Finding Our Centre

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It is an auspicious day for me and 16 other young men and women as we complete and earn our master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University-Australia.  Today is a testament to the hard work that the candidates have put in.  Never in my entire life have I spent so many hours and sleepless nights just to work on projects and prepare for exams one after the other.

A few weeks back, one of my mentors called me up and asked what I will be bringing home from this experience.  More than from coffee, wine and chocolates that have long been packed in my luggage, I know I will bring home a lot.

In the movie, Rise of the Guardians, Santa Clause asks Jack Frost, “What is your centre?”  When Frost was confused by the question, Santa was prompted to show the Matryoshka nesting dolls, where the smallest doll hidden within symbolizes the purpose or core of one’s life.  For Santa, his centre was the sense of wonder.  For the Sandman, his centre was dreams.  For the Tooth Fairy, her centre was memories.  And for the Easter Bunny, his centre was hope.

Like Frost, I still don’t know what my centre is.  But in the course of my stay here, I have come closer to realizing what it is.

Firstly, I bring home profound gratitude.  Like most of us, I come from a developing country.  I was born in an ambulance, in a province, north of the capital of the Philippines.  I come from a working class family where my grandfather was fixing railways as a mechanic and my grandmother was selling fish paste in the marketplace.  My life has always been a story of improbability so I have been taught gratitude every step of the way.

And I have never ceased to be given reasons for even deeper and abiding gratitude.  Never did I imagine that I would be able to study in one of the top-ranked universities in the world, live in one of the best cities, and meet people who come from different backgrounds, all yearning to make a difference.  I am grateful for the opportunity to receive world-class education; learn tools and frameworks that have shaped nations, and that will continue to push boundaries.

I am also grateful for friendships forged, for each story, journeys far and wide, and the diversity of understanding that has opened up for me.  The philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, “to think is to thank” and so “to remember is to be grateful”. By bringing home gratitude, I will keep on remembering all these gifts I have received and experienced with you.

I also bring home with me the desire to be more and do more.  Our stories share common themes – the struggle to eradicate corruption, the need to address gender and ethnic inequality, and the fight for equal access to economic opportunities.  From your stories, I saw how the world is beautiful, yet broken yearning to be healed.  We all are kindred spirits as we dream of wealth trickling down to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

There is so much to do in the name of gratitude.  It moves us to see the plight of humanity that we desire to integrate our technical skills, management and leadership competencies with our passion to move and work for more equitable and inclusive societies.

As I listen to your stories, I listen to the story of my people.  As we talk about the differences of our cultures, the more I realize that we are more the same than different.  I will go home knowing that, in other places in the world, there are also people looking at the same stars and moon with fervor.

At the end of the movie, Jack Frost was able to discover his centre.  His centre was fun; he was to give people the chance to embrace joy in the midst of pain and suffering.

I ask you my friends, what is your centre?  We look back at the past year or two of hard work and sacrifice, and we know that we have transformed immensely in the present. Our centres have guided us to decide to study here, to leave our families and friends, to take on a multitude of tasks, and to adapt to a new environment on our own.  We continue to ask ourselves, what is our core, our deepest desires?

I take home from this journey pieces of this centre – the gift of gratitude from which I embrace the world and the desire to be more and do more that we have all shared and been equipped to realize by our education.  Yet, it is not complete.  Let us continue to search for our own centre as we go back to our countries to serve our peoples, or start new lives and contribute to humanity significantly and fervently.

Thank you very much, God bless everyone at mabuhay tayong lahat.

I, together with 2 other graduands, shared our thoughts on graduation day at Carnegie Mellon University – Australia.

20 December 2013 | Adelaide, SA

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