Dear ICS Batch 2014,
Before anything else, I would like to congratulate you for finishing High School. You may have various expectations and dreams, and these might not necessarily be in line with what is happening in your lives, but you having made it this far is already testament to the Lord’s blessing in your life. Nonetheless, there’s a couple of things I want to share with you.
First, keep in mind that I am not saying this as a teacher. We entered ICS High School at about the same time, and many of you already know that we are also leaving it at the same time. (More on this later.) Thus, I consider you to be my batchmates—the high school batchmates I never had.
See, my experience in high school wasn’t that great. In the maladjusted, macho-oriented culture of an exclusive boys’ school, you either survive by conforming, or by running as far away from the crowd as possible. I did the latter. As such, while I did have friends, they were very few, and although I did share some good times with my classmates (who were my classmates all throughout the four years), we weren’t–and aren’t–really that close.
With you guys, however, I feel a special kinship that I can’t really explain. It’s not a superficial “we-like-the-same-things” deal, although we do have common interests. In addition to being brothers and sisters in Christ, we just seem to be on the same wavelength, whether or not we hang out together often or not. Whenever we sit in the lobby and share stories, jokes, and rants, I feel that we understand each other. I don’t know where it ultimately comes from, but I am sure that I would not exchange this special bond for anything else. For simply being who you are—each and ever one of you—I’d like to thank you.
That said, dear batchmates, this is a graduation message and testimony of God’s faithfulness from your not-quite-senpai. Again, please do not take this as an ex cathedra statement from a teacher, but as a loving message and testimony of a fellow struggling Christian and scholar, a heartfelt letter that I wish you’d take the time to read.
We entered this school together.
My first clear memory of my interactions with your batch was me yelling at you for leaving trash scattered in the lobby. Not all of you were there, but those who were probably got a terrible first impression of me. I do also remember being genuinely impressed by your Filipino plays (Sirkulo!) and also enjoying the odd cuteness of your English plays.
In second year, we got to meet in the classroom. It was difficult to keep you quiet most of the time, and I was terrified of what might happen when we went on bondings. And true enough, at 11:30 pm, in the hinterlands of Laguna, I was sick to my stomach as I called your parents to tell you that you were bleeding profusely due to swimming pool accidents. And let’s not forget the location shoots for the English films, that were plagued by the rain and sun alternately.
The horror of those times has since been tinted sepia by nostalgia and made beautiful by distance, and now we carry them as wonderful shared memories. There are many more: the playfests, the immersion, the immersion R&R, guild activities, and those idle lobby moments.
There were trials, too. Many of you have seen me performing at my best, and also at my worst. You’ve seen me glowing with infatuation in a relationship, and you’ve seen my face darken with the weight of my breakup. You’ve seen me fight, and you’ve seen me quit. Likewise, I have seen you soaring with success, and I’ve seen you crushed with defeat. I’ve seen you beaming with joy, and I’ve seen your hearts torn apart. We’ve fought side by side, and by God’s grace, for better or for worse, we have come to the end of our shared high school experience.
It is not an accident that I began my graduate studies at pretty much the same time as I began my work in ICS. I’ve almost quit before due to the workload, and it was only due to the coaxing of my parents that I persevered. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same feelings. Or perhaps it wasn’t schoolwork, but a relationship, a family problem, an illness, or just a period of spiritual desolation. But we’re still here, aren’t we? And best of all, He is still with us.
The Lord has brought us to this point, through all the triumphs and tribulations of high school, as part of His plan for us, and now He is about to bring us to the next stage. You are entering college. As some of you know, I am moving on to another school. Like you, I will not find it easy—ICS was our home for the last four years, and despite the lyrics of a popular song, letting go is not as simple as it sounds. ICS is a comfort zone for us. But God has a way of taking us out of our comfort zones, just as He called Abram. (Genesis 12)
God called Abram out of Mesopotamia when the man was seventy-five. How do you think you would feel if suddenly, a God whom you have never met before appeared to you and gave you a fantastic promise, all dependent on you simply obeying his command to go? Abram had no idea where God was going to bring him. He had no idea how God was going to bless him, an ironically-named (his name meant “Exalted Father,” but he had no children) seventy-five year old man with a barren wife, and bless all families of all nations through him. He just knew he had to obey—crossing over a thousand miles of difficult terrain in the process. We all know that eventually, God used Abram to fulfill His plans of bringing a Savior into the world, and Abraham is immortalized even in the New Testament, and is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It all started because Abraham decided to trust and obey.
