Blue Jeans

Radical Love in an Age of Turmoil

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The following is the valedictory speech delivered by Lyonel T. Tanganco (BS ME ‘17 and AB EC-H ‘17), summa cum laude and valedictorian of the Ateneo de Manila University Class of 2017, during the Loyola Schools Commencement Exercises on May 26 and 27, 2017.

P. Bienvenido F. Nebres ng Kapisanan ni Hesus, Rektor ng Jesuit Residence; P. Jose Ramon T. Villarin ng Kapisanan ni Hesus, pangulo ng Pamantasang Ateneo de Manila; G. Ernesto Tanmantiong, Tagapangulo ng Lupon ng mga Tagapangasiwa ng Pamantasan; Dr. Maria Luz C. Vilches, Pangalawang Pangulo ng mga Paaralang Loyola; mga iba pang Pangalawang Pangulo ng Pamantasan; mga Dekano ng mga Paaralang Loyola; mga administrador, guro, kawani; mga kapwa kong magtatapos; mga magulang, kamag-anak, at kaibigan: magandang hapon po.

Maligayang pagtatapos, Class of 2017!

Nitong nakaraang linggo, sigurado akong napagmuni-munihan natin ang nakalipas na taon dito sa pamantasan. Alam kong naaalala ninyo ang mga hirap na ating napagdaanan para makarating dito sa ating pagtatapos. Masaya tayo ngayon, dahil kasama natin ang ating mga mahal sa buhay, ngunit alam ko ring mahirap magdiwang ngayong maraming nagaganap sa ating bansa. Kung mayroon mang isang bagay na makalalagom ng ating karanasan dito sa Ateneo at higit na kinakailangan ngayon sa ating mundo, ito ay pagmamahal–radikal na pagmamahal.

Love as truth

My first encounter with radical love happened in my Theology 121 class. I was a vain self-absorbed overconfident sophomore then, who believed that he was a good person. I went to church, studied well, and led projects in organizations. Perhaps like St. Ignatius in his early years, I thought more of myself than I truly was. But then a life-changing lesson came to me in the form of a series of lectures about Jesus Christ. Here was the Son of God coming down to earth as a lowly man–the son of simple carpenter. This self-emptying love not only tells us who our God is, but also imbues every human being with an inviolable sense of dignity.

Jesus spent most of his nights not with the “holy” and learned religious leaders of his time, but with the poor, the prostitutes, the corrupt tax collectors, and the other legal and social outcasts (much like the drug pushers and addicts in our country today). There I was, thinking better of myself than other people, confident in my own righteousness and comfortable in my daily routines. So, I asked myself, “Was I truly a Christian–a follower of Christ?” For me, radical love first took the form of truth–the truth that God loves each one of us here today as much as He loves the drug pushers and drug addicts out there.

Love as compassion

Slowly, this truth brought me to more humility and openness and transformed me into a person with others. I was interacting with Ate Alma not as a photocopier, but as a struggling mother of five who has many hopes for her children. Here we learned, through much discomfort initially, to talk to and play with our area kids in Gabay and other sector-based and faith formation cluster organizations, not as Ateneans, but as kuyas or ates listening to their dreams. I remember how we were taught, through the example of our professors and administrators, to listen to the cries of the poor, the women, the underprivileged youth, the farmers and fisher folk, not as students or academics who know better than they do, but in humility as fellow Filipinos.

Although sometimes these personal encounters were inspiring, they were often painful as well. I recall, how after a long night of group discussions in Matteo Up, I found myself walking out of the university towards Jollibee. As I was walking down the overpass, I heard a little girl’s cry pierce through the silence of the cold night. I looked for the source of the sound, and saw, just right in front of the doors of the fast food restaurant, a little girl in tattered clothes, lying on the ground while crying and pulling at her mother’s dirty shirt. Behind them was another girl just a few years older trying to sell rosaries to passersby. I asked her, “Kapatid mo ba ‘yan? Bakit siya umiiyak?” To which she replied, “Opo. Hindi pa po kasi kami kumakain mula kahapon.”

There is nothing glamorous about entering the chaos of another person’s life. I often walk away with tears in my eyes, with a mind that grapples with the question of how a loving God allows children to starve and thousands to killings to persist, and with a heart that aches for more than this. It is the very same spirit I see in you, my batchmates, but the challenge to us is this: continue in this radical love that takes the form of compassion, especially for the poor and the marginalized.

