Far Eastern University invited me again this year to be their commencement speaker for their nursing and science graduates at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Manila. Here is my 7 April 2009 speech, which had to be different from the speech I gave last year:
My dear graduates,
I congratulate you, because today you start a new phase of your lives. Today, you change from being students to being professionals. Today, you move from mainly inside to completely outside the campus, from the world of studies to the world of work. I know that all of you have gone through RLE or OJT and some of you are already actually earning a living, so you know something about how different the workplace is from the classroom.
I want to talk about the workplace or, more precisely, about the world at large. It is the world that you will now enter full-time.
I want to use a metaphor that should be very clear to the nursing graduates, but of course the IAS graduates who are in the sciences, should also know what I am talking about. The IAS graduates in the arts are, of course, experts in the use of metaphor.
I don’t know much about preventive or curative nursing management nor even about primary health care, but I do know quite a bit about my body, a human body.
The world is like a human body. We are all cells in the world. Just like individual cells, we look like each other, but we are really different from each other, with different roles to play within the body that is the world. Just like cells, we live and we die. We live much longer than cells do, but we are still all mortal. Cells die but the body lives on, just as individual human beings live and die, but the world continues.
As cells, we form tissues. These are our families, our classmates, our friends, whether face-to-face or on Friendster or Facebook.
These tissues form organs that have different functions in the world. The organs that are our communities are there to nurture us. Your communities gave you nutrition, security, friendship, took care of you, so that you can be the adult that you are now. The organs that are our schools, the organ that is FEU, these organs are there to educate us. Schools gave you brain food, took care of your minds, so that you can be the graduate that you are now. The organs that are our churches and mosques give you spiritual food, are taking care of your souls, so that you can be the mature person that you are now. Just as we have many organs in the human body, there are many other organs that are formed by the tissues that we belong to, organs such as government, business and industry, media, restaurants, transportation, everything that we see around us.
As you learned in school, even those not in nursing, organs form systems, and these systems make the body run. There are different systems that make the world run. Let me describe them.
The skeletal system or skeleton of the world is the earth, nature, the land, the mountains, the sea. Just as we have to take care that we do not break our bones, we have to take care of the earth. We must make sure that the land is fertile, so that trees can grow and animals can find food. We must make sure that the waters of the sea and the rivers remain clean, so life can thrive there. We should learn a lesson from the human body. We cannot say that a single cell cannot make a difference. A single cancer cell soon becomes many cancer cells, and you know what happens when cancer metastasizes. You know what happens when we as individuals do not take care of the earth, when we do not keep our immediate surroundings clean, when we waste natural resources. As health professionals, you know how to keep yourself safe from harmful bacteria. As full-time professionals, you are now expected to keep the earth itself safe from harmful substances and processes.
The muscular system of the world is nature in the form of trees, fish, animals, living creatures. The land stays healthy if there are trees. Just as we have to make sure that we do not strain our muscles, we must make sure that we do not deprive the land of trees. Just as we make sure that we exercise our muscles to keep them in good shape, we must make sure that the food chain is kept intact, that we do not destroy species, that we do not endanger them. The tamaraw is a good symbol of FEU’s determination to keep the muscular system of the world healthy. We are working hard to ensure that the tamaraw does not disappear. As full-time professionals, you are expected to work hard to ensure that all species remain alive, in order not to destroy the delicate balance of nature.
The reproductive system of the world, whether we admit it or not, is us. We were told by our Creator to go and multiply, and we have taken that command literally. We multiply like crazy, from just one pair of human beings to almost seven billion people on earth. But just as, biologically, we can reproduce only so often, we must make sure that the earth is not overpopulated, because we have only so much air and so much space. As individuals who will later get married and have children, you must remember that the earth has only so much to offer, and the more there are of us, the less we can get from the earth. As full-time professionals, you are expected to be responsible cells in the reproductive system of the world.
The circulatory system of the world is, for many of you, your own parents and relatives. There are now over 11 million adult Filipinos working and living outside the Philippines, populating the earth, circulating all over the world. They have brought Philippine culture with them, and we are clearly the most widespread race on earth, perhaps even more widespread than the Chinese, who stay together and put up Chinatowns, unlike us. In any case, the world has dropped its borders, and everybody now lives everywhere. As individual cells working for the health of the circulatory system, we must keep the blood flowing, so to speak. As full-time professionals, you are expected to be global in outlook and even in residence.
The nervous system of the world is the economy, money, financial matters. Just as the nerves control our physiological processes, money makes things happen, whether through governments or through private individuals or groups. Especially when the body is under tremendous nervous strain, as the world is now with the financial crisis, it is very important that every single cell does not add to the strain. As full-time professionals, you are expected to remain responsible in money matters. You must not waste money.
