A Piece of Paper
For extra effect, listen to this song while reading.
Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of a piece of paper. This piece of paper represents your successful compliance of certain numerical standards. This piece of paper will quickly lose its value as the numbers lose their value. A few days from now, you may entirely forget that you attained such numbers in the first place. Any awards that you attained will suddenly lose their meaning once you step into high school, college, or the “Real World,” or for some, graduate school. Everyone will forget. You will forget. None of it will matter.
Such is a life that you will live if you gave value to the end product and not the process. We live in a society that values products for a moment and discards them like pieces of scratch paper. We live in a society that values end results and not the process that makes them, that values your diploma and not you, that values your grades and not the experience you went through to attain them.
During my application process for my first job at PSHS, I quickly realized that none of the academic lessons I had learned in high school prepared me for the job. None of them, except one lesson that we learned in Tulong Dunong class (an outreach-centered Christian Living subject): writing a lesson plan, which I learned because we tutored public school kids once a week. Everything else was peripheral; grammar was easily Googled. What mattered at that moment was that when I was asked to write a lesson plan, I actually knew how, and remembered that I had learned to do it in my senior year of high school.
On my first official teaching day, when I first stood before the first class of the day, I remembered that I hated public speaking. I also realized that I couldn’t back out anymore. None of my other lessons helped me. My grades and past awards surely did not. What helped me was the long list of “what-not-to-dos” I had learned from all those public speaking assignments I had done poorly in, and the stark realization that I could not shy away from something I had chosen and had been selected for–that I had to do what I had to. I am not invalidating your awards and grades. They will serve you for a while, but this brings me to a question: what kept you going?
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not need to tell you to do your best. You are far more driven than my 17-year old self was. What I would like you to evaluate or re-evaluate is this: why are you driven? Why do you stay up so late writing your papers? Why do you study the way you do for your exams? Why do you try your best to write that play script or design those props? What motivates you to edit that video despite it repeatedly failing to render? What do you hope to get out of this? A piece of paper?
I am a graduate student. It isn’t easy—the readings have a tendency to cause massive epistaxis attacks. The papers tend to be long and technical, and I have to cite EVERYTHING (thank God for Word’s auto-bibliography function). Every Wednesday I have to beat the C5-Katipunan traffic to get to my class on time. The standards are much higher, since a B-minus is already considered failing. Why am I subjecting myself to this insanity?
At this point it is no longer required by law nor something my parents required of me. It was my own decision, albeit encouraged by my parents. Do I do it for a piece of paper? No, at least, not ultimately.
The obvious answer would be for God’s glory, but I would like to offer an alternative perspective behind this: you cannot honor a God you do not know, nor would you want to. On the other hand, if you knew the God that I do, you would want to glorify Him with all you have. That is the point of a Christian education—that you may know the Lord.
The feeling of pride and elation swelling within you when you step on stage to claim your diploma (which, during the graduation ceremony is in fact a blank piece of paper) or your award only lasts for a few hours, a week at most. (For your parents it might last quite a bit longer) What you really take with you are the experiences, learning, and wisdom that seemed incidental at the time, but in the end were really the point of it all: That you might know the Lord through learning about the amazing world you live in, through learning how to love beyond feelings, through learning how to see His work in the big and small things, through learning to take responsibility for your actions, through learning how to read and study His Word, through learning how to use your talents to the best of your ability, through learning how to respect authority and how to appeal to it, through your mirth and your sorrow, through your victory and through your failure, through beginning well and through finishing well.
That is why I put myself through the difficulty of graduate school and why I wholeheartedly pour myself out in my work: I want to know the Lord, and I want to make Him known to you. Even though you might go to a secular university or a university of another religious profession, make it your personal objective to know Him.
I find that in my desire to learn and in loving the process of learning, I am able to actually do my best, and I experience true blessing. The good grades don’t hurt, either. I wish my undergrad report cards looked half as good as my graduate transcript.
People often quote Jeremiah 29:11 but forget about the verses that follow it.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14a)
You see, it really is about knowing Him, and how knowing Him changes you. You may think that your diploma is the product, the result of all the blood, sweat and tears you have poured into it. However, the true product is something else–the product that you—and your teachers, and your parents, and the Lord, have poured blood, sweat and tears into: you.
In reality, you are the product, and I think Alex’s, Janine’s, and Patcab’s testimonies spoke volumes about what this really all is about.
All this time, you might have thought you were working on your education. The truth of the matter, is that we have been working on you.
“…we should give a hundred florins to protect us against ignorance, even if only one boy could be taught to be a truly Christian man; for the good such a man can accomplish is beyond all computation.” –Martin Luther, Letter to the Mayors and Aldermen
Finally, I admonish you, ladies and gentlemen, to seek Him in all things. The world likes to pretend that life can be separated into convenient little boxes that are unrelated to each other, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. All things are related to the Lord, and will inevitably point to Him. Make it your goal to learn—not just the academic lessons, though those are of value. Make it your goal to grow—not just physically, though that is of value. Make it your goal to excel—not only academically, but in your pursuit of the Lord. The awards and diplomas will follow.
In the end, what you make of your education is your choice, but I think I realized I make the most out of it when I see it as an opportunity to know the Lord more, and not just as a mad chase after pieces of paper.
Now for the overly dramatic part. I have forgotten the grades I gave you last year and the year before. However, true to what I have said above, I will never forget the following: (By surname alphabetical order nalang para maayos)
- That time when Nikki pulled off legit crying during her auditions for Theospian two years ago. That was very impressive.
