”
Not that money doesn’t matter. It does.
But at the end of the day, who we earn it and spend it for
Matters more than who has less or who has more.
As Christian parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children the true reason for our creation. Why did God create man?
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man in His own image. If that is the case, then we are reflections of who God is. Our lives reflect what God looks like. And certainly, as we are His images, God expects us to make Him look good.
We were not created by God so we can glorify ourselves with big houses, or flashy cars or Louie Vuitton bags. We were not created to honor ourselves with recognitions and awards. God created us so we can bring glory – not to ourselves – but to HIM.
Isaiah 43:6-7 clearly quotes God as saying:
“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
How do we glorify God? Isaiah 61 verses 1 to 3 gives us examples. We can glorify God if we “bind up the brokenhearted,” “proclaim freedom to the captives,” “release prisoners from darkness,” and “comfort those who grieve and despair.”
That is our TRUE WHY. That is the reason why we are here, and that should be the reason why you want to be what you want to be.
As Christians, whatever it is we do in this life, we need to do it for the glory of God. It does not matter whether we are the mayor of the city, or the janitor who cleans the toilet in the mayor’s office. The person who lives his life in a way that brings honor and glory to God is the person who has lived according to God’s purpose.
Sadly, many of us do not know our TRUE WHY. And the few of us who do, choose to forget it. That is why we have politicians whose only goal in public office is to get rich by stealing money from the public coffers. We have public officials who think that power means that they can kill anyone who does not agree with them. And we have rich people who can afford to buy bigger homes and flashier cars but who cannot even afford to send a single orphan to school.
So now I ask you, my dear graduates: what is your WHY? Why do you want to be what you want to be?
And is your WHY in alignment with the purpose for which God has created you?
If you haven’t asked yourself yet, I urge you to ask yourself now. Do not leave this hall without asking yourself these questions. You will probably not find the answer today, but I urge you to continue looking and to never stop until you find it. Unless you find the CORRECT answer to your WHY, you will have lived your life in vain. You will stand on top of your success one day and find everything to be without meaning. And that will be the saddest day of your life.
But today, I congratulate you for a job well done. Now go to the world and make money, and use your riches and fame for the glory of God. And remember: Silliman is very proud of you!
I love you all!