The RPM of Life

The RPM of Life

Betty Cernol McCann, Ph.D.
President, Silliman University
[Senior High School commencement message at SU delivered on 28 May 2021]

You are the 4th batch of Senior High School graduates since the implementation of the K to 12 curricula. To all of you, my sincere congratulations! You did not just complete the requirements for graduation, you hurdled successfully the obstacles associated with the abrupt change from in-person instruction to online learning!

While this commencement ceremony honors your individual achievement, one also has to acknowledge the collective resource that helped you attain this milestone—your parents, loved ones and significant persons in your life; your teachers, mentors and life coaches; and your classmates and friends who shared in your senior high experiences. Honoring yourself and honoring all others who accompanied you in this journey is a good way to end this phase in your educational endeavor. But of course, today’s graduation is just setting you off towards more roads to take and more courses in life to hurdle.

You are a product of a curriculum that integrates the 21st century skills required in this global community. You are the Gen Zer so-called, considered to be the digital natives as you are raised in a digital, media-saturated world. To hold your attention in school and at home, you pretty much had access to mobile phones, smart phones, tablets or other electronic gadgets that became significant features of your learning environment. As a child, you may have been pacified when you got restless and cranky, not by your Mom’s lullaby but perhaps by your parent’s electronic gadgets that played you songs sung by bright and bubbly animation characters or by a game where Mario has to leap from one obstacle course to another and get power-ups to navigate the Mushroom Kingdom. Or is this game illustration even way off in time as you may in your younger years already have preference for Lara Croft or Kratos or whoever else.

On the other hand, I am a digital immigrant, back at a time when my introduction to the internet was in the late ‘80s as a way for online communication – when getting a message ‘You’ve got mail!’ was received with much welcome and awe. The internet, to me as a researcher, was primarily to obtain related information, encode data, process and employ statistical analysis as a basis for writing reports. Computer games were not in proliferation then. When my younger siblings were still infants, they would be lulled to sleep in a duyan where my mother would sing lines from love songs the GIs would belt out like “I’ll be loving you always, when the things you plan need a helping hand, I will understand always.”

But back to you and the present. With the addition of Levels 11 and 12 in the secondary years, you are now better prepared to enter College as you are now two years older compared to your counterparts in the old curriculum— and with this being older in years, you may be wiser, more capable, better able to cope or adjust.

Academic excellence, as your education here at Silliman has taught you, is not just getting good grades. Or being adept at communication skills or solving mathematical problems or having a fancy learning presentation. Rather, academic excellence involves how a life is transformed because of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that change your perspective or outlook in life. In this high-tech learning environment and in this transformative age of education one has to have critical engagement with others and with oneself.

So, what can digital natives like you and a digital immigrant like me learn from each other?

For this occasion, allow me to focus on RPM – Resilience, Passion and Meaning (RPM)


Resilient people possess three characteristics — a firm acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often supported by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an exceptional ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. Resilient people face reality with steadfastness, make meaning from hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from meager resources.

As a people, Filipinos are resilient, having the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. Oftentimes we think of resilience as being applicable to situations of devastation like typhoons and earthquakes. But in studies where respondents were asked what was happening in their own lives that required them to draw on those reserves, they didn’t point only to natural calamities and tragedies, they pointed to dealing with difficult people, or by having to withstand personal criticism.

That’s a pity, because if we ourselves add to the number of difficult people, we deplete the wellsprings of resilience in others when we continually inflict harsh criticisms and nasty behavior on one another every day.

Where do our reserves of resilience come from? Fully 90%, in one study said “from myself,” a little over 50% said “from my relationships,” and barely 10% pointed to others.

Martin Seligman, a noted psychologist, points out that to bounce back after trauma, the Resiliency Program at his university, teaches students to think positively about setbacks so they don’t learn helplessness but rather learn optimism.  In effect when you fall seven times; rise up eight.

Some steps to take to recover from a catastrophe and to bounce back: decide how to fight back; seek out others to help you emotionally and to land back on your feet; buck yourself up to try again; and find a new mission that renews your passion and creates meaning in your life.


Let me turn to Passion. First, there’s a difference between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive passion. If you can find a career path or occupational goal that fires you up, you are more likely to succeed and find happiness through your work.  Researchers though have made an important distinction between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive one.

Are you into sports, inventions, music or any other? If you feel that your passion or calling is out of control, and that your mood and self-esteem depend on it, then this is the obsessive variety, and such passions, while they are energizing, are also associated with negative outcomes such as burnout and anxiety. In contrast, if your passion feels under control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, which is associated with positive outcomes, such as vitality, better work performance, challenging experiences, and positive mood.

I talk about the benefits of having a passion or calling in life but, if you haven’t got one, where can you find it?  It’s a mistake to think that in a moment of revelation one will land in your lap, or simply occur to you through quiet contemplation–rather, you need to explore different activities and pursuits, and expose yourself to the different challenges and needs confronting society.

Meaning-Making in Life

Are you making meaning in life?  If, like many, you are searching for your calling in life – perhaps you are still unsure which profession aligns with what you most care about.

It is said that having an unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all. If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. Where are you in these categories? Do you feel like you have no calling in life? Do you feel that you have a calling that you have answered? Or, do you think that you have a calling but have not done anything about it?  In terms of school engagement, commitment to finish a chosen degree, general life satisfaction, and health and well-being, those who have a calling but have not answered the call likely fare worse across all these measures. Having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not.  Having no sense of calling at all does not provide a clear life direction.

Thus, I call on you to consider Resilience, Passion, and Meaning in life. The RPM – can also refer to revolutions per minute. Revolutions per minute (RPM) is the number of turns made in one minute. It is a unit of rotational speed or the frequency of rotation around a fixed axis to ensure normal operation.

For a washing machine to do its function, it has to spin at 500 to 2000 rpm during spin cycles. The second hand of a conventional analog clock rotates at 1 rpm. Modern automobile engines are typically operated around 2,000–3,000 rpm when cruising, or nearly 20,000 rpm for racing engines such as those in Formula 1 cars. Computer hard drives typically rotate at 5,400 or 7,200 rpm while those high-performance drives used in fileservers and enthusiast-gaming PCs rotate at 10,000 or 15,000 rpm.

What is the revolution per minute required to be fully functioning as a Silliman graduate gearing up for your life journey? I suggest you rev up your RPMs measured in terms of Resilience, Passion and Meaning!

So off you go, to start your run. Or, more pointedly, to run toward a cherished goal. On this your graduation day I offer you what is written in Philippians 3:14 “So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.”

Via Veritas Vita – the Way, the Truth, the Life anchored on the teachings of Jesus Christ. I hope to see you back on campus to begin a college life responding to your own calling. God bless everyone!