Speech of Gio Alejo to the Ateneo Junior High School graduates

April 01, 2015
Padre Jett Villarin, Padre Tony Pabayo, Ginang Mel Oracion, mga administrador, mga tagapangasiwa at guro, mga magulang,
Mga mahal kong magtatapos:
Kung tama ang aking alaala, simple lamang ang aming gawain noong araw na iyon – ang gumawa ng isa bowl ng fruit salad sa unang araw ng asignaturang WORK ED. Ngunit alalang-alala ko rin, bago kami isugo ni G. Laureles sa kusina, mayroon siyang isinulat na isang salita sa pisara na hinding-hindi ko malilimutan – 
Kasunod nito’y isang sermon na sa panahong iyo’y hindi ko mawari kung bakit kailangan niyang ibigay. Gutom na kami. Gusto na namin ng fruit salad. Ang tanging naaalala ko lang sa 40-minutong sermon na iyon ay ito:
My fellow Ateneans, today marks a special day here in our school. We will be declaring to the world that we now have amongst us 500 new graduates of the Ateneo, imbibed with the values, history and tradition that we have long cherished. You follow a blood line of leaders, heroes, and movers of society, yet the penultimate question remains:
What is it that makes you an Atenean?  Yes, you may now be a graduate of the Ateneo. But can you call yourselves truly Atenean?
Thinking about it now, that may be the point of Mr. Laureles after all. Disiplina.  You are now at the stage of your lives where everything is WILD. Your academic load, your relationships with parents and family and friends, even the way your pimples break out seem to be out of control. And I will go straight to the point in telling you that it will get WILDER. Come high school, the lessons will be harder, the load will be heavier, and yes, even the pimples will be worse. Your character and resilience will be tested just as your intelligence and wisdom will. And there will be many times in your high school life where you will dig deep into yourself and ask:
“What is the truly Atenean thing to do?”
I look at you now, excited, eager to get out of this campus and move on to the next. I look back at my own graduation exactly a decade ago, at this same place, and remember the people whom I was with that day. And then a curious question came to me: “Nasaan na kaya sila ngayon? Ano na kaya ang nangyari sa kanila, mga kaklase na nakarinig din nung sermon ni G. Laureles noong araw na ‘yun? Nagpapakaatenista nga kaya talaga sila?”

This was my graduating class, 7-St. Stanislaus Kostka of 2005, Mrs. Rossana Maglalang was our class adviser, and that was our photo taken during Confirmation, shortly before graduation. As soon as the question popped into my head, I logged on to Facebook and literally stalked my classmates. It has been quite some time now, and indeed, a lot has changed. So the “social scientist” in me did a mini-investigation by performing a simple case study on some of the people found in this photograph.

Before I got active in the student council, I was actually part of the Ateneo Boys Choir. One of the closest friends I got to meet there was Toma Cayabyab.
Last name familiar? Yes, he is the son of the maestro himself. Although we both went to the Ateneo for HS and College, we didn’t really get to catch-up on stories about our lives that often, given that we were in different sections in HS and eventually, in different courses in the College. But after stalking him, I found out that Toma actually continued to pursue music as his career option! Right now, he continues to take a music course after graduating with a communications degree. Not only that.. Toma now helps his father in pushing for their advocacy, which is the revival of OPM here in our country.  I asked Toma what learning he remembers the most from his Grade School life, the good ol’ days before we went to high school, and in that brief FB chat this was what he said:

“It’s really the value of choosing good friends. Kasi hindi mo rin malalaman na sila rin yung mga taong magiging malaking tulong sayo sa future. Kahit from a mere batchmate to a best friend, nag-iiba ang bawat isa through the years, and the growth of each person affects our own way of living. You learn from your own experiences, and you learn from theirs. Life's adventure is not a just a personal quest eh, it's a united effort with the different people you work with, to be happy. Yung mindset na ito helped me become more mature in my relationships with people. The meeting of different people inspired me to become what i have become today: a musician and a writer working for the greater glory of God.” – Toma Cayabyab

Toma got from the Ateneo the value of discipline in choosing good friends, and how it helped mold him as a person.

Meet Mikee Reyes. I fondly remember him for carrying our class single-handedly to the finals of our basketball intramurals back in 2005. Some of you who are avid watchers of the UAAP might actually know him. However, he isn’t playing for our white and blue, our side of the fence anymore. He now plays as the starting guard of the UP Fighting Maroons, but he tells me that the Ateneo spirit still lives very much in him. How does it continue to affect him? I asked.

“The biggest thing that has stuck with me all these years is my faith in God that the AGS instilled in me. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. AMDG. I still scribble these 4 letters on the floor with my finger everytime I pray before a game. I’m not being dramatic, I actually, to this day, really do. Including God in everything I do is still very much in me. As long as you help yourself, God will always be there. Have you ever studied so hard for an exam just to fail? God has a reason behind it. How about those times you didn’t even bother opening your textbooks for? Kasalanan niyo na yun, there's no secret behind that. Even those free throws I missed against Ateneo that could’ve given us a win never really bothered me. God had something to do with those, without a doubt.” – Mikee Reyes

For Mikee, it was the discipline of practicing and working hard, persevering to reach his goal, without forgetting who it was really for.

