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Strive for excellence

01:39 AM July 06, 2015

AS A new academic year begins, my thoughts are with the thousands of students going to college. This piece is dedicated to them.

How often have you heard it said that “You are the fair hope of the Fatherland”? Speakers at commencement exercises are very fond of using that quotation and so I’m sure you’re quite familiar with it, maybe even tired of it. However, do you know where it comes from? From a poem written by our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, titled “A La Juventud Filipina,” where he calls you “Bella esperanza de la Patria Mia.” What makes it interesting is the fact that he was only an 18-year-old student at the University of Santo Tomas when he composed that poem which is now required reading in all courses on Rizal.

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Now I ask you: When you hear yourselves being called “hope of the Fatherland,” what do you feel? Do you feel that you deserve such an accolade? What does it mean, actually, to be the repository of so many expectations from so many people, from a whole country no less? Because, if you look up the word hope in the dictionary, you’ll get the following: “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” A tall order, you say. I certainly agree with you.

“Where do I begin?” you ask. May I give you the bottom line? It is this: Try to be the best whatever and whenever you can. Try to follow the saying that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. That’s a challenge, I agree, but from experience (and I’ve been with young people practically all my life) I know that the young work best and almost always deliver the goods when challenged. And so: “Bloom wherever you are planted.”

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Translated into practical terms, it entails, for one thing, breaking free from the basta-basta syndrome, like basta makapasa—pasang-awa or, as some students call it, “passing mercy”; basta makalusot—how many wealthy professionals pay their correct income taxes, if at all; basta makaraos—taking the easy way out, not making the effort and being satisfied with the barest minimum; basta makasingit—look at our monumental traffic jams because of that mentality.

This particular syndrome has become a national malaise that is spawning mediocrity and is preventing us from joining the economic “tigers” like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. If my generation pleads guilty to having bred this attitude, please do much better than us. Do not succumb to the temptation of mediocrity. Set a high standard for yourselves—a standard of excellence, no less.

* * *

When I was in grade school, the walls of our classroom carried posters with important truths. One of those posters said: “Honesty is the best policy.” In my opinion, it is still the best policy.

If you follow it, you will have peace of mind and heart. I entreat you, be honest, be true, be genuine.

Speaking of being genuine, I am reminded of a scene in “Hamlet” where Polonius, the wise counselor, was giving advice to his son Laertes, Hamlet’s friend, who was leaving for Paris to study.

He ended with the memorable lines:

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To thine own self be true

And it must follow as the night the day

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Let me give a very simple illustration: Many years ago, my youngest son was driving me home from a late dinner. At one intersection, we were stopped by a red light. It was almost midnight and ours was the only vehicle on the road. I noticed my son’s fingers fidgeting on the steering wheel. “Relax, son,” I admonished, “the lights will change in a second or two.” He laughed, “But Mommy, no one is looking. No one will know.” “That’s just it,” was my rejoinder. “No one will know. But you know.”

* * *

In effect, what counts is truth, veritas, a value esteemed highly and cherished by the Dominicans, aside from its being the motto of the University of Santo Tomas. Truth to one’s own self—to the self that God has created in His own image and likeness. It is being real and being integrated, all of a piece—body, soul and spirit—being whole.

If you can be true and honest to that self, then you will also be true to your fellow human beings, and thus contribute tremendously to the wellbeing of humankind, to the progress of our country and, eventually, to peace in the world.

Be true to yourselves, then, so that Rizal, who called you “the fair hope of the Fatherland,” and Ninoy Aquino, who believed that “the Filipino is worth dying for,” would not have sacrificed their lives in vain.

Lourdes Syquia Bautista, 91, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, widow, mother of 12, grandmother of 27, and great grandmother of 14.

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TAGS: “A la Juventud Filipina”, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, education, news
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