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‘Make sure you count’

In accepting the PAX award from her alma mater, the highest award St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) gives alumnae who have made significant contributions to society, Riza Gervasio Mantaring recalled her school days when her high school class was deemed least likely to succeed.

Mantaring was known to be always on top of the class, but when they graduated, alas, there were no honor citations for any member of the class of ’77. It was not because of any academic deficiencies; their batch had to be taught a lesson, as they had run afoul of school regulations much too often.

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Consider this major infraction for those times. One classmate was charged with trespassing, because she had clambered her way into the locked St. Cecilia’s Hall through the fire exit to unlock the door for their play rehearsal—with a male cast member from La Salle. To avoid being caught, they hid behind a curtain. That was one unforgivable offense upon another.

The PAX ceremony last week during the college graduation may as well be considered Mantaring’s valedictory honors, decades after. With her remarkable track record as CEO and country head for Sun Life Financial Philippines—she grew the company’s premium income by 250 percent and the client base from under 1 million to 3.5 million—Mantaring had many pieces of advice and learning experiences to share with the graduates.

What is the secret of her success? It does not result from talent alone, she emphasized. “The most successful people in the world get there because they work harder than everyone else.” Learn from your failures and never stop trying to be better. Be ready for a lifetime of learning, for with technology transforming industries, the knowledge you have will be obsolete in five years.

“Do what is right, even when it hurts”—something about life and living that Mantaring said she learned from her years in SSC. Recalling a rally she attended for the first time as a Grade 7 student where she walked outside the school with placards protesting the injustices of martial law, she noted the pride she and her classmates felt when Sr. Mary John Mananzan and the other Benedictine Sisters joined them in protest and stood facing the tanks. The phrase “Kulasa kasi” became familiar, something one wore as a badge of courage.

Do not allow anyone else to put a label on you, she counseled. What you become all depends on how hard you are willing to work. “It’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”

Those were lessons Mantaring herself took to the workplace, bestowing her with the moral courage and strength to do what she thought was right, despite negative consequences. Leadership, she said, comes from people trusting you to do the right thing. Doing the right thing is never easy; there is always the risk of negative consequences—losing people, a potential business, even one’s job.

Not everyone can excel to CEO heights, but Mantaring reminded her audience that, with the special privilege of a Scholastican education, the school motto of “ora et labora” (pray and work) is invaluable in one’s personal and professional life. Referring to the parable of the talents, she stressed that whether one is given 10 or one talent, these need to be given back.

Her career milestones are commendable, but Mantaring is proudest of the Sun Life Foundation’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, which have contributed to the quality of lives of the less privileged. This harkens back to when her class would visit families in the poor communities in the neighborhood. In getting to know the families and listening to their worries and their dreams, “I couldn’t help but be conscious that but for a few twists of fate, our positions could have been exchanged.”

How appropriate and how timely that the graduates were given these final words in these crucial times: “Everyone has the chance to make a difference in someone’s life. Weave yourself into the fabric of our nation and help build its future. Make sure you count.”

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: award St. Scholastica’s College (SSC), PAX Award, Riza Gervasio Mantaring
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