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(Commencement address of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the Republic Colleges of Guinobatan, Inc. on 20 June 2023)

The Grand Lady and President of the Republic Colleges of Guinobatan, Inc., retired Court of Appeals Justice and former Comelec Commissioner Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores, Gov. Edcel “Grex” Lagman, Former Mayor and now Vice Mayor Gemma Ongjoco, Members of the Board of Directors and college officials, faculty and non-academic personnel, graduates and their parents, ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant good afternoon.

It is seldom that a Class graduates with the convulsion of the Mayon Volcano as background. Eruptions and other natural calamities are instructive. They remind us of our kinship with nature because we are all siblings of nature. While we cannot tame the occasional ferocity of nature, we must at least subdue our own outbursts.

It has to be appreciated that like a Bicolano, the Mayon Volcano is tempered even in its fury.

Congratulations to the Graduates, Parents and Teachers

Let me congratulate the triumvirate of this graduation – the graduates, their parents, and their teachers, who include the educational institution which gives the fitting environment for learning. All of you deserve your diplomas, heartfelt thanks and commensurate accolades. I join your celebration of accomplishment and reward.

The common perception is graduation is a terminal, the end of a pursuit. In reality, it is a new beginning, a fresh venture to a more serious and challenging phase of life. For this reason, graduation rites are aptly called commencement exercises.

The use of the word “commencement” can be traced to the late 13th century and means “a beginning” or “an act of coming to existence”. It comes from the old French word meaning “to begin” or “to start”.

The word commencement thus carries with it the great promise of new beginnings or a fresh start.

Therefore, a graduation is not just a ceremony or formality. It commemorates your academic achievements and celebrates your determination, industry, and resourcefulness even as it marks your graduation into a new life, a clean slate where possibilities are endless if you use your skills and knowledge with determination, courage, and integrity.

Education is the catalyst for meaningful change

Education is an instrument for social change. An educated citizenry spurs development and is a prerequisite to participatory democracy.

Policymakers and government officials are one in recognizing that education serves as an engine for economic growth because an educated citizenry makes highly-skilled, adept, proficient, well-informed, and productive citizens who will contribute to economic progress.

But apart from skills and knowledge, education imparts the equally important facility for volunteerism and civic-mindedness that translates to concern for the advancement and protection of one’s community. It enhances public-spiritedness to actively take part in nation-building. It promotes the indispensable role of civil society in good governance.

Change must start with ourselves

A person must effect a positive change in oneself before he could truly work for the reform of his community and country. It is a truism that change must start with one’s person. And education facilitates and enhances this personal change in one’s conduct and outlook.

Character Formation

Education is not only learning to read, write and add and subtract. Education also shapes a person and develops his character. Exams, deadlines, group work, recitation, assignments and homework, all build your character.

It promotes discipline and responsibility; helps in training you in time management; improves your social skills and encourages collaboration and teamwork; aids in giving you self-confidence and emboldens you to speak your mind and support your opinions; and trains you to be systematic, develops your memory, and stimulates critical thinking.

All these lead to character formation. The adversities, roadblocks, triumphs, achievements that have led to your graduation today – all these have contributed to how you react to difficulty, how you cope with challenges, how you rejoice and take pride in your accomplishments, and how you acknowledge and thank those who have helped you achieve big and small victories.

All these make you who you are as a person, as a son or daughter, and as member of your community, and as a citizen of the Philippines.

Social Mobility

Education is also a strong driver of social mobility. In a nutshell, social mobility means providing or facilitating equal opportunities for people to succeed regardless of gender, socio-economic background, and ethnicity.

You can use your education to find remunerative work and improve your and your family’s life financially. You can use your education for social and economic advancement.

Research from the United Kingdom’s Equality Trust shows that using your education to make you and your family financially stable spills over to the next generation. In its paper “Social Mobility and Education”, it explains that “Children of highly paid individuals are more likely to be highly paid and children of low paid individuals are more likely to be low earners.”

It is clear that a good education is one of the most powerful determinants of social mobility not only within a person’s lifetime but its effects run across generations.

But both local and international research also show that education does not only lead to increase in economic opportunities, it also improves health and overall wellbeing.

Your education is a dependable vehicle that will drive you to take full advantage of more opportunities, propel you to more prospects, and boost your chances to gain financial stability.

Education and Societal Change

But the change that education brings to a person’s life transcends personal economic gains or change in one’s social status. Because education is transformative, it translates to societal change.

In a column for the New York Times, economist John Freidman expounds that: “The data show clearly that children who get better schooling are healthier and happier adults who are more civically engaged and less likely to commit crimes. Schools not only teach students academic skills but also noncognitive skills, like grit and teamwork, which are increasingly important for generating social mobility. Even the friendships that students form at school can be life-altering forces for social mobility, because children who grow up in more socially connected communities are much more likely to rise up out of poverty.”