The digestive system of the world is science, medicine, knowledge, intellectual capital. It is the scholars, the scientists, the thinkers, the intellectuals that ensure that the world learns from its history. We take the food given us by our experiences, and we digest that food to make it useful for all of humanity. We have to learn to distinguish the good from the bad. We know that we cannot eat everything, that we have to stay away from fatty foods, bad cholesterol, sugar, salt, things of that sort. We also should know that we do not need to know everything. There are facts that will help us and facts that we do not need to know. The temptation to eat everything, the temptation to spend the whole day surfing the Web, is very, very great, but we have to have everything in moderation. As full-time professionals, you are expected to know how to manage your time, how to know where to look for information, how to learn how to learn.
The excretory system of the world is international and national law. The law keeps us from being too selfish and ensures that everyone gets a chance to live a full life. Just as the excretory system removes bad things from our bodies, the law puts evil and corrupt persons in jail, at least in theory. As individual cells, we have to trigger reactions that will signal the presence of bad cells in our midst. Good cells have to fight bad cells. Cancerous cells have to be overcome. The biggest cancer facing our country today is the cancer of corruption. We have to stop corruption on every level, especially on our own personal level. If all of us, if all cells, just refuse to bribe anybody, the corrupt government officials will not find anyone to bribe them. Remember that it takes two to tango, two to be corrupt. Jose Rizal said that there are no tyrants where there are no slaves. We can say that there are no corrupt government officials where there are no corruptors. There cannot be bad cells if every cell is good. As full-time professionals with the FEU values, you are expected to be upright and incorruptible.
The lymphatic system of the world is religion, the various religions. Religion keeps us from thinking that we are alone in this world. Religion reminds us that there is something bigger and higher than us. Like the lymphatic system, religion destroys evil. Religion signals us if there is something wrong, if cancer has somehow crept into our world. If there is no God, one novelist once wrote, then everything is permitted. Since there is a God, whether we call God Lord or Allah, not everything is permitted. The lymphatic system can make us immune from evil, if we continue to have faith in God. As full-time professionals, you are expected to live up to your being made in the image and likeness of God.
The respiratory system of the world is society with its mores, norms, and beliefs. It is within society that we live, so we have to follow society’s ways, or we risk respiratory failure. Society is the oxygen we breathe. When we are born, we are born immediately into society. We breathe in oxygen the moment you nurses shout “Baby Out.” Once we are born, we find ourselves out in society. There is no way to avoid being in society. Society is good for us. As full-time professionals, as individual cells, you are expected to respect the tissue, the organ, the system in which you find yourselves.
Let me see. There are ten systems in the human body and I have already mentioned nine. What is left?
The endocrine system. The endocrine system relays chemical messages throughout the body. What is the endocrine system in the world? You. Yes, you. You, the younger generation, form the system that controls or should control most of the processes of the other systems in the world. The body cannot grow, the world cannot grow, your family and neighbors and friends and country cannot grow without the endocrine system, without you.
I know that you have heard this before: the youth are the hope of the country. I am saying the same thing, but in a slightly different way. You fresh graduates, you young nurses, you young scientists, you are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands of the world. You are the ones that will ensure that the world will run smoothly, properly, effectively, humanely. You are the ones with the new ideas, with the fresh energy, with the enthusiasm and the idealism and the good will. You are Web 2.0. You are Facebook. You are YouTube. You are awesome. You are you.
What have we learned from this little exercise in analogy?
No cell functions alone. We cannot do things by ourselves. We need to be part of tissues, the tissues of our family, our friends, our classmates. Tissues cannot act alone; we need to be part of organs, the organs of our community, our school, our church or mosque. Organs cannot act alone; we are all part of various systems.
There are good cells – that’s us – and there are bad cells. These bad cells, these cancerous cells, are those that ruin our world, those morally bad (such as corrupt government officials), those intellectually bad (such as ignorant people), those spiritually bad (such as those that do not follow God’s commandments), those psychologically or sociologically bad (such as those that do not follow the rules that we live by) – they ruin the earth. It is our responsibility as good cells to drive away the bad cells, to have them excreted from the human body as waste. If government officials are corrupt, we must not reelect them or elect their relatives next year. If there are people that have not gone to school and are still mired in superstition, we must reach out to them and educate them, do community service for the out-of-school or the illiterate. If there are people that disobey the laws of God or the laws of human beings, we must show them the error of their ways. We must not let only the excretory system worry about them, because we are the endocrine system: we tell the excretory system what are toxic and what are nutrients. No cell stands apart from the body. As the Tagalogs say, sakit ng kalingkingan sakit ng buong katawan. You individually can make a difference to the health of your family, your community, your country, and the world as a whole.
This is my prescription for you. Stay healthy. Keep the world healthy. As many have said before me, do not just change the world. Be the change the world needs. Be change itself.
Usually, when I say goodbye to someone, I say, see you soon. I will not say that to you today, my dear young nurses, because the only reason I will see you again is if I have been admitted into a hospital and you are doing rounds with me as your patient. I don’t want to see you again, so I will just say, I am very glad that I have seen you today and that you have made it and that you are now, undoubtedly, indisputably, clearly, deservedly, and proudly, FEU graduates.