ATENEO DE MANILA UNIVERSITY
SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES
MINOR DEGREES GRADUATION CEREMONY
01 June 2016
To say the necessary, congratulations. Congratulations that you stepped up and finished a minor degree on top of your major degree, which meant, you were strategic in the use of your electives. My minor was Development Management, which was on top of my Sociology/Social Sciences degree. So as with a number of you here, I am a pure child of the School of Social Sciences.
From the time I graduated, nine years ago in 2007, many things have changed. I entered the workforce as Gen-Y, and now studies tell me that my Gen Y is also under your generational category, the “millennials”, although there’s no clear delineation when that began or ended. I don’t know in which category I really belong for sure. So we’re a little different, and a little the same. Let me then share my thoughts with you this afternoon with that connection with you in mind.
This photo goes around as a laughing meme in 9gag. But there is a hurtful truth here, a wisdom we seem to have lost. We forget that people our age in certain points of history did not have the luxury of feeling for themselves, because there were lives at stake. Because they had to believe in abstract words like peace, or nationhood, or freedom even though, I imagine, those words were not concretely clear to them at the point they were sent to war. Or in our own terms, when our youth before rallied on the streets to challenge a dictatorship, and invite death as it was.
I am asked over and over by the elder and the younger: What changed between my cohort and yours? Did I need to be taught of groundedness in my context and history to have the kinds of conviction that I have? I am not sure entirely, I tell them; times change. But what I know is that we are the only creatures in the universe (that we know of so far) that actively measure time. And while we measure time, time measures us.
Times measure us according to societal expectations. According to the verstehen, the spirit of the milieu. That is where our status-role complexes come into play. As a student, as a child, as a sibling, as an org member, as a citizen – all these pose expectations on us. And we have been ridiculously excellent at dissecting and forming new social categories (by gender, by age group, by physicality) that now, we feel compelled to perform at all fronts. We ache to become all that is desirable. We compare ourselves with how others are in Facebook, or in these reality shows that are just hyperreal. Alain de Botton calls this “status anxiety” – that with the plethora of statuses available to us, we are crippled by the choice of who and what we want to be, made worse with the insecurity others make us feel. It burdens us that things are not simple. Complexity has become a state of living we came to fear.
I work in the public development sector. I am immersed in government work, in policy development and lobbying. I am plagued with questions like, so the government has more money than it has ever had, ever, so how do we make island villages and marginalized sectors who are hard to reach feel this growth in the economy? What are policies that will allow local communities to experience the progress that the numbers say we have? How do we make laws that are responsive to local voices when localities can be so different? What policies will give the myriad of needs some space and power in the discourse?
These are questions I face every day coinciding with other varying concerns like, are my husband and I saving and investing at a pace that will give us a comfortable retirement and provide for our responsibilities? How do I pay these taxes correctly when only BIR understands how to fill out these forms anyway? Do I yoga today or not? Is Tyrion the third Targaryen dragon head? How do I imagine myself another 10 years from now? And what I hear the most, ‘when are you having children?’ (Oh no, my friend, we are not going there today.)
Time measures us but the only anchor we have is a hunch that this (whatever this is) is what I can control and influence. This thought of starting where you control is a basic principle in change management. I keep myself grounded with the fact that while my aspirations are endless, this-up-to-there is where my decisions and capacities can only bring me for now, and work from there. I am anchored by the conviction that despairing about expectations and choices will not change where I stand or how I feel. In this ocean of complexities, I find peace in the thought that it is in the moments of struggle that I feel most alive – struggling is exciting because I don’t know what to do and I don’t know what will happen. Struggling puts me in a state of that in-the-zone-caffeine-overdose-cramming-at-4am multiplied a thousand times. Struggling makes me feel like Jedi Rey fighting Kylo Ren, with her having no idea what the Force really is.
Being at ease with the vague and complex is not something I learned overnight. I can describe how it feels though. It is like humming a passionate love song while treading under the gush and rush of the rain and thunder. It is like praying under the stormiest of weathers. You acknowledge the fear and the chill and the ambivalence around you, but deep inside, your song, your prayer, keeps you warm. And that keeps you walking on.
So if we’re lost, where do we go? Let me share this report published by the National Economic and Development Authority under AmbisyonNatin2040. NEDA surveyed 10,000 respondents from ages 15 to 50, and asked them questions to paint a picture of what we Filipinos aspire for over the next 25 or so years. And these were the results:
This means, 79% or make that 80% of Filipinos, are just aspiring, for the next 25 years, to have the kind of life you are living right now. And to hit the point, 8 out of 10 Filipinos are just aspiring, for the next quarter of a century, to live the life your generational cohort is still lonely about. I hope that gives some perspective of where your social location is, and how much you can give to the world. Your time, the skills that you learned, and your investments with your resource capacities can help move a society that makes available opportunities for a better life for that 80% and more.
So what have we talked about? We talked about being lost in expectations and choices. We talked about being at peace with the experience of struggling. And we talked about changing perspectives about being #blessed, and what that may mean, for us to use what we already have, to help move a nation in need of you.
I believe being called a “millennial” is unfair when the concept is conveniently being used to justify the inadequacies that your/our generation has yet to conquer. We know this from the social sciences. All forms of social inequalities and injustices start with a label; that’s your labeling theory. I refuse to call us “millennials” if such label will make us feel boxed in a constant state of despair and insecurity. I would rather a fancy name like the “tech generation” or the “innovation generation” because we constantly yearn for something new. I believe our great anxiety is the precursor to a new way of life, wherein policies are more humane, wherein production is more sustainable for the world, wherein business necessitates a social good, wherein international relations is set for equity and not conflict.
Your generation, whether I belong in it or not, is soon comprising majority of the work force. You will elect leaders who will be beholdened to your demands for a better country. You will innovate on current structures, systems, ways of people relations. And I immensely believe in your innovation generation. Transform your personal anxieties into a generational narrative of social transformation. As we know from the Social Sciences, we have the capacity to become agents of progress. I hope your generation would realize what generations before could only dream of.
Let me end with this thought I stole from the internet at a time it wasn’t crazy and imploding upon itself:
May you have the resilience in your heart to journey on, from this day, and every day thereafter.
Thank you very much and good afternoon.