Tell it to SunStar: A graduation homily

·5 min read

(This was delivered a week ago at St. Theresa’s College in Cebu City. It is slightly edited from what was delivered.)

Before anything else, congratulations to the graduates, the teachers, school administration and staff, families and friends of the graduates.

The last two years have been extremely difficult for education in general, and for basic education more particularly. For some of you, the graduation rehearsals were the first opportunity to meet each other outside the context of classes conducted under Zoom. I am confident that your teachers saw to it that you continued to learn, despite the limitations of online learning. For some schools, I am afraid that two years were almost completely wasted.

It is simply coincidental but nonetheless significant that the first reading today is about the separation of Elijah and his disciple Elisha. Elisha felt attached to his mentor Elijah and had always followed his mentor. But after the two crossed the Jordan River, Elijah knew that his time to leave this earth had come, and that meant Elisha had to be on his own. He asked Elisha what he wanted to receive from him before their separation. Elisha asked nothing less—and that was to have double the spirit of Elijah. Elijah would no longer be physically present—he was taken up to heaven—but Elisha received double of Elijah’s spirit.

Somewhat in the same manner, many of you will be leaving this school. But somehow, the spirit of St. Theresa’s College (STC), the values your teachers imparted to you, and the words of Mother Louise de Meester that you should have the heart like that of Christ, you all will carry with you. To leave behind a school which you have learned to love is part of your own maturation process. But bring with you a “double of its spirit.”

I once saw a comic strip wherein one person said, “just when I thought I knew all the answers, they changed the questions.” The quote is intended to be humorous. But it conveys the reality that knowledge needs to be adjusted to the ever-changing contexts.

Life constantly changes, and that demands continuing education. Let me speak of my own experience. When I finished my basic theology, there was no computer technology then. I finished my thesis using an ordinary typewriter, and manually erased misspelled words. The commands to delete and to justify paragraphs were not available then. But now you have Google, Wikipedia, Google Translate, etc. Now research is done online, which actually contains a lot of inaccuracies. But frankly, I doubt whether all these readily available tools have produced academic papers of greater quality.

But mind you, it is not just technology that is changing. The reality you face outside the walls of this institution would be different from what you have learned in school. Let me explain: In school, you learned to be decent in your language, but reality is we have a leader from whose mouth comes out venom, and he is popular. In this school, you are taught to tell the truth at all times. But you know that outside this school, many get what they want by deliberately spreading disinformation. In this school, you were taught to play fair. But outside these walls, those who don’t play fair often win and get away with it. In this school, you are taught to help alleviate the plight of the poor. But in real life, the poor are often the victims of devious machinations of the powerful. In school you are trained to be servant leaders. Outside of this school, servant leaders are laughed at as naive. How to discern truth from falsehood, right from wrong, is a challenge you have to tackle.

I started this homily by relating your graduation and the separation of Elisha from Elijah. The separation turned out to be fruitful for Elisha. Let me end it by narrating an anecdote that tells of a more tragic separation. The story is The Farewell of Gorgias. Gorgias was an ancient philosopher. He was about to drink the hemlock which would lead to his death. His disciples thus discussed that they needed to make a sacred pact to be faithful to their master, exactly to the minutest detail of his philosophy. Gorgias heard of their plans and in reply, narrated a dream of his.

In this dream, a mother was so attached to the innocence of her boy that she obtained a potion from a sorceress that would ensure the boy would remain perpetually young. Indeed, the boy never grew old, for the mother saw to it that he would take the potion faithfully. But time came when the mother belatedly realized that the supply of the potion ran out. She no longer could find the sorceress. When she returned home, she was met by her son who now was an old man. The son reproached his mother: “You robbed me of my life. In your egoistic desire to see me forever a boy, you robbed me of my freedom. Now I am free. But of what use is this freedom when I am about to die?”

Let us go back to Gorgias. Gorgias told his disciples: “My philosophy is not intended to be like the mother in that dream. You will encounter situations which I could not have possibly foreseen. You will have to think for yourselves. But my philosophy has provided you values. But these values need to be concretized in different situations.”

Neither is STC like the mother in that dream. She wants you to become mature and responsible. But she taught you values. Now you need to concretize these values in a different environment where what is wrong is popular, and what is right becomes an object of scorn.

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