Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

I was speaker in four graduations this year. Excerpts of my speech….

If there is more powerful achievement than education, it is imagination. You are college diploma holders and you are officially recognized by the community as educated individuals. But it doesn’t mean your mind is only reserved for strictly academic and technical matters. It’s equally important that we use our mental abilities to dream of new things and new ideas. Education has taught us how to open a laptop, write our thesis, and research our assignment on the web; but imagination allows us to rethink our way of doing things and forces us to create innovations. A generation ago, the idea that personal computers can be portable, keyboard-less, and wireless was unthinkable. Actually, most of the great and wonderful inventions that we enjoy today were once ridiculed as wild ideas.

In 1870 Bishop Milton Wright dismissed the idea that man will learn how to fly. He said: “The millennium is at hand. Man has invented everything that can be invented. He has done all he can do.” He added, “Don’t you know that flight is reserved for angels.” But what happened after that? His two children, Orville and Wilbur, made and flew the world’s first airplane. Lesson: Today’s laughable idea is the standard knowledge of tomorrow. So if you made a silly suggestion in class, it shouldn’t be outrightly dismissed. Your vindication will come in the future.

In 1943, Thomas Watson Jr. of IBM confidently asserted that “there is a world market for maybe five computers.” How many of you have computers here? Lesson: Don’t believe what experts are always telling us. Whether you’re a carpenter or a CEO, our knowledge and understanding of our world is always limited. What’s important is that we continue to improve our way of life.

Schools exist not simply because it aims to be the repository of human knowledge. They aren’t banks where we enroll so that information can be deposited in our heads. As training institutions, they provide us with necessary skills, attitudes, and know-how so that we can have productive and meaningful lives.

An educated person recognizes that he needs to learn more, acquire more wisdom, and experience more knowledge about life and the world of man. He’s humble enough to appreciate that every person, rich or poor, has something to contribute in the advance of human civilization.

The school’s mission is to equip us with the basic skills so that we can continue the search for truth and enlightenment even after the end of our formal schooling. Its aim is to produce a breed of young individuals who are curious and passionate about life and learning.

I admire college graduates who are academically proficient and ‘obese’ with too much information. But our world will reserve a special place in recognition of dreamers, innovators, and social revolutionaries whose out-of-this-world imaginations have fundamentally changed the way we live. Again, I emphasize the value of imagination.

While web surfing, I read this poetic description of the Empire State Building, one of the tallest and most famous buildings in the world:

“It was a thrilling experience to be whizzed in a “lift” a quarter of a mile heavenward, and to see New York spread out like a marvellous tapestry beneath us.

“There was the Hudson – more like the flash of a sword-blade than a noble river. The little island of Manhattan, set like a jewel in its nest of rainbow waters, stared up into my face, and the solar system circled about my head! Why, I thought, the sun and the stars are suburbs of New York, and I never knew it! I had a sort of wild desire to invest in a bit of real estate on one of the planets. All sense of depression and hard times vanished, I felt like being frivolous with the stars. But that was only for a moment. I am too static to feel quite natural in a Star View cottage on the Milky Way, which must be something of a merry-go-round even on quiet days.”

It was written by a blind person, Ms Helen Keller. Lesson: Don’t underestimate the power of imagination. If a blind person can write such beautiful words about the experience of seeing something majestic, what’s stopping us from experiencing the same thing? Sadly, instead of ‘seeing’, we are merely visually absorbing scenes in front of our computer screens these days.

One more thing, we succeed in life if we experience its wholeness and not if we accumulate some overrated material things.

My dear graduates, life is a constant struggle. You lose if you abandon your dreams and if you allow one setback to determine the future of your life. There’s truth to what philosopher and retired basketball superstar Michael Jordan said in one his TV ads: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games, 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” It doesn’t matter if you fail several times as long as you know how to stand up and learn how to fight back.

We are living in an instant world, a fastfood society. Instant noodles. Instant search results. Instant news. Instant communication. Many of us also expect to succeed instantly. We want to realize our dreams instantly. But life can’t be forced to give instant answers to our questions. We can’t change the world in two minutes. Even climate change required centuries of destructive human practices before it mutated into a terror phenomenon. If after a few years, you still haven’t achieved your life goals, don’t despair. Learn from the story of the Chinese bamboo tree.

“You take a little seed, plant it, water it, and fertilise it for a whole year, and nothing happens
The second year you water it and fertilise it, and nothing happens
The third year you water it and fertilise it, and nothing happens.
The fourth year you water it and fertilise it, and nothing happens.
The fifth year you continue to water and fertilise the seed and then sometime during the fifth year, the Chinese bamboo tree grows 90 feet in six weeks.”

My dear graduates: Patience. My dear graduates: Determination.

Besides, career-oriented successful persons are not always the happiest people in the world. Or if ever you pursue that road, I hope you will not reach the destination at the expense of other people. Don’t lose your humanity; don’t transform into cold calculating machines just for the single-minded pursuit of career success. The godfather in the Godfather II film was alone even after he successfully eliminated his enemies, including his own brother. The Facebook founder in the film Social Network was also alone at the top, desperately adding a former girlfriend in his network of friends, even after creating the most successful website in history and even if his net worth is already more than a billion dollars. You may be the most powerful person in the country today but tomorrow you might spend an extended vacation at the Veterans Memorial Hospital. It’s lonely up there in the throne and CEO seat especially if you’re unable to share your success with another person.

The gift of youth shouldn’t be wasted. What’s this gift that the youth inherently possess? It’s neither beauty nor vanity but time. Time is what we have which our elders have already lost and wanted to reclaim. But we also grow old if we throw away our ideas and ideals. We can remain young by being faithful to our chosen mission in life. We can be like Benjamin Button who rediscovered the power of youth in his aging years.

Our precious time shouldn’t be exclusively devoted to our personal enrichment. Our mortal life is only good for 70, 80, 90 years (if you’re lucky) and in the greater scheme of things, that’s a relatively brief period. So it’s wise that our time should be ‘wasted’ in the pursuit of noble dreams.

The youth have time, knowledge, and passion. But don’t confuse time with our happy hours. Don’t equate knowledge with wisdom. Don’t merge passion with aggression. Time is spent well if it serves the cause of humanity. Internet-knowledge becomes useful if it leads to the discovery of truth. If fueled by idealism, passion becomes a wonderful creation of love. Love that nourishes life.

One Response to “The Power of Imagination. The Gift of Time”

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