Following is an excerpt of Rowena D. Cuanico's inspirational speech to the graduating class Batch 2009 during the Seniors Recognition night of the University of Eastern Philippines, March 27, 2009.
And so I start with the first set of questions and these are the most important - what excites us all here tonight? What inspires us all here this evening?
I ask this question because for me it is very important that I have a sense of awareness, and a hold of a particular value, belief, tradition or experience that gives essence and meaning to my life. It is very important that there is something deeply rooted in my heart that would influence and define my life. This value or belief is the compass that gives me a sense of direction, a purpose in life. This is the source of my inner happiness and fulfillment.
And it seems fair that I start with my reflections on the questions. What excites me as a Columban Lay Missionary? What keeps me inspired, challenged and fulfilled? As a missionary in Fiji for nearly 8 years, I have experienced helplessness and loneliness being thousands of miles away from home. There were difficult times as I tried to learn the languages, understand the culture, and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the people of Fiji. What kept me going?
There are many reasons. Certainly the love and faithfulness of God. There is the tremendous support of and a deep sense of solidarity that I experience in the Columban community – priests, sisters, lay missionaries, seminarians, co-workers and benefactors. The remarkable support of my family and friends, some of whom are here tonight have also been a great source of strength and inspiration. I have received abundantly the love and support from Muslim and Hindu friends as well as the kindness of so many people who have become part of my life. This made me realize that God manifests his love to me in the many people God blesses my life with everyday.
I always feel inspired by the many signs of life and hope that happen everyday – a nice smile from a stranger, a warm hug after a hard day’s work, and the freshness of the morning. Most of these go unnoticed. But these miracles keep me going. As I look back at my experiences as a lay missionary, with and amidst difficulties, there was a deep conviction in my heart that being a lay missionary is a life worth living and worth trying. I am being invited to partake of a life in hope, in trust and in freedom. And very aware of my weaknesses, limitations, anxieties and fears, I am trying to respond to this call to life and hope the best I can and with the grace of God. This is my conviction. This is my faith.
My dear graduates – tomorrow – the whole world is the stage of your life. Dream, explore, discover. Look beyond the horizons. Let your hearts wander. Maybe we can learn from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He says ‘do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’
Try to discover what excites you, what you are passionate about. Then go for it. It makes a big difference in your life if you are doing something that makes you happy, something that gives you joy and fulfillment.
Do not be content simply with how things are at the moment. Ask questions. It is only when we ask questions that we are challenged and inspired to be more innovative and creative in our thinking and in our way of doing things. Your education does not end tomorrow. You had a taste of how education can empower you in your life and for your future. Continue to hunger and thirst for it. Be willing to stand up for the principles and causes you believe in. Every moment of our life, wherever we are, we are presented with countless opportunities to love, to share hope, to give joy, to do something good for humanity and for the rest of Creation. And we are losing opportunities. We are losing not by fighting for our convictions. We are losing because we remain standing by the roadside.
Hopefully you have now the intellectual and moral capacity to discern what is right or wrong, what is truth and what is a lie, what is life giving and what destroys the human spirit. May these be enough to sustain you in the journey that lies ahead. You belong to a very privileged class of men and women who had the opportunity to complete university education. What you have achieved tonight remains a dream to many young men and women who are deprived of this kind of opportunity because of socio-economic and political conditions. May you treasure this privilege of having university education with a deep sense of gratitude, humility, and responsibility.
My dear graduating students, may you continue to savor the journey of life with faith, hope, determination and passion in your hearts. May you go out to the world believing that there is something good going on and with the willingness to dance to the very beat of life. Let the world feel your presence and the difference that you are trying to make for yourself, your family, for our province and for our country. Let this be the mark of a true graduate of this University.