By Dr. Eloi Hernandez
This afternoon, I have come full circle. 24 years ago when I was in kinder I gave the valedictory address to the kinder graduates of the T. Alonzo Elementary School in Project 4. I did not go to that school, my mother’s sister was the kinder teacher and she hired me to deliver the valedictory address. I was given sorbetes for my services.
I thank the Asian Center and Tri-college Ph.D. Philippine programme for giving me the opportunity to deliver the speech in behalf of the graduating class this year, for real. I am not sure if I will receive sorbetes after my speech, but I am certain that this will be more memorable for me than the one I gave in kinder.
When I was informed that I will be giving the speech, I asked if there is a particular theme that I should work with and I was told there is none. For many days I contemplated on what I will say this afternoon. I thought I’d give an academic speech, talk about the economic, political, cultural and social problems of our nation and how these are related to the conditions of our Asian neighbors. I decided against it because, I thought this afternoon, what I want to share with you is about love. I decided to tell you about UP Aking Mahal. If there is one thing in my life that remains constant – it is my love for UP. I have spent more than half of my life in U.P. as an undergrad student, an MA student, a young instructor, a PhD student, a campus resident, and now as an associate professor. But we all know UP is not easy to love, UP can break your heart in so many ways. I know, because it has broken mine several times.
For instance, I applied as an instructor three times at the Department of Art Studies and three times, I was rejected. Pursuing my Ph.D. in Philippine Studies gave me a lot of heartaches. The years I spent working on it were some of the most trying times in my life. The 2 years I devoted to writing my dissertation were arguably the most difficult - so many long, lonely, sleepless nights coupled with physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional torment. Had I known it would be that difficult, I would not have embarked on the Ph.D. in the first place. But I persisted. I kept reminding myself – “para sa UP ito.” I did it not only for myself but for UP Aking Mahal. I could not have survived it without the fervent support and unconditional love of my partner Grace and our varsity kids, my mother Evelyn, Tita Chit, and nephews Chryso, Cocoy, Dale, my dear friend Dr. Aileen Salonga, my professors and staff of the tri-college Ph.D. Philippine Studies program, my department and college, and the expert guidance of my adviser Dr. Patrick Flores. I thought when I finished my Ph.D. everything would be better. I could not be more wrong. In fact, after my Ph.D., I was depressed and heartbroken as several trials tested my love for UP. I kept asking myself – why do I stay in UP? I thought long and hard, I agonized, I had lengthy heated discussions with my partner, friends, and colleagues trying to find the answer to my question. Ultimately, I arrived at a singular conclusion - I love UP. I love the students who fuel my passion for teaching and learning; the hours spent inside the classroom with them rejuvenate me. My fellow professors continue to inspire me to teach. I love the beautiful UP campus that has been my home for the past 6 years. I love the history of UP – its 100 years of excellence in the service of the nation. I love how UP gives an impoverished young man the chance to become a genius and how it transforms a young woman into an architecture board topnotcher and a beauty queen (she was my student by the way).
I realized that my love for UP is inevitably linked to my love for country. It is by choice that I stay in the country. It is also by choice that I teach in UP because it is here in UP, where I continue to hope, that in a seemingly small way, I, as a teacher contribute in making the Philippines a better place. Because it is here in UP where I have the distinct opportunity to teach the country’s best and the brightest minds and take part in shaping them into critical thinkers and leaders of this country. This is my service to UP and country. This is how I embody the spirit of the Oblation and the ideals of U.P. - service, leadership, and excellence. Undoubtedly, my many years in U.P. have awakened a deeper understanding and love for country. In particular, the Ph.D. Philippine studies program equipped me with a more critical understanding of the complex history, political landscape, and cultural terrain of the country. The knowledge I gained in this program made me a better teacher and a better Filipino. At this point, I would like to share something I wrote for my graduating students in 2006. Now, this message is not just for my students but also for you my fellow graduates and for myself, so that I will always be reminded of the reasons that make me stay in UP.
"To all new graduates – congratulations! Enjoy this day. This is important to your parents, family, and significant others. Be proud, you now join the ranks of great thinkers, movers, and leaders of our country. You are now part of the great UP tradition. The legacy left to us by the best and brightest of the past. Do not do anything to taint this legacy. Fellow Iskolar ng bayan, as you begin to embark on your quest to earn your millions and live comfortable lives, in your haste to go to foreign lands to earn big bucks and drive big cars, I beg you - do not forget the people who sent you to school. Do not forget the taxpayers who toil everyday to pay for your tuition. Do not forget the people who gave you the opportunity to be iskolar ng bayan. Mga iskolar ng bayan, huwag kalimutang pagsilbihan ang bayan.
(Editor's note: In sharing this speech with other U.P. graduates through Dr. Taguiwalo, Vice-Chancellor Gregorio commented thus on Dr. Hernandez's speech: "I want to share Eloi's graduation speech during the Tricollege graduation rites on Apr. 17,2011. She spoke in behalf of of the graduates. It's the most earnest speech I've ever listened to, so sincere it strikes your heart right smack in the middle. It's a shame if it will just be one of those speeches filed away and eventually forgotten. This one is worth remembering and definitely worth sharing with others, whether new UP graduates or alumni who have long graduated from our beloved UP.")