For my Students, 4 December 2016

Note: It has been a tradition for me to do a “sign-off” as I end my classes every semester. It’s a  final encouragement for the semester, a “bon voyage” or “last hurrah from me” after they finish their final projects. This semester’s was different. Attached is somewhat the text of what I told them. I hope it helps you, too, or at least makes you think. I realize – as teaching usually makes you realize – that I need to say these things to myself, really, more than to my students: 


I wish the conditions in which I give my sign-off to you were different.

I wish it were as easy as my other classes where I read them “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” or “This is Water” or some graduation speech by some well-known figure. Not that any of those are bad choices (In fact, you should go read them now if you haven’t). It’s just that now, I don’t have the luxury of choosing to sign off with something arbitrary, one that works for any other year. There is a very real (pressing, urgent and even pungent) backdrop that is coloring the plateau unto which I open the gates for you. It’s the backdrop against which your first job will play against. It’s the administration, political climate, and people  unto which you will give your first few taxes to.

At the beginning of the class, we talked about how creativity is not just for creativity’s sake. We talked about how coming together with others fans the flames of an idea and/or purpose. We talked about platforms and serendipitous meetings and even those weird words, archaeopteryx and exaptation. We talked about Steven Johnson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Edward de Bono, and if you were listening or at least 75% awake on a Saturday morning, you would remember a lot more.

But most importantly, probably, is that you remember how we talked about – no, rather, how I kept pounding and pounding into your ears the principle of creativity as a tool to solve real problems. How we must get into the other person’s head and heart to be able to serve up a solution, and not just another app she will delete after a few days, or another headache on top of the traffic situation.

This is very, very important. Not just for creativity. Not just for marketing. Not just for advertising. Not just for democracy. But for being a human being.

Today, we are being terrorized in a different way. We are being terrorized to shut up. To just go with the flow. To not jump in lest we be drowned in the maelstrom that is a comments section. Social media, supposedly the freer way to express, has been weaponized as an aid to this terrorism. Relatives and friends avoid talking about political opinions. “Good vibes” is being taught as the “greater good.” Young ones are being told they have no right to assemble peacefully and voice out their discontent because they were not alive during a certain time of history.

As an option, we are being taught to shout each other down with stereotypes, with insults, and with an attachment of the affix “tard (which to me, insults those with mental retardation, by the way)”. We mob one another into submission. Or thinking that facts are enough, we throw statistics into windows looking for food and electricity, and shove historical data down thirsty throats.

Thus, we are being taught to not see where the other person is coming from.

I hope this class, at the very least, after much of my insistence, and after so many times we tried, has taught you to locate who it is you are serving, to give her a name, to know that many times it’s a person we actually know, to be patient enough and understanding enough to know her deep fear and desire, and to be hardworking and smart and bold enough to try to solve it. Again, it is important for marketing. It is important for a democracy. It is important in being a human being.

That is the only way we will be able to discuss well again. When we are prepared with more than just facts, but empathy. When we are prepared with more than just data, but with understanding. In this our era, when Oxford has named “Post-Truth” as the Word of the Year (“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’”), we must strive to recover what is true, but also to make the truth known in a relevant and compassionate manner. We must be able to converse again as human beings, and not as “keyboard ninjas” slashing one another covertly in comments sections.


We must find out why people are so scared (Think Brexit, think Trump, think Philippines) and so angry and so frustrated that they will use their sacred vote to choose and defend someone who might not seem to be as skilled or prepared or humane, but seems to understand their plight more. We can not be just intelligent and skilled, but we have to go deep into the MRT and jeep-smelling skins of our people. Why are we so angry? Why are we so distraught? Look at that anger straight in the face and ask it. Because that anger probably comes from so many years of unfulfilled oaths and promises.

So go and fight. Yes. Go to rallies – of whatever side. Be informed. Be vigilant.

But go beyond personality.

Because while we have been very good in kicking people out, we have not been equally good in dismantling the systems that perpetuate the injustice, and allow the respawning of these evildoers. The systems that continue to leave our people in different forms of chains.

So be intimate with the story of our people. Not just the surface and facts level. But the deep stench of who we are. And from there, create solutions that matter.

That’s not just for this class. It goes not only for all your classes. Again, it goes for democracy. It goes for living.

So it doesn’t really matter what your political leaning is, or who you voted for in the last elections, or what color of the political spectrum you think you might have, or what you think the Philippines will be in the next five years. The point is you care. That you inform yourselves. That you can be human enough to be more than just correct.

And that you care enough to participate, that you care enough to not allow yourselves to be shut up.

Because they will tell you to shut up.

But you have inspired me, with your Theanine drink and your Disquiet exhibit,  your heartfelt “Homeland” papers, your ingenious (and hilarious) “Catechetical Zumba,” your Chindogu, your bravery to sing a composition in front of strangers, and your determination to stay awake in my class.

So when you come to me in the future, seeking advice because you’re being told to shut up, I’ll remind you of that light within, tell you to get back right up, and get your voice heard. Because I have seen how you are compassionate and competent enough to know the story of another person, and creative enough to solve his problem.

Have a good weekend, or what’s left of it.