President Danilo L. Concepcion on UP education, public service at UP Manila’s Commencement Exercises

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Below is the full text of the speech delivered by UP President Danilo L. Concepcion during UP Manila’s Commencement Exercises on June 21, 2017.

 

MORE THAN A SCHOOL, MORE THAN A HOSPITAL

Speech by President Danilo L. Concepcion

Commencement Exercises, UP Manila

21 June 2017

 

Esteemed members of our Board of Regents, the members of my executive team, Chancellor Menchit Padilla and the members of her administration, the faculty and staff of UP Manila, Director Gap Legaspi and the staff of the Philippine General Hospital, and the faculty and staff of our health science units in Palo, Baler, and Koronadal. But most of all let me greet and salute the graduates, their parents, and their families. Mabuhay po kayong lahat!

I know that it has taken you much time, effort, and some expense to get to this high point of your lives, on the verge of your future careers. I guess that is true for any college graduate. But for a UP graduate, expectations run even higher. And they should, because from the very start, we have been held to a higher standard of honor, excellence, and public service.

In the words of President Rafael Palma at his investiture in 1925, it was UP’s mission not just to produce graduates, but to encourage “original thinking and (assert) our individuality in the realm of mind (for) the positive benefit of the Filipino people.”

A UP graduate has to be a willing, creative, and audacious agent of social transformation, going above and beyond the normal call of duty to find ways of uplifting the lives of our countrymen.

Thankfully, in UP Manila, you have had more than a century of exemplary experience in conjoining higher education with public service. That’s largely because of the unique relationship between UP Manila’s role and offerings as a traditional university and its health sciences component bannered by the Philippine General Hospital.

Up until today, especially during budget season, some lawmakers still have a problem understanding that relationship, insisting that PGH should be taken out of UP Manila. What we must make clear to them is that practically from the beginning, UP Manila—or indeed just UP as it was then—was always more than a school, and PGH was always more than a hospital.

Few will recall that UP partly owes its existence to the Philippine Medical School, which was incorporated into UP in 1909. Within a year, it was considered at par with some of the better American medical schools. President William Howard Taft had wanted to put the School under the Department of Sanitation, but Dean Worcester—whatever else we may think about him—believed so strongly in the school’s educational mission that he pushed for the creation of a hospital to serve the training needs of the school. And thus was PGH born.

PGH, of course, became the biggest and most modern Asian hospital of its time, and even a century later, it occupies pride of place as the hospital most Filipinos still think of when they require medical attention. In other words, it is the hospital closest to the Filipino heart. But even as it serves about 600,000 patients every year, many of them our poorest citizens, it has never forgotten its educational mission.

This is why UP Manila has produced world-class doctors, world-class dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and so on.

UP Manila exemplifies what a 21st century university should be: an institution with a special strength in a highly competitive and absolutely vital field, anchored on solid humanistic values and principles, and open to a diverse array of talents and interests.

This brings me to a personal confession I have to make: When I was a school boy, I wanted to become a doctor. A surgeon, actually. Sadly, my dream was frustrated by life’s circumstances. My father was a bus driver, and my mother struggled to raise seven of us on our father’s income. I myself was a working student, and half of what I earned went to helping put my three younger siblings through school. So when I applied for a college scholarship with the National Science Development Board, I had to pick from a list of approved science courses. This list did not include medicine, and I needed to work to support myself and my siblings. So I chose agricultural engineering in a school I could easily commute to, and only later did I take up law at UP.

I tell you this story not only because being with you today in a sense fulfills a childhood dream, but also to show that as significant as your graduation today is, you may never know for sure what your future will be until you get there.

I recently came across a quote by the American author Nancy Levin: “Honor the space between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet.’”

This seems like a good description of where you are right now. Right here, right now, you are at a crossroads. This ceremony officially marks the end of your lives as college students of UP Manila, and you stand on the verge of becoming something and someone else: doctors, teachers, NGO workers, call-center agents, entrepreneurs, managers, performers, even politicians.

That transition will be quicker and easier for some but not for others. But I can tell you now that this transition will never be complete, and rightly so, because you will always be UP students for the rest of your lives.

You will forever be inquisitive, independent, assertive, ever ready to turn challenge into opportunity.

These hallmarks of a UP education you will bear with you whatever career path you may choose, and wherever those paths may lead you. That education will be the anchor from which you can pivot into anything you want to be.

In my case, it was UP and the College of Law that allowed me to realize my life’s mission, that is to learn and to use the law for public service, and later to produce more outstanding lawyers in the grand manner, as we like to say in the college. More recently, that mission has become even more complex, as I now have to deal not only with a college, not even just a university, but an entire university system.

I have to admit that it’s a daunting responsibility, especially in an environment increasingly characterized by vicious political polarization. But precisely because many people—even respectable academics—no longer seem able to speak to one another in the language of civility. I find it even more vital to recreate the University as a special space, a common ground, within which we can all work together.

