There are two things I want to share with you today. The first one is a letter; the second, a simple message about God’s goodness. So in the next couple of minutes, I ask that you bear with me.
It is an honor and a great privilege to address you today. This is surely my most humbling experience so far. I will be honest with you. I have already written three different speeches for our graduation simply because I don’t know what to say.
One of the speeches turned out too academic; the other’s too dramatic for a joyful celebration and the third too surreal, even abstract. So I ended up writing a fourth one, this speech that you are listening to right now. It is my prayer that you consider the message I will leave with you today.
If I were to summarize the other three speeches in an inverted pyramid news style, the first few paragraphs would have gone this way:
This year’s top student challenged a new batch of media practitioners to bring “fresh ideas” and “new
blood” into the industry.
Speaking to almost 250 mass communication graduates in the University of the Philippines, Frederick Paulo Tomacder said they should not be defined by the “ills of media” but by their ability “to correct them.”
“We must not be boxed by what is already out there. Instead, we must bring with us whatever we’ve
learned from the university and share it with the industry to effect change,” he said.
I haven’t really mastered this style of writing, but that would have been the news if I delivered any of the other speeches. But I didn't. In fact, what I have with me today is a letter addressed to the future—25 to 30 years from now. Roughly around that time I believe a number of us will already be the heads of different companies. Some will already be editors, senior reporters, professors, businessmen and women, some may even be politicians… gurus in our own fields.
But before that happens, I want to share this letter to everyone, something we can look back to when we’re already there. This, I hope, can also serve as our guide. Something we can read just to remember our most potent, a time when we were relatively untarnished, full of dreams and hopes for ourselves, our families, perhaps even for our country.
Here it goes:
April 25, 2010, Sunday
University of the Philippines Diliman
College of Mass Communication
Dear blank. (You can place your name there.)
This was the day of your graduation. Finally, you transferred the sablay from the right to the left shoulder, ready for what’s next. I don’t know how you are in the future. I don’t know if you pursued your course and if you are now a top researcher, the anchor of a primetime newscast, a multi-awarded director or the editor of a daily broadsheet.
By the way, I’m curious how newspapers look in the future. Are they still on paper or are they already something else? I hope you still remember everything your professors taught you. You learned from them, you know. And after all the infamous red marks, the humiliating remarks, the impossible deadlines and the unending revisions, you became better. Believe me, you did.
Slowly you learned that jump-cuts are a no-no, that widows and orphans make the layout ugly, that there’s such a thing as mise-en-scene and that the related literature need not necessarily be boring. Some learned faster than you did but those who remembered and applied the corrections were the ones who finished strong. You finished strong.
But are you still applying what you’ve learned? Or are you now caught up in the system? As you read this letter, are you sneering at your younger self for condemning “envelopmental journalism,” avoiding plagiarism, for trying to elevate the quality of broadcast news and for introducing intelligent films? Do you find your younger self too ideal for the world you’re living now?
Only you can answer that. But if ever you’re now part of the vicious cycle you so utterly despised when you were in college, look back and remember. You once desired to improve that system. You, together with your friends and classmates, promised to influence the industry for the better.
You wrote papers against media corruption, joined rallies against political killings and despised the “dumbing down” of movies and television shows. Now don’t tell me you did all these only for requirement’s sake because I know you didn’t.
I’m excited to find out how you are in the future. But I’m nervous at the same time because I know there are roughly two things that can happen—I may see you rising above the vicious cycle, becoming the strongest link, reversing it all together. Or I may, in the future, find this letter, read it and feel dismayed and ashamed of myself for being too ambitious but failing.
Many people sneered when you wrote this letter. They were cynical. They said you wouldn’t make it. They even predicted that just like them, you would be swallowed by the ills of the industry and the society. There was just too much evil that they thought any beacon of light would be easily snuffed out.
But I believe in you. I know you made it. You started from the bottom; you weathered the challenges; you finished strong. But, in the slightest chance that you failed, I pray that you will find this letter, read it and be inspired by it. If not, I pray that you will have the wisdom to pass the message in the hope that someone along the way may pick it up and live out what you failed to do.
Thank you for reading and see you soon. I leave you with this verse from the Bible,
"The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace."
Blank. Place your own name there again.
I’ll be posting this letter on my Facebook page and on my blog. You can keep a copy if you want so that you may have something to read when you’re already high up in the industry ladder, something to gauge how well you faired after 25, 30 years or so.
I am not about to end yet because there’s one more thing I want to share with you today. This has guided me throughout college.
A few days before graduation I was asking God that if it was His will for me to graduate with the university’s highest honors, He will give me the grace to address the graduating class, that I may share about His goodness.
It wasn’t His will for me to get the highest honors but He gave me this privilege to share His goodness to you. And for that I am grateful. Why am I saying this? You know every Sunday, a Christian Church gathers in this very hall to worship God.
The believers are not here today because it’s our graduation but I share the same passion they have for the Lord. And borrowing the answer of the apostles Peter and John in their trial before the religious leaders: I’m sharing this “for I cannot help speaking about what I have seen and heard" about Jesus Christ.
There is a reason why the most famous verse is John 3:16— "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is because the verse essentially summarizes God’s message for humanity.
There is a God of love and of justice who reaches out to us in our inadequacy, offering forgiveness and reconciliation through His Son on the Cross. By grace, through faith in His name alone He offers the free gift of eternal life in fellowship with Him.
That message was something I didn’t expect to meet, understand and even accept in a university unjustly stereotyped as godless. But I testify that the message changed me. It wasn’t for me to reject for He has given and before the King of the Universe, I can only stop and utter my humble Amen.
And as I come to a close, I leave you with the words of the Psalmist. I pray that they will also be true to you as they are to me: Despite everything, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Thank you and God bless you all!