Lessons from High School

Five important life lessons I learned in High School that I practice til now...

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My high school self 

SPCS Founders Bishops Jon and Eva Pineda, Rev Dr Paul and Debbie Pineda, beloved school teachers and staff, honored guests, graduates and your proud parents and families, St Paul family – good evening. 

It is with great honor and pleasure that I stand before you today on this post-Dolphin graduation day. You can not imagine how sentimental it is for me to attend a high school graduation. You see, aside from attending my son’s graduation here last year – I haven’t really attended any high school graduation. Yes, I didn’t attend even my own high school graduation. From doing that I learned one of the most valuable lessons in my life. So I decided that today, I would talk about lessons I learned from high school that I keep til now. Hopefully, these are lessons that you will also keep as you move on to bigger things in life.

First – to start at the bottom is just fine, but get out of it. Remember the time you were a freshman? You were the bottom of the pack, the scum of the so-called high school earth, the big guys picked on you, the smaller guy (although I can’t imagine Ewert or John SA ever being small). I was once too (well, I’m still small now…) and that’s how I learned to be humble, to be quiet and follow when I had to. Most importantly, I learned to find my worth and prove myself. And there have been many highs and lows in my life as there will be in yours, and I’ve realized that the lows are as important as the highs –maybe even more important. Coz that’s when I found my strength, recognized what I stood for and knew who my real friends were. Sometimes, the big guys who picked on you become your best friends as what happened to me and some seniors at the end of my freshman year. I even helped some of them to actually graduate and that’s a legend….wait for it….dary! story best told another time. My point is, it’s not the end of the world when you’re at the bottom – like after this graduation high– when you start work, or you become a freshman in college – you will be starting over again in a world unknown to you. It is a point of weakness and vulnerability that can be the core to your strength. It is up to you to rise above it. Remember and cherish the people you meet during these times as they, more often than not, are your lifetime friends.

Second – (and the teachers I’m sure will love this) grades, tests are there for a reason. In school, it is a way to check how far you’ve gone to understand or not understand a particular subject. In life, I’ve learned that constant evaluation and goal setting helps. There are no literal tests or grades anymore – but every year, in June – I think about what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t, what long-term goals I still haven’t achieved, what in my bucket list is there to add or check off. The goals I make come in 5-year timeframes so it’s more long-term than immediate. Why 5 years? I don’t know, I just like the idea of 5, 10, 15 year goals than 3 or 12 or 8. For example, when I graduated from college at the age of 20– I told myself that by the time I’m 25, I should be a manager, have a car and actually know how to drive it. These were just three simple goals from somebody whose family never owned a car growing up. I achieved those before turning 24 when I became one of the youngest brand managers in Del Monte history and was given a car. I practiced driving in EDSA – Metro Manila’s Marine Corps Drive during Holy Week so there was no traffic. Why June and not January when most do their New Year’s resolutions? I don’t know – but I guess it’s because it’s my birth month and I grew up in a country where June was the start of the school year – so the month is more relevant to me. Try it now, it’s as good a time as any – set some long-term goals, tell no one or tell everyone (so there’s some peer pressure). But do it. And check or grade yourself sometime in the future to see how far you’ve gone. And constantly do it. But to have goals mean nothing if you don’t do your homework! So just like in school, you need to prepare, to practice, to strive hard to achieve your goals.

Third – always go to the prom! Ha! By that I mean not the more common agenda of some as a reason to shop, have your first date or dance or kiss, or spend a ton load of money on a night you would rather forget a year from now. I mean the more traditional meaning of a promenade when the girls are ladies and the boys are gentlemen, where people interact and socialize face-to-face and not thru some online social networks. There will always be occasions when you need to put yourself out there. My advise? Take advantage of these situations, be there and put your best foot forward. Life will pass you by if you don’t take opportunities as they come. And I noticed that missed opportunities feed into regret and self-doubt. While opportunities I’ve taken – whether I became successful at it or not, is always a point towards greater self-discovery, learning and success.