Finally, the guy near Toma. His name is Miguel Poblete. Upon looking at his Facebook profile, I learned that he was actually taking medicine like me, but in a different school, in UST in Espana.  PBo, as we fondly called him, was my Vice-President when I served as the President of our class that year. I distinctly remember him for having this very cute double chin that we would always pat, and he, being the ever- accommodating person, would willingly allow and endlessly offer his chin. Ten years after, though, he is very much into the world of pathology, pharmacology and all the other subjects that we are taking to become good physicians. What mark did the Ateneo leave him with?

“Probably one of the things that I still carry on with me in medicine is writing AMDG on the paper. There's a mentality that comes with growing up wherein we adoptthe, "puwede na yan" attitude, that mediocrity is something that becomes a norm in society. Writing that on top of a test, or a trans, reminds me that when you're offering something to God will "puwede na yan" suffice? Each act we do always finds a way back to Him and that’s what Grade School as a whole taught me and it’s something that I've carried from Katipunan to Sampaloc.” – Miguel Poblete

The discipline to not settle for mediocrity. To find meaning in what one is doing. To offer one’s best for God’s greater glory. I could not agree with PBo more.
You see, my dear graduates, these are learnings which you may take for granted now. At present, you may be more concerned with mastering algebra, or preparing for Shakespeare, or entering that varsity team, or even just making yourself look good for the girls. Now, these are important too, but my conclusion from this simple qualitative case study is that in the end, the real value of an Ateneo education lies in the heart of things that cannot be graded numerically, nor scored, nor computed. And this you will get to realize as you start the next chapter of your lives.
I cannot resonate with these three classmates more.
Like Toma, in what I consider the “best years of my life”, I met the bestest of friends who were with me during my ups and downs. People who defended me until the end against those who tried to put me down. Friends who were not ashamed to tell me that I was doing something wrong. Individuals who truly cared for me. You will find yourselves in this same situation. Choose your friends wisely - the people who will make you a better person and who will lead you to the right direction.
Like Mikee, in High School I met people who were very passionate and excellent in their own field, whether they be in sports, debate, para-military, music, dance, computer games and the student council. I was privileged to have been able to work with them, leaders of these different fields who I am sure will be the giants of this country one day, people who now in their own ways are already creating waves in the national and international scene. My suggestion, my dear graduates, is for you to get involved. Explore your talents, your skills, and hone them to the best of your abilities. Be good at what you do and aim to represent your school, and whatever that school may be, remember deep down that you are Atenean, and the tradition of excellence we are known for should always stay with you and shine through you.
Finally, like PBo, it was in High School where I got to know my real calling in life. With that random trip to the far-flung mountains of Tarlac with my fellow student council leaders then (complete with telling my parents that I was going to go “diyan-diyan” lang), I got to see the real state of health care in our country, of Filipino children still dying of simple, curable diseases like diarrhea due to inexcusable reasons like lack of access to a nearby healthcare facility or clean and potable water. This was the experience which made me commit to helping the Philippine health care system for the rest of my life, an experience which continues to drive and inspire me to this day.
There will be a lot of challenges along the way - you will make a lot of mistakes, believe me. But do not fear mistakes. Rather, befriend them and embrace them. I committed numerous mistakes in the past and even up to now. But I believe that the more important thing is how you are able to learn from these failures, and how you pick up yourself and get back on course, to give yourself a new chance to live out the Ateneo way. The Ateneo way teaches us to opens our eyes to what is real and true. It teaches us to hope and pray. Whether we like it or not, just as our school has produced national heroes, responsible leaders and philanthropists, it has also produced corrupt officials, tax evaders, and even people who just don’t care.  But we do not lose heart, we continue to go on and believe in ourselves, that we can make a difference, because the Ateneo taught us well.
Sampung taon na ang nakalilipas, at ngayon malinaw na sa akin ang apatnapung minuto na inilaan ni Ginoong Laureles sa pagdikdik sa amin ng leksyon ng disiplina, sa gitna ng aming gutom.  Disiplina pala ang pagtugon sa tawag ng Excellence o MAGIS sa bawat gawaing hinihingi sa atin.  Disiplina ang pag-alay ng ating mga kalakasan at kakayahan para sa ikabubuti ng ating klase, paaralan, komunidad, lipunan at bayan. Disiplina pala ang pagiging bukas palad na pagbibigay ng lakas ng isip, puso at bisig sa pagtulong sa kapwa lalong lalo na ang mga nangangailangan. At higit sa lahat disiplina pala ang tumawag sa Panginoong Diyos tuwina
, magdasal, magpasalamat sa lubos lubos na biyayang inihahandog nya sa atin – ang biyaya ng pamilya, ng mga kaibigan, ng mga kababayan at ng pagiging isang Atenista.
Mga kapwa ko Atenista, huwag sana natin biguin ang ating mga magulang at guro na nagbigay ng oras at nagdanak ng pawis, luha at dugo, upang alagaan at hubugin tayo. Ngayong araw na ito, pakakawalan na nila kayo mula sa hawla, at tulad namin nina Toma, Mikee, PBo   kayo na ang magsisimulang magdedesisyon sa kung ano ang destinasyong inyong tatahakin. Ang tanging hiling ko lang, kapag marinig ko na ang marami sa inyong sikat na atleta, pinuno ng kompanya, nangangalaga sa mga inaapi, o nagbibigay ng talumpati sa Malacanang, magpapasalamat kayo sa Ateneo, na siyang nagturo sa inyong maging AMDG –
Ulitin natin nang sabay-sabay:   AMDG.  ATENISTA - MAGING DISIPLINADONG GINOO – 
Para sa pamilya. Para sa kapwa. Para sa bayan. Para kay Krsito.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Congratulations, dear graduates. Fly high.