My executive staff and I have been preparing the Strategic Plan that will guide my administration over the next six years. Because it requires extensive deliberation and consultation, it remains a work in progress, the details of which we will be sharing with you before too long. But I can tell you now that we will seek to create an enabling environment within which we can perform as a University at our full potential.

If there is anything I firmly believe in, it is in the value of productive labor—whether that labor takes place in the classroom, the laboratory, the boardroom, the community, or the global arena. We have to find ways in which to work, and work together, despite and away from the growing toxicity of both national and campus politics.

I do not mean to suggest that we will stop having or expressing opinions. Debate and dissent are as much a part of UP tradition as the Oblation and the Lantern Parade. But I surmise that at the end of the day, nothing achieves more than concrete action. Why, talk and analyze our problems to death, when our time might be spent seeking workable and consensual solutions.

I have many plans for UP that I believe will occupy us in very productive ways. Again, the details will still have to be worked out, but we are studying the possibility of opening a new medical complex in Diliman. This medical complex shall be an extension of PGH, will serve not only the needs of our northern metropolitan population but also push the frontiers of medical practice and research.

There will be resistance, for sure, UP being UP. You might be interested to know that in 1937, when President Quezon pushed for the transfer of UP from Padre Faura to Diliman, UP students led by a young editor named Armando Malay held a straw vote, that rejected the move by 84%. Then President Bienvenido Gonzalez was roundly vilified. Twelve years later, when the move had happened, Malay spoke again in UP Diliman, and acknowledged that it was time “for a closing of the ranks.”

No one will argue now that moving the main campus to Diliman was a mistake. But it would also be grossly mistaken to say that Manila was abandoned and left behind. It’s true that it became a smaller campus by comparison, but it soon developed its own appeal and its own ethos as a university geared for the urban student. And of course there was always the PGH and the health sciences cluster, whose academic requirements made sure that UP Manila would grow well into another century.

UP President Danilo L. Concepcion before UP Manila’s Iskolar ng Bayan graduating batch of 2017. Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO.

Much has been said about UP graduates being iskolar ng bayan. Tunay kayong mga iskolar ng bayan sapagkat gumugol ang ating pamahalaan ng salapi mula sa kaban ng bayan upang kayo ay makapagtapos sa inyong pag-aaral. Kayo ay mga paaral ng taong bayan.

Subalit huwag ninyong ituring na ang inyong edukasyon ay isang utang na dapat niyong bayaran sa taongbayan. Ito ay inihandog nila sa inyo ng buong puso sa pag-asang sa pagkakamit niyo ng husay at galing. Hindi lamang buhay ninyo ang bubuti at gaganda. Umaasa silang gaganda at iinam din ang buhay nila. Ang taong bayan ay hindi humihingi ng kabayaran mula sa inyo. Subalit sila ay umaasa na sa inyong paglipad paitaas, maalala naman ninyo na sila ay lingapin at bigyan ng pagpapahalaga.

Ang bulok na bungang isasama sa kaing ng mga mahusay at maganda ay siyang tunay na sisira sa kanilang lahat na. Huwag sanang kayo ang magsilbing bulok na bunga na sa halip na magpabuti sa bayan ay siya pang magdudulot ng mas masamang kapalaran.

Pahalagahan ninyo ang edukasyong ibinahagi namin sa inyo dito sa UP. Huwag nawa ninyong makalimutan na kayo ay higit na mas mapalad sa karamihan. Hindi lahat ng kabataan ay biniyayaan ng katulad ng inyong kapalaran. Noong kayo ay nagpasiya na pumasok at mag-aral sa UP, huwag ninyog kalilimutan na may Pilipino, katumbas ng bawat sa inyo, na nawalan ng pagkakataong makapasok at makapag-aral dito.

Lubos na nakapanghihinayang kung ang edukasyong maari sana naging kanila, ay hindi ninyo pahahalagahan at hindi ninyo gagamitin para sa kaunlaran ng bayan.

Huwag sana ninyong sayangin ang inyong natutunan; sana ay gamitin ninyo ito nang tama at wasto tungo sa kapakinabangan, hindi lamang ng inyong sarili at pamilya, kundi tungo sa kapakinabangan ng buong sambayanan.

Tunay, hindi naghihintay ng kabayaran mula sa inyo ang ating mga kababayan. Subalit sila ay labis na malulugod, at hindi naman tatanggi, kung kayo ay magsusukli nang taos-puso sa kanila.

Bago ako lumisan, hayaan ninyong bigkasin ko ang mga salitang namutawi sa mga labi ng ating bayaning si Gat Andres Bonifacio:

     Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya,

     Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila

     Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa?

     Aling pag-ibig pa?

     Wala na nga, wala.

Salamat po at mabuhay kayong lahat!

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