Love as social action

Although it is difficult and often painful, we are called to this self-giving love, which spurs us to yet another form of love–love that takes the form of social action. I usually think of the past year as the year that we grew up. Within the past few months, we saw a strongman ruler rise to power by preying on people’s fear and anger. We have felt the collapse of truth. We face storms of violence and death. We have seen the beginning of the removal of certain liberties, and I cannot help but feel that we are being led to think that we have no other option but resorting to violence and even martial law “as harsh” as the one more than three decades ago. Should we even be surprised when the number of killings in the past year have totaled more than the number salvaged during the Marcoses’ martial law?

Furthermore, much of society’s problems still prevail. My friends, we live in a world where a fifth of Filipinos remain poor, where hardworking farmers and fisherfolk are hungry, where true safety and security is a foreign idea in some places, where certain communities are plunged into poverty every time calamity strikes, where there are more kids on the streets because fathers have been killed or incarcerated, and where children across Ateneo–this place where we learned about the preferential option for the poor–literally die of hunger.

I remember an interaction with the Ateneo Center for Educational Development two years ago, when I attended a seminar for volunteers for their feeding program. I wondered why a center for educational development would have feeding programs until the lead volunteer told us the story of a little school boy who looked very weak and unfocused in class one day. When his teacher asked him if he was alright and why he looked so weak, he replied with something like, “Ah. Miyerkules po pala ngayon, no? Ako po kasi ‘yung nakatokang hindi kumain tuwing Miyerkules.” It turned out that he belonged to a family of five children, and because of their extreme poverty, every school day, one child cannot eat, so that the others could.

But I am grateful that in the past four years, many of us have volunteered in different projects, organizations and initiatives, each with its own relevant advocacy. Our passion for service is one of the things that I truly love about our batch.

I salute all of you who continue to speak the truth and stand up against the culture of violence and death, even if it means being ridiculed. I would specially like to thank Carmela Vinzon, Luis Enriquez and the Sanggunian, Lorenzo Espacio and USAD, ENTABLADO (for Desaparesidos and your street performances), and all of you who speak out, whether on the streets or online or even just to your family and friends. With everything happening the past few days, let us speak with even louder voices against the oppression slowly creeping in.

I would like to salute all of you from the School of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences who grapple with the difficult question of what it means to be human. Please keep on reminding us that being human means recognizing the dignity of each person and acting to preserve that dignity. Our country needs you now more than ever.

I would also like to salute all of you from the School of Management who bravely go against the status quo by working in the government, serving through civil society organizations, and demonstrating what it means to do good honest business with development at its core and sincerely watch out for the well-being of your employees.

I thank all of you in the School of Science and Engineering for your rigor, your critical thinking, and your innovative spirit. Continue in the work that matters.

As we step into the next chapter of our lives, I hope that we will continue to be vigilant and to make space for service with more courage and creativity wherever we go. Contrary to what President Duterte says, imposing martial law cannot solve all our country’s problems. A problem must be solved at its roots. Perhaps, the reason why our most fundamental values as a nation, such as democracy, truth, justice, and empathy, are being challenged is because our fellow countrymen do not see these values working for them. But I think the reason that they feel this is because in the first place, we did not live out these values well enough. Poverty and exclusion are the everyday experience of millions of Filipinos. Kaya maglingkod tayo saanman para sa higit na ikadarakila ng Panginoon at sa kabutihan ng ating kapuwa, lalo na ng mga maralita, ng mga kapatid natin sa laylayan.

Syempre hindi ito madali. For the past year, I was privileged to lead the Bagumbayani Initiative, a group of students who hope to promote positive change and integrity in the government by inspiring young people to join the civil service. Although we have achieved much by the grace of God, there are disillusionments in what we do as well, especially when the current administration’s policies are not in line with our values.

I know many friends, who, prior to the 2016 elections, were so excited to work in the government, but now are discouraged from serving through it. They usually say that they do not want to work in this government that sponsors thousands of extrajudicial killings, buried a former dictator as a hero, and wishes to reinstate the death penalty. In my mind, I know that the role of government in developing our nation is unparalleled, but sometimes, my heart succumbs to these voices, and I find myself wanting to give up. But each time I find myself sinking into despair, I am met with the grace of hope.

Love as hope

Last month, we, the Bagumbayani Initiative, held Civil Service Examinations in Ateneo for Ateneans for the first time in history. Originally, we hoped that 50 people would take the exam. Upon the counsel of our mentors, we increased this target to 200–a goal we thought was impossible to reach–but we were surprised to find that last April 23, almost 300 Ateneans took the examinations.

Furthermore, I was amazed to see that many of you who took the exam were friends that I had stood with in rallies, shouting against the heroes’ burial for Marcos and the reinstatement of the death penalty. There you were, believing in the role of government in nation-building, unfazed and firm in your desire to build a government that works.

