The Tao of Graduation

Ambassador Rosario Manalo, sawasdee khrap. Our dean, Dr. Carolyn Sobritchea, namaste. Our College Secretary, Dr. Eden Layda, selamat pagi.Esteemed sensei,konnichiwa. Fellow graduates, salaam alaykum. The staff of the Asian Center, anyeong haseyo. Families and friends,nihao. Everyone, hello.

Let us start with the statement of the problem:

What Are the Socio-Political Implications of a Masters Degree from an Asian Studies Graduate? 

To rephrase the question, what will we graduates do with our MA degree? First, definition of terms. An Asian Studies student is one who today receives a degree at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines. By socio-political implications, I refer to the graduates’ political effect on society, which I will examine through identity theory and Third World migration research.

Before we proceed, let me add that I am not presenting a paper here. For the question I posed isn’t a research problem, to be tackled like just another thesis. It is, on the contrary, is a life challenge, one that will take more than theories – and a lifetime to answer.

Mastering those theories has gotten us here today. But true to the graduation cliché, that is only the beginning. As Masters and Doctors, we are now held to a higher, greater standard. We’re no longer simply going out into the world, like undergraduates later today. We’ve already experienced the world, and we have studied it more than most. We know more; we can do more. And most importantly, we have a chance to get it right.

To paraphrase Marx, we have better tools to interpret the world; so maybe now we can help change it. For the better.

But it’s not that simple. Our well-researched plans can only get us so far; they can even backfire. Plus, the world is a post-structuralist; it will defy our theories and thwart our designs. Like the Tao or Transcendental Signifier, something about it will slip from our conceptual grasp. And mess up our plans for change.

So how can we transform a world we cannot fully understand, one that will resist our best efforts? How should we proceed when we face, a la Immanuel Kant, the limits of our intellect?

A deflating insight.  But it shows us an even higher, greater calling: as we help change this world, we’ll use our knowledge as best as we can, yet we are to know full well that things can go terribly wrong. That we can dismally fail, despite our good intentions and best-laid plans.

That kind of humility transforms our search for justice, freedom, and equality. It is no longer just a political revolution, but also, a humbling, spiritual transformation. Where we know that even if we are full of knowledge, we can come up empty. To realize that though we know a lot, we know nothing at all. To understand that even if we know what’s best, the quest for truth, justice, and equality is not ours alone.

The Hindus say that there four stages in life, each higher than the last.  Today we graduates are on a stage higher than MAs and social activism. We’re in for a long political struggle, but we’re also on a bloody spiritual quest; where we are to shed our egos like the mystics. And transcend our intellects like the Sufis. We are to master our desires like the Buddhists, and cultivate our Ren, our pagkamakatao like the Confucians.

And so let me end where I should: the conclusion. Ours is a stage where we embrace theory, apply our knowledge, yet most importantly, open up to something, someone greater than ourselves. This is our quest to be the Superior Man (or Woman) and – with all due respect to the postmodern pessimists – come closer to the truth. And find what we have always been looking for in our books: Enlightenment.

Ambassador Manalo, kap khun khrap. Dr. Sobritchea,dhanyavad.  Dr. Layda, terimah kasi. Esteemed sensei,arigato. Fellow graduates, shukran. Asian Center staff,kamsahabnida. Families and friends, sheh sheh. Sa inyo pong lahat, maraming salamat. And Happy Earth Day!

 

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