Valedictory Speech by Helbert A. Paat, UPLB Summa Cum Laude
I grew up in a nature-friendly and quite sleepy town in the province of Cagayan. When I first came to Manila before going to UPLB, the reality of poverty hit me seriously.
Tonight, I’d like to talk about poverty and the ways we could possibly overcome it.
As a child, I’ve experienced the adverse impacts of poverty. As I looked around, I realize that the poverty I knew was just one of the many poverties. I have seen different forms of poverty: the poverty of resources, the poverty of knowledge, and the poverty of the soul.
Let us first talk about the poverty of resources or scarcity.
I came from an impoverished family. My father did not finish his elementary education, busy working as a farmer since he was a teen. And he still is. My mother works as a saleslady. And she still is. Every peso is a product of their intense labor. Every day is a battle to get our needs met.
What I witnessed from my own family represents the grim reality experienced by many Filipinos. I have known what it means to be in direst plight but not have a voice because the poor never think it’s their right to be helped.
This poverty is the poverty of many Filipinos. This battle is the battle of our people.
We have won the battle of finishing education against all the odds. I have overcome the hindrances. We have overcome the hindrances because of the help of the government and the help of our countrymen. As most of you who are graduating today, I would not be in UP without my scholarship and free tuition fee.
But who will go after those who lost the battle? Who will motivate those who are losing the battle? Who will bring hope to the hopeless?
This brings me to my next point: ignorance or the poverty of knowledge. True knowledge of our history and our stories can unite a nation. The poverty of it can divide and destroy a nation. We all agree to this. We know what history tells us.
But many people lack passion for independent learning and critical thinking. People conform to historical revisionism. People believe in fake news and fake stories. People succumb to false teachings without studying them. There are those who do not make careful analysis before voting in elections. There are those who rely on feelings without assessing if they are based on facts. The poverty of knowledge makes a nation a slave to the lessons it realized but never learned.
We were once like this. There was a time when we cannot draw the line between the truth and the lie. But thank you, UP. This institution of learning taught us to question our beliefs. UP taught us to be critical thinkers and creative learners.
And the most important poverty we have to overcome is wickedness or the poverty of our souls. We have heard news about graft and corruption. Greed and immorality led to the miseries and troubles of many Filipinos. Pride of our leaders drags our nation down.
We have leaders who do not want to listen, leaders who do not heed our advocacies.
Extrajudicial killing. Rape. Drug addiction. Murder. The culture of impunity has become rather normative in the present dispensation.
The poverty of our souls is also evident personally. Many people long for purpose and significance. But they do not find it in this world. Our security and confidence are based on the wrong things. We find our essence in our relationships, fame, recognition, intelligence, or wealth. These are latched on to our virtual selves as curated by and through our social media accounts.
But the truth be said: our worth is not found in this world. It can only be found in God. Along the way, we have lost the values of integrity, honesty, honor, and excellence. We have perverted the definition of love. But let me tell you what love is. Love is Jesus Christ dying for us despite the poverty of our souls. Love is the salvation He gave us for free by His grace. Love is selflessness and humility in service. Love is denying ourselves for the service of others and of God. Love is laying down one’s life for others. The love of Jesus Christ is the solution to the poverty of our souls. In order to save the nation, we must save its people. And Christ can do that if we allow Him to enter our hearts.
Serve the nation! How many times have we been told to serve the nation? But I tell you this: The ignorant cannot serve the nation. The wicked cannot serve the nation. And how can the impoverished, in their insufficiency, serve the nation?
As we go out into the world, the question we need to ask ourselves is not “Am I ready?”
but “Have I truly overcome poverty?” For how can someone who is not free from poverty set people free? How can the blind lead the blind? How can someone who has never known change, change this nation?
My challenge for all of us graduates is clear. Let us overcome our poverties by applying the lessons we learned from UP and by knowing God, trusting Him, and walking in obedience to Him. Only then can we be honorable and excellent. Only then can we serve this nation!
Once again, congratulations! At mabuhay tayong lahat!