We cannot afford to give up now, not when so many people still hope and when perhaps even more is at stake in what we do. From all of you I learned that radical love also takes the form of hope–hope stubborn and unwavering that keeps on fighting and pushing on despite the seemingly unsurmountable odds that we face, hope that recognizes that no good thing comes without sacrifice but chooses love anyway.

Love as gratitude

At ang radikal na pagmamahal ay pagmamahal na nagpapasalamat. Nakayanan lamang natin ang lahat ng ating pinagdaanan sa nakaraang taon dahil sa suporta, gabay, at tiwala ng iba.

Iniaalay ko po ang unang pasasalamat sa ating mga magulang, lolo at lola, pamilya, at lahat ng iba pang nagtaguyod sa atin. Narito lamang kami sa pagtatapos na ito dahil sa inyong pagmamahal. Pangalawa, nais ko pong magpasalamat sa mga administrador, propesor, formator, at iba pang mentor, na nagtuturo sa atin ng katotohanan at kabutihan hindi lamang sa pamamagitan ng salita, kung hindi sa halimbawa rin ng kanilang buhay. Salamat po sa inyong serbisyo.

At syempre, hindi puwedeng mawala ang pasasalamat sa ating mga staff, na laging nariyan sa pagsuporta sa pamamagitan ng inyong trabaho at pagkakaibigan. Salamat po, Ate Alma, Ate Evelyn, Ate Emily, Kuya Alvin, Ate Tess, at iba pang mga photocopier para sa pagmamadali ng aming mga readings at last-minute submissions.

Maraming salamat po, Kuya Resty, Sir Bobby, Sir Roland, Sir Jhay, Kuya Kim, Ate Princess, at sa iba pang mga security personnel sa pagtataya ng inyong buhay alang-alang sa aming kaligtasan.

Maraming salamat po, Ate Nanette, Ate Liza, at iba pang staff sa mga kainan sa Ateneo, sa paghahanda ng napakasarap na pagkain, lalo na tuwing stressed kami.

Maraming salamat po sa lahat ng ating mga department secretaries, sa staff ng Rizal Library, ng bookstore, at ng lahat ng iba pang mga opisina sa Ateneo. Hinding hindi po namin kayo makakalimutan.

Mga kapwa kong Atenista, pahintulutan ninyo akong magtapos sa ilang paalala. Let us speak the truth. Let us be compassionate. Let us transform the vicious structures of sin into structures of grace. Find hope in God and in humanity. In humility, remember that we owe our lives to God and to those who graciously love us and extend their generosity to us. The right response is to pay it back and to pay it forward through a life of faith, hope, service, and love that does justice to the poor.

As we go down from the hill, the road ahead will be long and difficult. We are at a point in our nation’s history that I had never thought we would be in again, but it is in these times when, in the words of Chief Justice Sereno, “everything that can be shaken is being shaken,” when the call to be heroes is loudest. As we live our lives as true Ateneans, we might get tired or jaded. We might lose a few friends along the way. If the time comes, we might have to make the ultimate sacrifice, to give it all without counting the cost. But believe, Atenean, believe that there will be brighter days ahead. Look to that light. Remember these times when we stood side-by-side against the darkness. Take courage, and never stop fighting.

Sa wakas, gusto ko lamang magpasalamat, Class of 2017, sa apat na taon ng pagmamahal. Iniaalay ko sa inyo ang parangal na ito, dahil kayo ang dahilan kung bakit ako patuloy na umaasa para sa ating bayan. Sana’y hindi matapos ang ating samahan. Ipagpatuloy natin ang pakikibaka.

Maraming salamat po, at magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.

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    Edwin Evangelista

    I share your optimism and unwavering hope for a better future. Hope that more and more young people like you would truly embrace the Ignatian challenge to be "a person for others."

    Elvira Cedo

    Congratulations Lionel Tanganco for graduating at the top of your batch and more specially for being a "a youth for others"! With young people like you, the glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow is slowly becoming brighter.

    J N Yang

    Very deep insights from a young man fresh out of college. May God bless you as you pursue your dreams and may you continue to keep the fire alive through faith, hope, service, and love. Always "magis;" always "for others."

    Emmanuel S Fernandez

    May I add my humble thoughts to graduates of management and to all who will hold positions of managing people: 1) manage with fairness and not favoritism because this style of
    Management breeds all negatives and will give rise to difficulties for you 2) avoid management by fear; because you will lose trust and 3) find out about the concerns of your people so that you may understand their fears and you can give them support, believe me their work performance will surpass your expectations.
    Emmanuel S. Fernandez, EdD MBA AB
    Assistant Professor
    former Chair/Dean of Dept/School of Management
    1988 - 1991

    Victoria P. Garchitorena

    What an inspiring valedictory! I hope he and his classmates keep the fire of radical love burning in their hearts. Mabuhay and God bless!