[Dean’s welcome remarks delivered on UPSE Recognition Day, 26 April 2008, Film Center, UP Diliman Campus.]


I bid welcome to you who are members of the Centennial Class of the University, your parents, and your guests. Because you complete your studies on the occasion of the University’s centennial, it is particularly appropriate to pause and consider the ideals that motivated those who founded this University, and to see how we of the present-day have lived up to these.

The University’s motto, which is often taken for granted, is “Honour and Excellence” [Dangál at Husay], two words, two concepts, two virtues. But what do they mean?

I think we have tended to think that these two are essentially the same – that if we achieve and accomplish, if we hone our skills and deepen our learning, then we excel, and it is this excellence that then brings us honour. The upbeat rock song that has been composed for the Centennial unfortunately seems to buy into this view of things: its hook is “UP, ang galing mo.” It emphasizes and celebrates the technical – one might almost say, the clinical – proficiency of the UP graduate; hence UP is where the student acquires deft practical skills, intellectual dexterity, loquaciousness, and cleverness. And it is for these reasons the University is valued and celebrated. In short, from this viewpoint, it is excellence that brings honour.

I confess that we, too, may have tended to emphasise the visible and measurable achievements you have been capable of and have demonstrated. Almost all of these accomplishments and successes are richly deserved and these are what we celebrate on this day of recognition. We have exhorted you, time and again, to work harder, learn more, think more deeply, be more involved in a version of an intellectual Olympics. The resulting awards, medals, certificates, appellations, and prizes – these tangible measures of success are the justifiable source of pride and pleasure to you, your parents, and friends.

But I would like to propose to you a different notion, namely that honour and excellence are distinct. Browse the pages of the history of this country, and you will unfortunately find it replete with UP graduates who were excellent but who were not honourable, and who have wrought lasting damage to our nation and institutions. In the meantime, there have been thousands of honourable men and women who have left these halls who have not been regarded as particularly outstanding or distinguished in the conventional academic sense – hindi sila magaling sa karaniwang pakahulugan – but who have in their own quiet way made sound and lasting contributions to the nation, to society, and to their own families. I venture to say I would prefer the latter as fitter and nobler examples of UP’s achievement.

Those who conceived of the ideals of this University were truly wise, therefore, when they did not reduce the University’s ideal to Excellence above all. Nor did they say Honour through excellence, nor even Excellence and honour. Rather they placed honour before excellence. These two are, in the words of my old professor, José Encarnación, Jr. lexicographically ordered. The first is more important than the second.

This needs to be said especially today, first, because our country is mired in a crisis of institutions where internal rules are failing, where implicit trust and civic honour have collapsed before a flood of corruption and falsehood. Second, in many ways, there is no need to exhort you to be excellent: for your batch has produced an unusually rich harvest: 4 candidates for summa cum laude, 18 candidates for magna cum laude, and 47 for cum laude, and 56 on the Dean’s List. Even those of you who fall under none of these categories are to be commended for having succeeded in entering UP and for surviving the rigours of the curriculum of the School of Economics. You are already a privileged and distinguished group.

But it was Bertrand Russell who said that “Physics is mathematical, not because we know so much about the world, but because we know so little; it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover”. In the same manner, I think, we in the University use examinations, papers, and tests because we cannot directly peer into the human mind, nor see into the human heart. We can certify to your intellect, but cannot know your soul and true aspirations. That you must find for yourself.

After you leave the halls and groves of this University, once the celebratory dinners have ended and profuse congratulations have died down, it is our hope that you – as excellent students, all – will find a quiet time to realize that true honour is not the same as simply earning honours. [Ang dangal ay hindi lamang katumbas ng parangal.] Honours are a matter of external measure and praise; but honour is a question of inner spirit and strength. Honours are what others say about you; but only you can say whether you have true honour or not. Honours will come and go; only true honour abides. Excellence will fade with age, only honour is timeless.

There is already much you have done – but ultimately more important is who you are.

Mabuhay, paalam, at maraming salamat.