Four years ago, I decided to trust and obey God by taking my graduate studies. I’ve shared with many of you how studying Martin Luther’s writings made me understand just how important my calling was to God’s kingdom, and so I obeyed his calling to leave PSHS and teach in a Christian school. I thought it was going to be easy. It wasn’t.
It came to a point where I thought I should just quit my graduate studies and just try to take the Licensing Exam for Teachers. I went on leave from my studies for a while. However, my parents challenged me to get back into it, and the Lord gave me strength to do so. It wasn’t easy—my classes were either on weekday nights, from 5 pm to 8 pm, or on Saturdays, from 8 am to 4 pm. I was tired, stressed, and addicted to caffeine. The requirements were difficult, and class partners were not always reliable. But the Lord used my obedience.
Last Saturday, I went to ADMU to submit a paper, the last for this semester. I know that I needed to take another subject for my course before I could take the final comprehensive exams and the final paper requirement, so I inquired what their offerings were. The secretary, Ma’am Fe, took a look at my online profile, and then began looking for my course folder. She took longer than I expected, and she said my folder was somewhere else, so she went to retrieve it.
When she got back, she apologized, saying my folder had been included in the PAASCU [organization that accredits Catholic schools] accreditation portfolio. I asked if that was a good thing, and she said “Of course. Take it as a compliment.” This meant that my performance in my graduate studies was something worth showing off.
I am not boasting about whatever intelligence I might have. That’s a gift and a talent from God; furthermore, as a high school and college student, my grades were actually quite checkered and mediocre. My work ethic was terrible and I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing.
But when I decided to follow the Lord’s leading to graduate studies, He gave me a fresh leading and a clear purpose. I knew I was doing it for God, and as such I was inspired to do my best. I boast this in the Lord: That since I began my graduate studies, I have only received As and A-minuses. He has given me the desire and the skill to excel for His glory.
Later on, He further clarified that instead of just taking MA-Basic Education, He wanted me to be in a position of authority in a school. I shifted to MA-Educational Administration. Suddenly, I didn’t have to deal only with Educational theories—I had to take various business-end course material, including a Management subject and a Law subject! That was terrifying, but once more, God allowed me to excel.
He then led me to transfer to another institution. It was (and still is) scary and painful as I took my first steps out, and submitting that resignation letter was more difficult than I thought it would be, but the Lord prospered my application process, and now I am going to be joining the new school this May.
After all this, going back to last Saturday, I found out that my course work was actually already completed, and that I could already take my comprehensive exams as early as this summer–at least a semester earlier than I had expected. This entails a huge amount of saved time and money–once more, a blessing from the Lord, a blessing that I could not have experienced if I did not trust and obey.
Dear batchmates—I encourage you, I exhort you, to seek Him with all your hearts. Learn to trust Him, even if things don’t seem to make sense; trust and obey. Don’t trust in circumstances or in people; trust in God’s character and in His sovereign plan, because only He can make the oddest and most difficult of circumstances a blessing. In seeking Him, you will know what He wants in your lives. Always remember Romans 12, which we often quote, but often out of context:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.–Romans 12:1-2
The command here is a single command branching into three: 1. Offer your bodies as a living, holy sacrifice pleasing to God; 2. Do not conform; 3. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I don’t think I need to elaborate on these; I believe you have all studied God’s Word sufficiently to know what these entail. But the amazing thing is this: the consequence of doing all these, is being able to test and approve what God’s will is. It is when we are surrendered to God and transformed in our minds that we find out what He wants to accomplish in our lives.
It’s not that He will reveal us everything about our future: often He just reveals the next step, and the rest is shrouded in darkness. It’s well and good–if God had told Abram all about Jesus from day 1, I don’t think Abram would have understood how important his role was in God’s plan. And the same is true for us—for most of us, it is only the next step that is illuminated. For many of us, the steps are in different directions, but the calling is the same: take that step.
We entered ICS together, and we are leaving it together. But this is not goodbye. I will miss you, but I don’t want to miss you, and I will make every effort not to miss you, because I will still be seeing you in one way or another. Our steps may lead us away from each other for the moment, but I wholeheartedly believe that they will cross again, for some, perhaps sooner than others.
I’m already at a loss for words, so I beg your indulgence as I borrow the work of a more eloquent author to say my last blessings.
Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar.
Nai elyë hiruva. Namárië!
Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!
“And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”–JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King