Commencement Address

Commencement Address

By: Dr. Betty C. McCann
| President

Commencement Address
by Dr. Betty Cernol-McCann
President, Silliman University

Delivered at the 91st Commencement Exercises of Central Philippine University
April 28, 2019


The chairman and members of the Board of Trustees;

The university president and members of the administrative team;

The faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of this university;

The graduates’ parents and loved ones;

Most of all, the graduates whom we honor on this day…

Congratulations, everyone!

You all made it! Each one of you has a story to tell about the time you studied here. Some stories are more of joy than anxiety; others, bittersweet, madugo, ma-drama. Whatever story you spin, the fact is, you have hurdled formal education successfully. The question to reflect on now is:  Where do you go from here? What now?

Dr. Seuss, a famous author of children’s stories that resonate so well with adults, wrote “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” The opening lines say:

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”

One thing is for sure: You will now move on from learning within the confines of the classroom toward a borderless, porous learning community. While you are now a graduate of your dear institution of higher learning, your learning goes to a still higher level as you encounter the world of work and service out there.

Where are you off to?  Wherever your journey leads you, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its impact on the education you’ve already received will mark the paths you take.

Consider the previous three Industrial Revolutions and note their impact on the Philippine work scenario.

The First Industrial Revolution had to do with water and steam power, which allowed for the mechanization of production. If you recall your lessons in history, this was the advent of colonial occupation on a large scale and of the mechanization of Philippine agriculture. This period was characterized by the expansion of sugar production in this area, by sugar mills, and by steamboats that made possible inter-island social, cultural, political, and economic exchange. Certainly, our world of work and opportunities opened up.

In the Second Industrial Revolution, the onset of electric power led to mass production, which brought about urbanization; power generation; transformation of educational delivery systems; the use of telephone, radio, television – that is, mass communications; improved transportation systems, such as the automobile and the airplane. At this industrial stage, our world of work and economic opportunities expanded even more.

The Third Industrial Revolution – where we are today – is characterized by adoption of digital technologies: personal computers, cellphones, electronic recordkeeping, data processing, office technologies, the Internet that, through social media, has wielded an impact on politics, culture, education, and other areas. The use of electronics and information technology allowed us to automate production. We are at this stage. We are currently dealing with changes in the work environment – from the basic expectations in our online transactions in our job search, application, testing, and interview to shopping online, confirming transportation tickets, or virtual conferencing. While we are still busy coping with the effects of the Third Industrial Revolution, we are now already being bombarded with the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on all three of these (steam, electric, digital technologies) but the shift is now toward integration and internalization of technologies in intimate interaction with basic human activities. Consider the following trends: artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, bionic medical devices, drones, and their application in personalized delivery systems, surveillance processes, production of dietary substitutes such as alternatives to beef and pork, carbon capture stratagems to reduce CO2 emissions to mitigate climate change, and many more innovations and technologies even as we speak.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will consist of technological breakthroughs that challenge us to think through once again what it means to be human: Are there any limits to fabricating or redesigning humanity? Should there be any?

For example, how do we deal with therapies for gender reassignment? How far should infertile couples go beyond drugs designed to enhance testosterone? What about in vitro fertilization? Cloning designer babies? Surrogate motherhood? (We know, for example, that the Church, professional ethics boards, and other agencies draw the line between what is right and not right. Given rapid developments and technological advancements, one may ask: Should that line be drawn?)

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will completely transform inherited assumptions about individuality and privacy, as well as the limits and possibilities of medical interventions for whatever reason. It will transform inherited assumptions about human dignity, equality, and development. It will question whether there is a common good in society or if there are limits to our obligation to care for our common home, the Earth itself.

Besides opening up unprecedented opportunities for employment in new industries, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will force us to rethink higher education in light of the learning needs of the millennial generation, which is actually now the Gen Z.

A typical Third Industrial Revolution challenge is how to use digital technologies for enhanced learning systems, e.g., Blackboard, the digitization and modernization of the library, or upgrade of internet availability at a minimum for use in all classrooms. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will challenge us to think through the skills necessary to continue flourishing with the aid (selective, perhaps) of new technologies.

For example, what if a pill could be developed to make it unnecessary for us to study and memorize facts in order to retain them? What if all the knowledge we would ever need were to be available through eyeglasses that could access any data collection anywhere? What if most forms of major surgery (as well as other highly skilled functions) could be performed by robots?