I grew up in Davao, a city way down south of Metro Manila. A province so to speak. At the age of 16, I chose to study, on a full scholarship, in Ateneo de Manila. Did I have other options? Yes, I could have chosen La Salle or UP Diliman in Metro Manila or other top schools in Davao where I also got scholarships. I chose Ateneo because we were more familiar with it and were quite close with some Jesuits in Davao. What I knew then was that I didn’t want to stay in Davao for I truly felt, much as I love the place and still go back to it as often as I can, that my future was not there. My parents were supportive but very worried since we were not at all financially stable. The only one who had a real job then was my elder sister, who was starting out as a medical representative. My allowance for all four years of college was P500, by today’s exchange rate that’s less than $12. Every two weeks. Was it hard? You bet. There were days I didn’t eat so I can buy whatever was needed for school that wasn’t covered by the scholarship – like ballpens, manila papers etc for there were no powerpoint presentations to speak of then, everything was manual. More often than not, I would rather walk than spend the money on transportation. Was I scared? You doubly bet. But I put myself out there, with my values and faith as my only strength. And that was one of the best decisions in my life – without which I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to launch the first-ever prepaid service in the Philippines, or over-the-air loading which started mobile banking in the world, or help create Lifestyle Network which became the first cable channel in the country to surpass advertising sales of some free-to-air channels in its first year, or create the out-of-home business of Del Monte, which by the way is one of very few subsidiaries to ever buy its parent company. Or for that matter, I wouldn’t be here today speaking before you all. Now, my eldest son is doing the same thing– and my only advise to him were as follows: (1) make the most of it – study hard, enjoy if you want to; but (2) don’t fuck up. If you do, it’s your fault, not mine. You have to be the one to fix it. And (3) pray and go to church as much as you can. There you will find solace, quiet and learn discernment and guidance for whatever tribulations you may face. In retrospect, the best blessing I got at this stage in my life—was realizing that God truly does provide.

Fourth – value and seek out your teachers and mentors. In the high school setting, it can be a bum – you know, teachers fawning all over you, telling you to do this and that. Right? Aren’t you glad you’re over that now? But once I was out of the educational system, I actually learned to appreciate more the value of having teachers. I sought out people I respected and admired. I asked for guidance and inputs, they became my sounding board, the voice in my head aside from my ever-present mom. And as I aged and gained more experience, I actually outgrew some of my mentors and that’s alright in much the same way you have elementary, middle and high school teachers. The important part is to have one or two at least, and to be one for others as well. Teach and share what you know, so you can always strive to learn something more. Education and knowledge doesn’t end upon graduation. It is the zeal for learning that will make you constantly grow and challenge yourself. Never in my wildest dreams did I want to be an engineer or an IT person – Dom, I had stage actress/dancer/singer, Nat Geo photojournalist – yes it had to be National Geographic, neurosurgeon and nun in my when-I-grow-up-I-want-to-be list. But now I’ve made products and services that help people in their daily lives in a large part thru what engineers and IT guys do. I definitely can speak their jargon and make a run for their money. Guess what? I grew up with no landline until fourth year high school! So I could never have imagined being in the telecommunications world then. But I moved to this industry purposively with the help of mentors. And I now also mentor others in various fields who I hope can surpass their wildest aspirations with some of my guidance. So, don’t forget your teachers and mentors. Always have them by your side. Take a moment to thank them all today for everything that they’ve done.

This now brings me back to why I didn’t attend my own high school graduation and the most valuable lesson I learned in high school. I didn’t attend my own high school graduation because I was in protest. I was in protest of a grade and recognition I felt was below what I deserved. I was very competitive then – borne in some part of a need to always meet a higher standard of excellence in order to maintain my scholarship. So to suddenly be not the top one or at least the second one thru some school regulation change was very strange to me. I boycotted my own graduation and I guess in so doing became one of the more controversial graduates of that school. My action brought out transparency to the school in the succeeding years and I am so happy for that, most specially for the financially-challenged students who came after me. And this day is much better than the one I should have attended back in 1987. Not only do I get to do my grad speech, but I get to do it in front of my children, and you the graduates of 2015, but also to the whole St Paul family who’ve welcomed us so well here on Guam.

My lesson? Never compare vs others. There will always be people ahead or behind me so to compare will likely result in feelings of either superiority and privilege if I’m ahead, or inadequacy and jealousy if I’m behind. If I must compare, I compared against my own goals and what I’ve become. For only I and my Lord can truly say if I have done enough. To paraphrase Luke 12:48 – to whom much is given, much is required. Don’t short change yourself.

So as you end your final day in High School, my dear seniors, take these lessons with you and add your own lessons. Venture out into the world as young men and women, safe in the knowledge you’ve gained thru St Paul, the support of your lifetime friends and family, and do your best. Age Quod Agis. Do what you do well is its literal translation. It means – do your best in whatever state of life that you are in. And always for the greater glory of God.

Thank you.

About this speech: By some fortuitous event – typhoon Dolphin – the graduation of St Paul Christian School in 2015 had to be postponed. Because of the postponement, the intended graduation speaker from the Philippines could no longer make it. I was asked to become their graduation speaker the Saturday before the Monday event. I thought about what I would say the whole weekend as I did my usual weekend activities. I wrote and finished the speech shortly before lunch Monday, graduation day. I only had enough time to print and reread as I got ready for graduation ceremonies.

Originally published at www.joysantamarina.com

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