- Julie’s passionate discussions of literature and history, which was awesome, and her fangirling, which is very high on the scale of terrifying.
- How Patrick transformed into a money-grabbing landlord for It’s A Wonderful Life, and a Chinese man who didn’t have a Chinese accent, and being totally awesome at the keyboards.
- How Lemuel was totally freaked out by the DVD menu of Shutter, and his heartwarming portrayal of Rufus Miller in All On A Christmas Day, and the kilig-inducing painting scene with Ange in The Woman in White.
- PatCab’s radiant smile and her super cute portrayal of an angel-in-training in It’s A Wonderful Life, and your testimony, which was a blessing to me as much as it was to so many others in the audience. A lot of people struggle with self-esteem in our school.
- Rae Belle: tried to convince me that a broken bag needed Scotch tape to fix, and I immediately saw through her plan. Also, that time when I cut my hair in front of the class to prove a point about haircut compliance, and she cried out in horror.
- Della’s glamorous designs (though she never actually showed them to me) and her gentle and quiet spirit.
- Arielle’s epic prop designs, which inspired a whole new generation of anachronistic foam swords and armor (please pass on this art before your sister graduates and the art is forgotten).
- Damielle’s contagious sabawness, the backwards “P,” and countless moments of utter hilarity, but most of all the epic tag-team with the rest of the Prod Angels. Also, “Sweet and Calm.”
- Hanah: Prod Angels forever.\m/ You guys were awesome, and you really inspired the juniors. “Sweet and Fierce FTW”
- Cheska’s portrayal of several characters, including a Chinese matriarch and a beggar prosecutor, and her plundering of the anime on my external HDD, and that time how we were utterly disturbed by the creepy behavior of Alodia’s fanboys at ToyCon. (I’m already inviting you to AME for next year. But I guess ToyCon works too.)
- Faith: your love team with Patrick in Canal de la Reina. :> “Sweet and Panicking!” You guys should totally get a “Prod Angels” jacket.
- Josh: Your Italian accent, our dialogue about the stock market, your being White Scroll house head, and the video that refused to render.
- Daryn: How your sweet outward demeanor belies your being a total metalhead, and your portrayal of a surprisingly mobile terminally ill girl who…who…just can’t….she can’t..!! *runs away*
- How Camzy barged into the classroom to tell everybody that she was back (even though I wasn’t there) after exposure to dangerously high levels of spray paint, or her fangirling, which is often more terrifying than Julie’s.
- Issa: “Please don’t make tambay in the hallways.” Your “Sweet and Stressed” demeanor while running the back end of the Evangelistic play was epic. Also, your epic re-design of the Aladdin set so that you managed to pull off the moving castle with limited props. Prod Angels forever. \m/
- Su Bin: “Teacher, the exam’s so hard.” *gets 99% in exam* and “ETO KAIN TAYO PANSIT.”
- Julia: How you portrayed a crazy landlady, a guttersnipe who was taught how to be a fair lady, and Anne Frank without even trying. I also still have that video of you with straightened hair.
- Hyemi: Your lovely singing voice (which you should use more) in All On A Christmas Day.
- AJ: Your appreciation for music, your totally awesome song number with a heavy Polish accent, and Willy Loman. Thank you for your testimony as well; since I came from a broken home, I struggled with thoughts of having a sad family life as well.
- Carlo: The strange things you share with me, and how you ALMOST convinced me to allow you to use Dr. Horrible as your third year film.
- Ryan: How you taught everyone else to love unconditionally, and how you would ask me whether I wanted spaghetti. (I always want spaghetti.)
- Patport: Your epic drawings, snarky side comments, comics of boss fights with your teachers, your being a great mom-figure to White Scroll, and “Woman marries world’s best thesis.”
- Daniel: The “totally legit” floating hat rack, your stuffing Julia’s mouth full of Mentos, and your heartbroken emo act after she left.
- Beans: Your lovely art, Nodoka from K-On!, and The Timepiece. I look forward to an actual animated short film of that later on. ;D
- Miguel: How your stomach is a black hole that converts everything you eat into boundless energy, how you had to convince that priest in Ateneo that you weren’t actually about to hang yourself, and “How do you…HOW?!!?” which has become a meme of its own in ICS.
- Ange: How I surprised you when you were trying to surprise me for my birthday by sneaking up behind you, and the painting scene.
- Mel: Your bottomless well of bouncy energy that causes you to always be cheerful even when you’re tired, and how your hair refuses to be straightened. Your portrayal of Linda Lo was likewise something I will never forget.
- Janine: Your portrayal of the head angel in It’s A Wonderful Life, your continuous effort in school, and your heartwarming testimony, which I can really identify with.
- Spammy: Your soup sessions with the Theo people, your being forever alone every Monday evening, your totally freaky (and totally awesome) appearance as the Hukom in Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio, and your subtle but effective comedy as Mrs. Pierce.
- Gabby: Your LitAn paper on Coco Chanel’s biography, which was very helpful in helping me communicate to Corinthians’s costume committee what exactly girls wore in The Great Gatsby. Yes, you actually helped them without knowing it.
I will forever cherish those times that I laughed with you and cried with you; those times I shouted at you and read God’s Word with you.
I pray that all these made you better men and women, as they have made me a better man.
Alright. I’ve kept you long enough. It’s time to let you go.
“‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’
27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”-Numbers 6:24-27