Talking about robots, I am reminded of a recent experience. About two weeks ago, I was invited to a forum on women leaders in Asian higher education at the Ginling College of the Nanjing Normal University in Nanjing, China. At the hotel upon check-in, a robot approached me and asked, “Do you need a drink?” I said eagerly, “Yes, please.” But it took me time to figure out which button to push. My response time was slow and the robot just left me without a drink. It went about from person to person in the lobby, hoping perhaps to find a human who could immediately interact at a level specified for that robot to function.

One other thing to note about the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: perhaps you have not yet taken ethics seriously as a part of your education. You may have assumed that all you need to do well is strong family values, faithful religious practice, and a willingness to follow your employer’s rules, whatever they may be. While all those things remain indispensable, they may not be enough. Once we realize that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will mean unprecedented challenges to what it means to be human, we all will have to learn to participate in our country’s effort to define the limits and possibilities of the new technologies.

The question will no longer be “CAN we do this?” but “SHOULD we to do this?” If cloning techniques, for example, are perfected in the labs (In the first place, should such research be supported by our universities?), and we know we CAN do it, we will have to face the choice of “SHOULD we do it?” How will you answer that question? If your education has not yet prepared you to think about these things, you will have to learn to do it on your own. How will you do that?

According to a World Economic Forum report, “The Future of Jobs,” there are 10 competencies you will need to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Complex Problem-Solving; Critical Thinking; Creativity; People Management; Coordinating with Others; Emotional Intelligence; Judgment and Decision-Making; Service Orientation; Negotiation, and Cognitive Flexibility.

These soft skills all the more become important as we deal with the rapid technological changes in the workplace.

As you reflect on this list of skills, you may ask yourself this question, as your teachers, too, must: How well has your education prepared you to do these things? Probably, you will conclude that you have done better at some than on others. By no means does this mean that your education has been a failure!

What has your higher education ultimately empowered you with?

Implicit in all of the skills you have learned is a basic challenge: LEARNING HOW TO LEARN. We cannot know in detail what the future will hold. But we can face whatever it is with confidence, if we have the skills required for continued learning. Long gone are the days when a graduate could happily close his or her books (resell them, perhaps), and rejoice in the idea that they will never face an exam again. The likelihood is that, on any career path you take now, you will be challenged with certification requirements, the need to upgrade your skills through training, continuing professional education, and the like.

Our job as educators is to prepare you for a world in which learning will be continuous.  Graduation doesn’t mean an end to your acquisition of knowledge and skills, but actually, is only its beginning. You may have viewed school as full of questions. Now on your graduation, you may say, “No more studying or reviewing questions; all these will come to an end – period.” But actually, in connection with the world out there, your graduation is a comma; more answers are yet to come from interaction with the larger, dynamic society. The world out there, beyond the comma, has exclamation points, as well as some special characters. Welcome to the community of life-long learners! That is what it means to be a graduate.

The challenges ahead may seem bewildering. All of us may, at some point, long for simpler times, as if we could all go back to the days when Lapu-Lapu and his cohorts ruled these islands. But that’s not possible. The old saying “No one is an island” still applies, and that is true. Maybe that is especially true for us who inhabit the Philippine Islands, from which so many proceed into a globalized world, doing things and experiencing life in ways that your parents and grandparents would never have imagined.

Speaking of our own family and loved ones, we acquire from them some special signs or alarm signals reminding us to mend our ways or go the right path. I have one I call the “three-hoy” alarm that my mother usually rings. Three-hoy alarm (hoy, hoy, hoy—sobra ka na ha; hoy, hoy, hoy – bantay ka). The more hoys, the more imperative it is to follow the command. When it is only one or two, “hoy-hoy,” it could be taken as a warning. The fact is, our parents, grandparents, and our God have built into us, instilled in us, basic principles of right and wrong, especially for when we’re confronted with issues that challenge core values, such as your core Centralian values of Faith, Character, Justice, Stewardship, and Excellence.

Dear graduates, you now dribble the ball on your ever-widening court of higher learning. But we can take comfort, I hope, from our old friend and teacher Dr. Seuss, author of books for children and for children at heart: “Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.”

To the graduates here assembled, to their families and friends, to the teachers who have accompanied them on this path so far: I congratulate you all!  We must give thanks to God for this beautiful day and for the opportunity to share life together as we are doing now – welcoming our graduates into the community of lifelong learners.

May the Lord be with you in all you do!