Bernardo M. Villegas
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Message to the Millennial Generation (Part 1)

          I was asked to be Commencement Speaker by the Management Committee of UA&P on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of our University which started on August 15, 1967.  The vast majority of the graduating students belonged to the millennial generation, those born after 1982.  Much of what I said in my message can be applied to millennials in general with a college education.  With some slight modification, I am addressing this column to the millennials who will be the ones leading this country in the next twenty years towards our goal of becoming a First World Country attaining inclusive and sustainable development, with a poverty incidence of less than 5 per cent of the population by the year 2027. 

      As a University Professor, I was sorely tempted to deliver a Magisterial Lecture on the next fifty years that will be faced by our graduating students and to explain to them how fortunate they are that the Philippines is no longer the “sick man of Asia.”  I wanted to play my usual role as “Prophet of Boom”. But I resisted the temptation because I did not want to spoil the celebratory mood of the moment.  I could see in the faces of the graduates how happy they were that they had been finally relieved of exams, term papers, long reading lists, thesis tribunals and most of all lectures, especially the boring ones.  I wanted to especially highlight the great value of what would happen after the Commencement Exercises were over.  As night follows day, I was sure that the graduates would join their respective families and friends in well-deserved celebrations.  These celebrations are of great value to strengthening family ties, especially in these times when the family is under numerous attacks all over the world.  As Pope Francis said in one of those audiences that he gives in Rome on Wednesdays:  “The family is endowed with an extraordinary ability to understand, guide and  sustain the authentic value of the time for celebration.  How beautiful family celebrations are, they are beautiful!  Sunday celebrations in particular.  It is surely no coincidence that celebrations which have room for the whole family are those that turn out the best!…Thus, celebration is a precious gift of God; a precious gift that God gave to the human family: let’s not spoil it!”

         In fact, instead of spoiling your celebrations, I would like to make a small contribution to brighten them up even more.  What do we Filipinos do when we celebrate?  More often than not, we listen to music, we sing!  Well, as some of you may know, I have the reputation of singing at the drop of a hat, just like Florence Foster Jenkins, a US philanthropist whose life was made into a recent film.  When I was deciding what song to bring to this celebration, I was choosing from some of the songs that could define your era as millennials in the same way that the songs of the Beatles, John Lennon or James Taylor defined the age of your parents who are mostly from Generation X.  Should it be “What Makes You So Beautiful! Uh, Uh!” by the disbanded One Direction Boys Band?  Or “Sweet Creature” of Harry Styles, a former member of One Direction?  Or “Hello” of Adelle?  Or a song such as “Be Alright” by Aranda Grande, catapulted further to the top of the charts after the Manchester tragedy?  I can assure you, however, that I did not consider even for a second the song that is getting billions of hits in You Tube, “Despacito” whose lyrics are pornographic.  I hope that no one of you actually utters the lyrics as sung by Justin Bieber and some Puerto Rican singers.  If you find the melody attractive, which I do, I challenge you—especially the Integrated Marketing Communications or Humanities graduates who are known for their creativity—to compose your own lyrics and entertain your friends with a more wholesome version of this song composed by a Puerto Rican.

         But I don’t want to keep you  in suspense any longer!  For reasons I will explain, I chose the one that won the Academy Award for Best Song last year, the theme song of a box office hit, “La La Land.”  So please sing with me at least part of this famous song.  Those who know the lyrics can sing with me and those who do not can at least hum the melody.

         MAESTRO:  “City of Stars”  Let us sing with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  (On the screen, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were shown duetting the theme song and I led the graduates in singing with them).  After a few lines, I continued my speech.

         Let me use some lines from the lyrics of the song to give you, my dear graduates, some advice that can last your lifetime.

         First, without offending against collective humility, all of us stakeholders in the University of Asia and the Pacific must be stars, not in the sense of being VIPs or celebrities, although I am sure some of you will be.  We have to shine as stars so that those around us will see our good works and give glory to God.  I am sure you recognize the phrase as similar to a counsel given by Jesus Christ Himself in the Bible.  The only difference is that Christ referred to our being candles.  The effect is the same.  By the good example of our ordinary lives lived with greatness and holiness, we can drown evil with the abundance of the good we can do, despite our human weaknesses and limitations.

         Second, a line of the song says “There is so much I can’t see.” The very first declaration in our University Credo read” education is a lifelong process.”  At this stage of your lives, you have much you can’t see.”  That is why you have to study until your last breath.   So that this is not just an empty exhortation, let me suggest to you three books to read in the next twelve to eighteen months.    For those of you who did not major in economics or political economy, most probably you have not read “Why Nations Fail” by James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu.  Read it if you are still wondering why the Philippines became the ‘sick man of Asia” in the last century and is now being heralded as the rising star among emerging markets.  You will understand that the feudalistic culture of our society resulted in economic policies that preserve the control by the elite of the whole economy through an inward-looking, protectionist and ultranationalist industrialization that gave short shrift to countryside and agricultural development and that discouraged foreign direct investments.  You will understand how important have been the moves towards good governance and market friendly policies over the last ten to fifteen years in helping the economy grow at one of the fastest rates in Asia today and more importantly how increasingly inclusive the growth is becoming.

     Then for you to understand what you will face in the coming ten to twenty years of your respective careers and family lives, read Thomas Friedman’s latest best seller “Thank You for Being Late.”  Your parents will recognize his name as being the same author of a best seller thirteen years ago, “Why the World is Flat”, the lucid attempt to explain globalization to the non-specialist.    In his latest book, Mr. Friedman, to quote some lines from the cover, “exposes the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts.     You will never look at the world the same way again after your read this book:  how you understand the news, the work you do, the education your kids need, the investments your employer has to make, and the moral and geopolitical choices our country has to navigate will all be refashioned by Friedman’s original analysis.”  (To be continued).