In the past 20 years of my life, I never thought that I’ll be delivering a graduation speech in front of an international community. Nor it was never in my dreams that I’ll be given an opportunity to talk in a foreign land, which I now consider as my second hometown, Vietnam. The thought of studying abroad both challenged and inspired me. How does it challenge me? I was only sixteen when I first stepped into this country. I remember the times when the phrases that I can only utter were “Bao nhieu tien?” now after 3 years and a half, I can even say “het tien roi”. Those were the times when my eyes start to see the world in a whole new light, a new horizon and in a wider perspective.
How does it inspire me? Studying in Vietnam is something that I could never forget in my entire memory. It is something that every young man and woman should do. Although most of the things here are just the same with my country (the Philippines), the first of my big experiences in Vietnam has been my reaction to the geography, people and its distinct culture. At first, all I can see was the massive traffic congestion from the hundreds of motorbikes along the narrow streets, the sidewalk vendors, people shouting but actually just simply chatting, and unique smells that made me feel different. As time passes by, I’ve come to realize that these things can also be considered part of the country’s appeal. When you walk or drive around the city, the traffic jams, narrow streets, and exposed wires will become adventures in navigation. The local vendors around the university become opportunities to practice the language or gain a friend. After all, I was able to comprehend the meaning of the proverb “When in Rome, do as Romans do” or in Tieng Viet, “nhap gia tuy tuc”. The most important part of my time here is my ever-deepening understanding of the Vietnamese people. I have come to love the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese value of hospitality is one that people around the world could benefit from adopting. I have been welcomed to this country with generosity, friendship, and partnership. Before, I can only say “Anh ten la gi? This time, I can even say “Em yeu Anh”.
Many of us would consider the question, why are we all here? Definitely, it’s because we wanted to celebrate our hard work and struggles over the past four years in the field of Environment and all the difficult Sciences. But for me, as I stand before you today, my main question is why did we all stay here? Or simply, why did we choose to be in the Advanced Education Program? Many of you would probably say that it’s because you wanted to learn English from the international environment that the program is providing, you wanted to go abroad, you wanted to land into good jobs or simply because your parents wanted you to be here. The AEP did not taught us “How to be successful?” but rather, the AEP taught us “How do we define success in our own ways?”. That’s the main reason why almost all of us here today have travelled to various places around the world be it on the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Japan, Korea, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and even in my hometown (the Philippines). These dreams all came to reality because the AEP taught us to find our places in this big world. It’s not all about passing the difficult Calculus and Chemistry courses nor the degree and the diploma; it’s about the lessons in life that we have learned in here. Success isn’t always about being intelligent, rich or famous. In my case, the definition of success has changed over time. When I was younger, I thought that it is always about being the first and being the best. Like in the film 3 idiots, a question was raised “Who was the first person to land on the moon?” and one got the right answer. But when they were asked, “Who was the second person to land on the moon?” None of them got the correct answer. It is because we people always believe that success means always being the first. Until I got here, I’ve come to realize that success should be measured on how we made an impact in other people’s lives. So my message to my fellow graduates, “Hoc khong choi danh roi tuoi tre”. We should invest our time in improving our skills and gaining more knowledge from different aspects of life rather than improving only our CV and our degrees. Our achievements will mean nothing if we don’t apply them in real life.
As I end my message, let me thank the following people who in one way or another helped me survive my college career. First, all or our families who travelled all the way from the Philippines just to witness this important milestone in my life. I would also like to thank all the administrators and my lecturers from the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry and the University of California, Davis to whom we owe our education. To all the Filipino students and lecturers especially to Lola Oly and Lolo Nestor for being our second parents here in Vietnam… to my Vietnamese friends who made my stay in Vietnam more memorable. Also, special thanks to my brothers and sisters Camille, Shekinah, Marcia, Boni, Ezekiel, Paul and Shelah, for staying with me through the happy days and trying times of my life in Vietnam. And last but not the least, big thanks to the graduating class of K42 who has been with me all these years. Congratulations and God bless!