This homily was delivered at the High School Graduation Mass for XS 2013 on 18 March 2013.
For the past twelve years, each time I deliver the homily during a Graduation Mass, I have always secretly felt like an unofficial graduation speaker because when you think about it, the homily is really my last chance as the School Director to address the seniors and to give them some parting words of wisdom before we send them off to the world.
But this year, as you may guess, it’s a little bit different with this graduating batch. Today I feel less like an unofficial graduation speaker and more like a fellow graduate because in a sense, dear Batch 2013, I’m graduating with you from Xavier School. In fact, one of my last official acts as the School Director is declaring myself an honorary member of the Class of 2013.
And so for this our graduation homily, I had to work extra hard and think extra carefully about what I would say to you because in many ways, I will be saying those exact same thing to myself.
Let’s begin with this micro-blogger named Walker Lamond, who has come up with a really popular Tumblr site called “1001 Rules for My Unborn Son.” His collection of unconventional and humorous advice is perfect for people who are growing up and moving on, so it’s really a virtual instruction manual for life. I grabbed a few examples that might be more interesting and relevant to us:
Let’s start with something very practical which I’m sure your parents will appreciate:
Rule #453. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.
Here’s for those who will be traveling abroad. Rule #480. If a street performer makes you stop walking, you owe him a buck.
How about this one? Rule #99. Nothing good ever happens after 3 am. I promise
Or this? Rule #505. Your career in politics should end in high school.
Here’s one for the ladies. Rule #103. Offer to carry a woman’s bags. Especially your mother’s.
Now, here’s one that I’m hoping you guys will take seriously and really remember. Rule #9. Stand up for the little guy. He’ll remember you.
And please, please don’t forget… Rule #466. Bend your knees.
And finally… Rule #437. Never post a picture online you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing your mother, your boss, and the dean of admissions. For example…
So this Tumblr site inspired me to ask the Xavier Community, teachers, parents, and alumni to send their tips for us via Twitter hash tag #LifeAfterXS. You may want to check out what your teachers, parents, and alumni have tweeted for you about “life after Xavier.”
But here’s mine for you: “Learn to ask the right questions.”
That’s one of the most important things I learned here in Xavier these last twelve years. Sometimes asking the right question is much more important than finding the right answer. As leadership and management experts have said, sometimes the way we frame the problem makes all the difference. And for me, two very basic questions made all the difference: “What if?” and “Why not?”
For example, early on during my term, we took one look at the Grade School gym, the same gym my classmates and I had used when I was a grade school student back in the 70s, and we asked, “What if we expand it?” And we said, “Why not? and thus was born the Fr. Rafael Cortina Sports Center.
We examined our Chinese program and speculated “What if we send our students to study for six weeks in China, to learn the language, to embrace the culture, and to learn to live with one another and grow up in the process?” And our boldness surprised ourselves: “Whynot?” And so now we have our innovative Xavier China Experience in Guangzhou for Grade 8, Yunnan for Grade 10, and Beijing/Shanghai for our high school seniors.
We looked at the classroom and asked “What if we do something about the way the students learn?” And our initially tentative response was “Okay, why not?” and before we knew it, we are now the first and only Apple One2One Learning school in the entire country. And not to forget, that’s also how we ended up as the only Jesuit school in the world that offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
All these programs would have been impossible without the right team.
And so, first I thought out loud, “What if we have a different breed of Jesuits running the school?” Actually, Jesuits have always been a different breed; that is why it took Jesuits over 2000 centuries for one finally to emerge on the balcony of St. Peter from the white smoke of the Vatican. So I said to myself, “Why not?” and here’s what I got.
This is officially why I’m convinced it’s time to leave Xavier.
We also asked, “What if we also have a different breed of teachers? Encourage them to be daring and to experiment, grant them permission to commit mistakes in order to learn from them?”
And thus was born a new generation of Xavier School teachers–although once in a while, I have to admit, they do get kind of carried away the way they did here in this Starships Lipdub video.
When I finally recovered from my initial shock, I summoned the teachers with the most outrageous moves to my office. I asked them what they were thinking when they shot their lipdub. One teacher said they didn’t mind losing their dignity if only because they love this batch. Seniors, the things you can charm your teachers to do!
But when you think about it, this should really come as no surprise because whether you knew it or not, your batch has inspired us because in response to all that we have tried to do, you yourselves have exhibited such creativity, innovation, and magis.
Last August, the country was ravaged by a typhoon that couldn’t make up its mind whether to leave or stay in Philippine territory. In a virtual emergency meeting the Director’s Council posed the question: “What if we suspend classes for the whole week so we can focus on relief operations?” We turned to your batch and your leaders, and the chorus we heard was a resounding “Why not?” We needed you to step up and exercise leadership, and you came up with “Call of Duty”–a one-week relief operations where the entire school community turned out in full force and which produced a total of 1000 bags of relief goods, 50 sacks of rice, 60 boxes of biscuits, and 3000 bottles of mineral water.
Then you yourselves decided to ask your very own “What if?” and “Why not?”–questions that led to a high-energy outpouring of love for the school in a way never seen before, a historic first in Xavier, a lipdub that offers not only a tour of the our campus but also a showcase of the many faces of the Xaverian. It is a wonderful gift to the school, a gift that you and your parents will get after this Mass.
So you see, it’s just amazing what a couple of questions can do.
As I look back at the past twelve years, my whole stint in Xavier School, in fact, began precisely with “What if?” and “Why not?” Back in 2001, my Provincial Superior summoned me to his office and asked, “What if I send you to Xavier School?” At the time, I was making plans to leave the country for my post-graduate studies in media, but because my Superior promised it would only be for one year, I said, “Why not?”
You see, I actually believed my Superior. In fact, for my first four years here in Xavier, because I stay at the Infirmary Wing of the Jesuit Residence, I slept on an actual hospital bed, the type you crank up manually to put the head or the feet up and down.
The first year passed, and another followed. Every single school year I would consider my last only to be told at the end of each year that I needed to extend because there was no one yet available to take my place. At the end of my fourth year, I finally replaced my hospital bed with a regular bed because I finally got the hint. I figured I was probably staying for a while. You could say, I finally caught on. All through the years I’ve learned how important it is to revise your dreams, so each year I stayed here I made the decision to ask, “What if?” and always to follow that up with “Why not?”
And now all of twelve years have come and gone, and what an honor that today I graduate with you. Among the numerous tweets about life after Xavier, there is one in particular that I like the best because it rings so true, and it’s something that I want each one of us always to remember. I’d like to end with that message. The message is from a first year high school student, @Gervin_98, and this is what he tweeted:
My dear Class of 2013, you grew your wings here in Xavier, the wings that you will soon spread and use as you take off from here. But remember, never forget, you also grew your roots here, and no matter the miles between us, you will always find a home here in Xavier. Never hesitate to come home. Your teachers and the Jesuit fathers will be always be here for you. God bless you all!
Images and slides courtesy of Karol Yee