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Congratulations on your graduation. So, now what?


This is probably the question most graduates have to grapple with after the euphoria of graduation day has dissipated. After the graduation dinners and parties, graduates need to confront the uncertainty and excitement of the “real world.” That is not to say that life in schools and universities was not real. It just means that the challenges you will now face are greater and, in all likelihood, you need to navigate that world with a degree of autonomy.


While most call it graduation ceremonies, quite a number refer to it as commencement exercises. On one hand, it signifies an end in a chapter of your life. On the other hand, it characterizes a start of a new page. Commencement means a start, a beginning. Originally, it was the “name given the ceremony of initiation for new scholars into the fellowship of university teachers in medieval Europe.”


In my time in politics, and even today in the confines of my private life, I have been asked many times to deliver commencement speeches. “Inspirational talks” some call it. The idea is simple—a successful person is invited to give a speech to graduating students containing guidance and perhaps some words of wisdom.


I have done it probably hundreds of times but I have always believed that there is no universal advice that fits everyone. Our situations are unique. Our lives are distinct. But I also believe that there are lessons to learn from each of our experiences—whether good or bad. The key is to listen, understand, and pick out the truths that you think are applicable to you. Pluck them out of their context and see how they apply to yours.


So, in this spirit, allow me to share some thoughts to our new graduates. I do not want to call them words of wisdom. They are pragmatic tips from someone who has navigated, and continues to traverse, life.


First, learn from everything. There is no such thing as an event that is a total “waste of time.” Every moment is an opportunity to observe and learn. Learn from people around you. Learning does not stop after graduation.


After graduation, I got a job with the accounting firm Sycip Gorres Velayo & Co. (SGV). Its founder, the late Washington Sycip, was an icon. He was also one of the persons who inspired me. Even after I left SGV, Wash and I would frequently share stories. He would send me notes every now and then. I learned a lot from him.


Second, do not be afraid to fail. Celebrate your triumphs but always reflect on your failures. Life is most instructive when things do not go your way. Failures have a way of making you better, making you more resilient. I have had my share of disappointments. And whenever I reflect on the successes I have achieved, I always remember the times I failed.


Third, never let money (or salary) be the guiding light of your professional life (or your personal life for that matter). Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking short-term. If the salary in your job today is high, then you’re satisfied. Think of the long-term. Focus on jobs that will train you, positions that will develop your skills and knowledge.


A dilemma which we all faced is the fact that at the time we chose our academic courses in college, we did not have the information or the maturity to think ahead of our time. Will that profession be as popular and in-demand four years from today?


Fourth, remember the values you learned from your parents and from your teachers. They are your weapons in facing the challenges of life. There is no ultimate handbook on how to become successful. Succeeding means understanding your own unique situation and dealing with it in your own unique way.


The things I wrote here may not be applicable to your life. That’s okay. Because now, after graduation, you steer your own life in the direction you desire. This is the commencement of life that, hopefully, will bring you happiness and contentment.