Stand in the light | Inquirer Opinion
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Stand in the light

Several schools, including UP, just ended the school year.  Graduation exercises were held late in June, where we congratulated our graduates and told them how exciting the world that’s waiting for them, full of opportunities and promises for the future.

Yet deep down, as I worked on messages for their yearbooks and short remarks to open some of the ceremonies, I did worry too about how they have been taking current events.  I do hear from older people feeling almost engulfed by a creeping despair, waking up each day to more negative news of extreme violence in every form.

If older people, hardened by life, finds the world so bewildering and discouraging, what is it like for the young?

I feel it would be unfair to shield the young from harsh realities, to just keep telling them that all is well, or that all will be well; but I found myself at a loss for words to encourage the young.

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It helped when, after the Orlando (Florida, USA) mass shooting, I was struck by a phrase used by US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who had flown to Florida to console the families of the victims. She told them: “This Department of Justice, and your country, stands with you in the light. . . We stand with you to say that the good in this world far outweighs the evil.”

“Stand in the light” comes close to a Quaker expression: “I will hold you in the light,” which is what we tell people instead of saying, “I will pray for you.”  Holding someone in the light is a way of saying, “I share your trials, and we will be strong together to overcome those trials.”

Lynch’s “standing in the light” goes further—a way of saying do not surrender, do not be driven into the darkness. Lynch was referring to the hate campaigns against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) when she mentioned how, in the aftermath of the shooting, people might think that “their identities might somehow be better left unexpressed or in the shadows.”

To stand in the light was a way of saying, “No, come out, stay in the light by being who you are, with pride.”

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For our general commencement exercises in Diliman two Sundays ago, I picked up on this theme of standing in the light for my opening remarks. I talked about how our iconic sunflowers had bloomed somewhat early, complicated by the early arrival of the rainy season. The sunflowers did hold out until graduation, many drooping from the rains and from man- and woman-handling, but still managing.

Sunflowers of our lives

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I thought of how the sunflowers stood in the light too, as our young do all the time.  In particular, I  thought of the students struggling through college, many with serious financial problems in the family.

My opening remarks dealt more with how UP students had been—and I apologized for being “corny”—the sunflowers of my life, inspiring me with all they do, in and out of classrooms.  I reminded them of the UP Fighting Maroons—the male and female football teams who played for Rogie Maglinas, a team member who died from cancer after a brave battle shared by teammates in their 24/7 vigil.  The teams won the UAAP championships for football, the last game of the season.

Rogie and his teammates stood in the light.

Putting life in the light

I didn’t tell the audience that my opening remarks were inspired as well by two recent e-mails, more examples of young people who stood in the light with their lives. I’m writing about them because both first contacted me through the Inquirer.

One e-mail came from Christian, who some years back had written me about working in Manila after finishing college in UP Visayas. I referred him for a job with a progressive private school where he eventually got to handle science classes.

Now he was writing me to say he was going to move on, perhaps to graduate school. His e-mail had an attached photo of himself and his sister who he had put through college in Mindanao.  It was an uplifting photo—kuya and kid sister on a field of resplendent yellow flowers.

Christian reminds us of so many of our young, who put their own lives on hold to put siblings through school. They stand in the light.

The other e-mail was from a young man named Karl.  He too had attached photos of himself and his parents, smiling from ear to ear during his graduation. . . from West Visayas State University’s medical school.

Flashback some four years ago: He e-mailed me, first apologizing for his audacity, and then explaining his plight.

His grandmother, who had migrated to the United States, had put him through nursing school with hopes that he would follow her there. He placed seventh in the board exams and was certainly more than qualified to make it abroad, but he decided he wanted to go to medical school—and to be a doctor for Filipinos. But even in a state university, the expenses to finish medicine were far beyond his family’s reach.

And, of course, his grandmother was not about to send him through medical school.

To make a long story short, his family and I were able to share the costs to get him through medical school. He worked hard, but always found time for community-based medical projects. I felt a tinge of sadness for not being able to attend his graduation, but I figured the plane fare would be put to better use as a graduation gift for him as he embarks to fulfill a pledge to be a “manggagamot para sa bayan,” a physician for the people.

I shared Karl’s story during a UP awarding ceremony for outstanding students, faculty and staff to remind people UP does not have a monopoly on honor and excellence.

More than excelling though, Karl chose to stand in the light, and will continue to stand in the light.

At UP’s commencement, the valedictory was delivered by Alexander Lopez, one of 30 summa cum laude graduates.  He talked about how he had been admitted to UP’s very tough and competitive seven-year medical school program but decided, after two years, to move to philosophy. His parents were distressed but accepted the shift, as well as Alexander’s coming out as being gay.

Alexander too stood in the light that graduation day, calling on his fellow graduates to soar like Diwata, the first satellite built by Filipinos (from UP, of course). I nearly fell off my chair reading an Inquirer headline: “UP grads exhorted to soar like fairies,” taking off from Alexander’s speech, because in America, “fairy” is a term used to insult gay men. But then, I thought, why not, our “fairies” are diwatas, as tough as the mountains they’re associated with.

In these tough times, we should remind our young that we can and should stand up, stand out—in the light.  This does not mean, as the Bible warns us, boastful righteousness. We stand best in the light by combining courage and compassion.

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TAGS: compassion, courage, graduation, Orlando shooting

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