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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Of fairy tales, uncertainties and valor

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Growing up, I was interested in the mystical, the magical and all things fantasy. I loved watching princesses break into a song. I loved rooting for heroes while they fought the big bad villains and saved the day. And I loved reading about new worlds as if I were the heroine traversing across their marvelous terrains. But ultimately, what I loved most about these stories is, whatever happened, the characters always live happily ever after.

As a child, I envisioned an idealized “me” with a happy ending I hoped to achieve. I thought the key to achieving my dream was to study hard and graduate from college, and everything else would fall into place. So my academic years were spent in a whirlwind of never-ending classes and extracurricular activities, countless homework and projects and 9 to 5 internships—-not exactly a storybook plot. The magic of life I used to believe in as a fantasy-loving child diminished behind the monotony and rigors of schoolwork.

This monotony was thrown a startling plot twist. In March 2020, governments around the world started imposing lockdowns and quarantines as a new deadly and fast-spreading virus took lives by the thousands each passing day. The initial two-week lockdown was extended to one month.

But then one month became three, and we started getting scared. Doing online classes in the seclusion of my room, I often asked, “How long will this last?”

Often, my friends and I expressed regret that we did not spend more time together. How could we have known it would take years to see each other again? I avidly followed the news, hoping they would inform us one day that the pandemic had ended. Everything felt so out of control that I simply wanted to cuddle up in my bed and sleep until things returned to normal.

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Fast-forward to the present, here I am at 24 years old, happy and grateful to have come this far in my quest. Compared to the exciting imaginings my younger self had conjured, the situation for a grown-up me seems gray and humdrum. I am looking at life now with less of the magical dust in my eyes. Like you, my happiness comes with a twinge of fear towards the uncertainty of our future. The arrival of COVID-19 three years ago had constructed a world that has become unfamiliar, unsettling and frightening, exacerbating the volatility of our times and dampening whatever inner child we once had.

We now face our next story quest. Our unknown waters appear in the form of a career choice. While looking at countless job openings, I feel both excitement and trepidation. I am excited to finally start working and earning money—to build my own independent life. But the cloud of trepidation hovers over me, a fear of failing—failing to impress during interviews, failing to get into a company or a role I desire, and probably the scariest, failing to start my career right. What if I start in the wrong industry or get stuck in a position without turning back?

In the many fairy tales I have encountered, the stories have a unique capability to teach their audience about life’s unbridled challenges and the relevance of certain heroic qualities that fulfill the course of one’s destiny. I remembered Mulan, who cut her own hair and went to war for her family’s honor despite being a girl. I remember Harry Potter, despite knowing nothing about the wizard world beforehand, took on numerous mysteries, creatures and adversaries to save the world. And I remembered The Avengers, how they pulled through every mission, their understanding of the world continuously shattered by the appearance of aliens, people with superpowers, gods, magic and more.

These characters did not know what awaited them, yet they waded through the unknown waters and dived straight into the whirlpool. In such fantasy epics, the protagonists actively shape their destinies by stepping out of their comfort zones, befriending the right beings and altering their lives. They take the plunge forward with great fear and enthusiasm.

Every one of us, at present, is in our own fairy tale journey as well, in the middle of our quest—graduating in a post-pandemic period with numerous uncertainties ahead. We would prefer to be at the conclusion of life’s quest, with the consolation of a happy finale. However, real life has a more complexity of turns and twists, and the end of our story is nowhere near our sights. Therefore, in the same manner, as the fairy tale’s protagonists, we shall venture into the world of “new normal,” new beginnings and new uncertainties post-pandemic. Like in the stories, we take steps of courage into the unknown deep. We cut our hair, ride the train to Hogwarts or take the ring even if we do not know the way to the Crack of Doom. We change our fate as the protagonists in stories do. We take control of a future yet to be crafted.

In these challenging times, our response to uncertainties should be: We look forward to the future with hope despite the disquieting circumstances thrown our way. The only certainty in these uncertain times is what we, the protagonists in our own epic, can do. We focus on what we can control and let go of what we cannot.

Our life may not consist of fairy tale adventures, the kind we envisioned when we were younger. But we have a family that supports us, lifetime friends in the fellowship of the ring and the many peaks of excitement and the troughs of dryness and dullness that assuredly strengthen our spirit and build our valor. We create our own kind of fairy tale. And with this, we hope all of us will receive our own happy endings.

Rachel Aguilar is a De La Salle University B.S. Applied Corporate Management, Magna Cum Laude graduate. A student servant-leader during her undergraduate studies, she is now an aspiring corporate leader embodying and championing continuous learning, inclusive collaboration and holistic growth. She delivered this speech during DLSU’s 195th Commencement Exercises on June 3, 2023.

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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