Dear graduates of 2024 | Inquirer Opinion
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Dear graduates of 2024

Last week I spoke at the commencement exercises of Riverside College in Bacolod City. Commencement speakers give what is hoped to be memorable life advice for those about to venture into the real world. In a way, opinions and advice are my domain—both as an opinion writer and as a psychotherapist. However, I am acutely aware that I have not lived enough for my biography to be inspiring in and of itself. And so I wanted to write a speech that would put students front and center in a milestone event they worked so hard for. Let me share an excerpt of my speech, in case it resonates with those who find themselves at a personal crossroad:

Congratulations to all of you for reaching this pivotal moment. Getting here must not have been easy. No one can dare say that your generation, whose lives have been affected by the pandemic, has had it easy. From my vantage point as a teacher, therapist, and counselor, I bore witness to your struggles; to the things that challenged you; to the things that broke your spirit—and sometimes your heart. From that same listening chair, however, I have heard your dreams, your hopes, and your wish for a better life. Your earnest desire to be understood, to be accepted as you are, to be loved. And often, the desire for rest, the desire for a break from fierce competition, the desire to live your life and not just to work your whole lives.

Let me talk about the students I have met along the way. I have met the “achiever,” those whose outstanding performance might have overshadowed other parts of themselves. Their achievement is both a blessing and a curse, as they feel weighed down by the immense pressure of maintaining such excellence. The worst part? The pressure doesn’t just come from outside, but within. They fear making mistakes. Every task is high stakes, their worth and identity dependent on their performance.

On the other hand, I have also met the “self-doubter,” the student whose sense of self was shattered by the competitive environment. They, like the achiever, confuse their performance with their worth, this time judging themselves as “not good enough.” Their doubts render their strengths invisible. Every setback is confirmation of their limited capacity; each success attributed to mere luck.To all achievers and self-doubters, I want to assure you it is okay to be simply human, not superhuman. Go ahead and make mistakes. You learn and grow when you make them. Knowing how to recover from mistakes is more useful than being perfect. Only through them can you learn how to take accountability for your actions, an essential ingredient to maturity and wisdom.


I have also met the “breadwinner[s],” who have been thrust into familial responsibility early on. Their dreams are not always their own and their choices are not just theirs to make. To all breadwinners, make space for your own dreams. It is good to love our families. But you are also part of that family, so love yourself, too. Being a family means prioritizing, not others, but each other. Do not get tricked into thinking that you must choose one or the other.

I have come across the “wanderer,” students who have not yet found themselves. They feel rushed in knowing who they are and what they want to do. They feel pressured to find a label with which to tag themselves or a box in which to put themselves, as so many of their peers have. To the wanderers, let me tell you this: Developmentally, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. At your age and development stage, it makes sense to question, to wonder. It makes sense to be confused at times. Confusion does not signify that you have lost your way. It is just that the way has not been made yet. People find their way in their own time.

Now that college is behind you, you may be anxious about what lies ahead. The world, at least according to the news, is chaotic. As much as we need to brace ourselves for the dangers of life, I’d like to remind you that life is joyful as well. The real world is neither good nor bad—it is all of the above. To live in the real world is to be both happy and sad; to laugh and to cry; to be angry and to be at peace. People around you are neither villains nor heroes; they live in full color, not black and white.

And so how does one thrive in a world full of contradictions? Find the time to just be. There has been a lot of “doing” in your life thus far. Give space to “being”; experience yourself outside of your assigned roles and tasks. Who are you when you are not living up to anyone’s expectations, including your own? That, perhaps, is the more difficult life task—and the most important one. Once you have this core, you will not get easily swayed by pressures and doubts. Your goals won’t be muddled by pride or ambition. Instead, they will be meaningful.



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