"Let’s hope the youth truly realize the power they hold, and that they use it well."
Guests of honor at graduation ceremonies are usually older individuals with notable accomplishments, solid experience, and unassailable experience. But for Ateneo de Manila Univerity’s Class of 2021, this year’s speaker was Pasig Mayor Victor Ma. Regis Sotto, who himself obtained his bachelor’s degree from the same university just 10 years before.
Speaking plainly in a mix of English and Filipino, eschewing the pompous style we have come to associate with long and rambling speeches, Sotto acknowledged the unprecedented circumstances that this batch of graduates faced: completing their education from behind computer screens amid the raging health, economic and governance challenges.
The mayor, who made history in his city by trouncing a political dynasty that had been in power for almost three decades, exhorted the graduates to look inward and ask themselves what was important in their lives and what kind of leader they wanted to be.
It is so easy, he said, to find something wrong with the government, point fingers, analyze where our society is erring. What is more difficult is to recognize that we ourselves could be part of the problem, especially in the small things that we fail to notice. Sooner or later, he said, their character will be tested, and if they truly intend to live as true men and women for others, the road ahead will never be easy.
Sotto said that this generation of would-be leaders have all the tools at their disposal to gather information, communicate, organize, get things done and effect change. But technology, specifically social media, also presents a danger: that of trapping the youth in their echo chambers and limiting their circles and their mindsets to those who think and believe as they do. Meanwhile, those hungry for power are able to use social media as a weapon to sow hate and manipulate people without them realizing it.
Sotto thus posed a challenge—and it is a tough one especially during this time of noise, discourse, and discord: respecting others, going out of our comfort zones, listening to our neighbors and engaging those who hold views that might be different from ours.
And then, remain friends afterward instead of mocking and blocking those with different perspectives.
The mayor’s message does not just apply to Ateneo graduates. Young and not-so-young Filipinos will do much by tempering their boldness with reasonability, open-mindedness and respect. True engagement means relying on verified information instead of churning out manufactured “truths” or resorting to incivility when all else fails.
These are trying times for the Philippines, and even more so with the runup to the coming elections in May. With the great percentage of young voters, they do have the ability to effect change and truly help end the country’s ills. Let’s hope they realize the power they have—and, more importantly, the danger of squandering it by being less than circumspect about their votes.