[Dean’s welcome remarks delivered on UPSE Recognition Day, 24 April 2009, UP Film Center.]

 

On behalf of the Faculty of the School of Economics, our heartfelt greetings and congratulations go to the candidates for graduation of 2009 – you who have lived, breathed, helped mount, and taken in the full measure of the Centennial of the University. An equally warm welcome goes out to your beloved parents and valued guests. And finally fraternal regards and profound admiration to our honoured speakers, Dr. Christopher Bernido and Dr. Maria Victoria Carpio-Bernido, this year’s recipients of the Gawad Haydee Yorac for public service.

I asked some students sometime ago how they wanted to be remembered – what it was that characterized their batch. And one of them responded – Sir, kami ‘yung batch na hindi nagbigay ng problema. That is, you were not a burden on us. It took some time for this to sink in, but I have gradually come to appreciate that response truly and deeply. For you did do your work – quietly, fairly and squarely, you collected rewards and accolades when they were due, but you calmly accepted your lot when your efforts fell short of the requirements of society’s overt attention or praise. External honours and decorations are pleasant enough – if and when they come – but, as you may have already realised, true honour emanates from within, and work and learning, beauty and friendship are their own reward. You upheld and observed the rules of the University, and in that way strengthened its ideals and your character as well. If these are the only things you take away from your stay at the School of Economics, then the Faculty’s efforts will not have been in vain.

But now you end your stay at the University, and you must do so at a time of moral challenges and financial stress. You will doubtless look first and foremost after your own prospects – as you should – for as Adam Smith wrote, “Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care.” Your first duty is not to be a burden to others. If the University’s and the School’s education is worth anything, and judging from past experience, this task of fending for yourselves will not be insuperable – even during a time of crisis.

There is a deeper sense, however, in which you must not be a social burden – you must uphold society and the rules that sustain it. At one level, all this might mean is that you must carefully observe society’s laws, even as you look after yourself. This is prudence tempered by justice – the minimum that Adam Smith thought was required for society to exist. More of you might expand the circle of this definition of happiness somewhat to include your immediate family and friends, for after all individual pleasure and wealth alone cannot be truly fulfilling. At some point – though perhaps not immediately – you will ask yourself: what lies beyond prudence and self-love tempered by justice? What would it take – and how should one act – in order to become a truly happy person? Can we equate happiness with private comfort or luxury – expanded to include our loved ones and acquaintances – so long as the pursuit of these is consistent with the law. (Ang kaligayahan ba ay maitutumbas sa ginhawa at pagpapasarap ng ating sarili at ng ating mga mahal sa buhay?) None of this is bad – indeed it represents the most basic and solid civic morality of the householder.

But we will ask – must there not be more? I suggest to you that since we are still a society poor in wealth and in the observance of institutions, you will be challenged by your education and your situation to do more to attain true happiness. You will have to draw larger and larger circles of care and concern, beyond yourself and your loved ones. For you may not become truly happy in circumstances where the greater number of your fellow-citizens are poor and marginalised. You may not attain personal fulfillment in observing the law when you see that others violate it with impunity – or when you see that some laws are misguided and misapplied. Your satisfaction with your own personal achievements may be dampened by the world’s assessment of the collective failure of your society or nation. Unlike the University, where the fairness of rules and of rewards based on merit can be generally presumed, real society still represents an ethical battleground.

For this reason, unlike your time in the University, it will not be enough to simply “not be a burden”, but perhaps also to help lighten the burden of others; it might not be enough “not to cause any problems”, but perhaps also to solve a few problems yourselves; not enough for you to observe the law, but to ensure that others do so as well; and not enough, finally, to bring happiness to your own circle of acquaintances, but to promote justice in the larger circle of society and humanity.

Congratulations and a pleasant afternoon.