Community Consciousness and Cooperation

Education leads to civic engagement and community consciousness in a person. An educated person values his community, promotes cooperation and choses consensus over conflict.

Education gives you the tools and resources to build a better life for yourself and your family but it also inspires you to ensure that as you advance in life, your community and its welfare are not left behind. We all live and work within a community and if a community is safe, thrives and prospers, then its members’ wellbeing and safety are ensured.

Because education is life-changing, it transforms people and gives them the ability to look beyond themselves and the needs of their families. Education lays the foundation for community consciousness and places a premium on cooperation. It makes people realize that they are indispensable components to the development of their communities.

Education helps create citizens who are more engaged in their communities, more actively involved in community affairs, and more committed to making their communities a better place to live, work, and raise families.

Exercise of Freedoms, Particularly Freedom of Speech and of Expression

Education teaches us that we all have rights and freedoms that we must protect, uphold, and exercise. Almost all our basic rights and freedoms are interconnected with the freedom of speech and of expression – the right to express our views and opinions freely. Do not be timid. Express yourselves even if you may err sometimes.

Formal education instills in students the capability to formulate their thoughts, weigh the pros and cons of an issue, and express their opinions in a logical manner so as to convince others to side with them on an issue.

Educated people like you know your rights. Years of being in a classroom have trained you to speak up and exercise your freedom of speech and of expression – you speak your mind when necessary and know that your opinions have value. You comprehend that you have the inalienable right to agree or disagree with those in power. You understand that you have the inherent right to have your own ideas and opinions and to express them – through speech, written works, the visual and performing arts, or by joining a peaceful protest – without prior censorship or fear of reprisal.

Participation in Nation-Building

An educated populace is more likely to be well-informed, equipped with critical thinking skills, capable of objective judgment, and therefore more able to contribute to nation-building.

In other words, a good education does not only help you land a well-paying job and allow you to rise through the ranks. It also helps you become a better citizen equipped to help ensure the progress of your community and shape the future of your country.

Education is the formidable nemesis of poverty and a truly a powerful driver of development. More than dole outs, education alleviates poverty and reinforces the attainment of sustainable human development. Nation-building is founded on quality education.

An educated citizenry desires to help, wants to be heard, wishes to use their skills and talents to contribute in building a safer, kinder, more inclusive, more democratic nation for themselves and the millions of Filipinos that will come after them.

Economic Output

It cannot be denied that when a country invests in its human capital through education, the economic returns are considerable. Education contributes to greater productivity and economic development.

It is key to increasing economic output and productivity because it helps create opportunities for people to learn new skills, develop proficiencies, improve capabilities so that they can find employment, start businesses, engage in trade, and create jobs for others.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) explains that “Besides the intrinsic value of being educated, education is associated with a wide range of benefits to both individuals and society. Education contributes to greater productivity and economic growth. Moreover, education has spillover effects: human capital is at the heart of innovation, and a more educated workforce fosters innovative ideas leading to more and better jobs ... Educated citizens earn more, pay higher taxes over a lifetime, and cost less for their governments in terms of social entitlements and welfare.”

Budget for Education in Relation to GDP

By investing in education, governments invest in the future of the nation. Investing in human capital by prioritizing public spending on education will translate to social and economic benefits for the country because it increases social mobility and promotes equality and inclusivity; expands work opportunities; increases individual incomes; and reduces poverty.

It is axiomatic that if we want to reap the benefits of economic growth and genuine human development, education must be one of government’s top priorities.

The government must encourage the private sector to invest in education. On celebrating its 75th Commencement Exercises, the Republic Colleges of Guinobatan, Inc. is an exemplar of sustainable private initiative and involment in education.

I am happy to inform you that among the six major ASEAN countries, the Philippines placed third in terms of budget allocations to education in relation to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The biggest spender in terms of education is Vietnam at 4.1% of its GDP, followed by Malaysia at 3.9%, the Philippines at 3.7%, Indonesia at 3.5%, Thailand at 3.1%. and Singapore at 2.8%. However, considering that the country’s population exceeds 100 million, our per capita allocation may not be as good as the less populous Singapore and Thailand.

Finally, let us end with some inspirational quotes on education:

The South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela believed that “[E]education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Verily, education is the first step for people to be empowered and gain the knowledge, critical thinking skills, and ability they need to make this world a better place. Because ultimately, the end goal of education must be to improve lives and reform society.

The Chinese, who have the oldest education system in the world and still has one of the world’s most rigorous, have a proverb that says “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people”.

Sowing rice and planting trees meet short and mid-term goals. But the rewards of education go beyond a person’s lifetime and its fruits can be harvested for generations to come.

As graduates, there are many ways you can make an impact on the world. But there is no greater impact that you can make than making sure you use your education to better your lives, empower others, contribute to your communities, and advocate your right to participate in nation- building and strengthen and enrich democracy.

Once again, warmest congratulations to the triumvirate of these commencement rites!