Distinguished Diplomat and International Educator Challenges SISFU Class of 2019 Graduates to Look Beyond Themselves and Serve the Nation

Dear Graduates:

Doing some research on Southville International School Affiliated with Foreign University, I was impressed to see the range of disciplines that the school takes on. With a show of hands, may I please see who the graduates are for:

Culinary Arts Hospitality Management School of Business School of Computing Affairs, I wish to congratulate you on your graduation today. There are several key milestones in ones life and I consider graduating from an academic institution one of them. On your milestone today, celebrate, as today culminates years of hard work in your chosen discipline.

I would also like to offer our sincerest greetings of congratulations to Southville International School Affiliated with Foreign Universities (SISFU) for twenty years of transnational education. May you continue for many more years to come in bringing peoples of the world together through academic exchanges, in celebration of diversity

Mabuhay kayong lahat!


Twelve years ago when I came back to Manila from my tertiary studies abroad and a couple of years of teaching in Japan, I was excited to be as a teacher. I applied to various academic institutions and was given a few offers but it was when I had my final interview at Southville with Dr. Marj and Dr. Ledesma-Tan that I knew that I was in the right place to teach. My intuition proved correct as the two years I spent at SISC, first as Deputy then as IB Diploma Program Coordinator, were truly meaningful where I met wonderful mentors, made good friends among colleagues and students and learned many valuable lessons especially in professionalism and decorum.

It is, therefore, an immense honor for me to come back to Southville, as a commencement speaker. I wish to thank the management and the faculty of Southville International School Affiliated with Foreign Universities (SISFU) for this privilege of addressing the class of 2019. It is my hope that I do justice to this honor by sharing with you eager young women and men some thoughts on life.

mistakes and errors in one’s life, followed by a discussion on finding rewards outside one’s comfort zone. Then, I will talk about two things I would like to share with you that are close to my heart --- embracing identity and passion for nation building and finally I will close with a tribute to those who have helped you get to where you are right now.


Graduation rites, for faculty and staff, can be as nerve-wracking as it is for students themselves. The actual preparation that goes into the ceremony can be exhausting, as with any preparations for a momentous event.

So you could just imagine how I felt, as a newly-minted IB Diploma Program Coordinator, when I was preparing for my first graduation ceremony --- I wanted to make it perfect! I was maybe 25 years old coordinator by Drs. Ledesma-Tan, Tizon and Guttierrez-Tangog, the Southville trifecta I call them. Everything was set and we even invited, through the good auspices of one of our faculty members, Mr. Roger Bartholomew, as our commencement speaker, the Ambassador/Permanent Representative of the European Union to the Philippines.

Since it was a small class graduating, the ceremony was held at a hall in the Tropical campus of SISC. Everything was set and in place and all I had to do was to wait for the Ambassador at the foyer of the parking lobby where I would don a beautiful garland of flowers, as is tradition in the Philippines, and escort His Excellency to the elevator to bring him to the graduation hall. Beside me was my then-assistant who held the garland of flowers beside me. Finally, a car pulled up and a dignified Caucasian gentleman in a suit stepped out. My assistant and I gave each other meaningful glances and as the gentleman approached us, I donned the garland on him, said, with some other parents of our students.

Mr. Bartholomew caught up with us inside the elevator before the doors closed and looked at the gentleman with the garland and then to me with confusion in his eyes. As I still didn’t understand, one of the parents of my students, exclaimed, oh, Mr. Estanislao, do all parents get flower garlands too? It was at the point that I realized in horror that I put on the garland on the father of one of my students! Apologies were quickly made and fortunately, everyone took the whole incident in good humor. I told the father of my student that he can keep the garland (as we had a back up one) as long as he removes it during the ceremony so that only the Ambassador would wear one. The Ambassador finally arrived, I donned his garland on him, and the ceremony took place without a hitch.

This anecdote illustrates that you will experience hiccoughs in your professional career. They may be like the one that I had, erroneous unsettle you and have repercussions on your life. Point is, all of us, at some point or another, would have committed an error in our professional careers. At one point or another, we would have put on the garland on the wrong person. Can we avoid this? Sure, minimize at best, but an error-free professional life is as exciting and as meaningful as an unsharpened pencil --- pointless.

Harping on the pervasive cliché, what is important is that you learn from these mistakes and not dwell on them. It will be uncomfortable, but if you work through it, if you keep on going with quiet or not-so-quiet persistence, grit and determination, the rewards are also manifold.


pursuit of our own happiness?

To say I was a sheltered child growing up would be an understatement. I was this unpleasant child growing up. I was an introvert, had these really thick glasses, didn’t really interact with people that much, I was physically huge and would just have a very negative view of the world. My parents, as much as I love them, didn’t really help out a lot because they did spoil me and sheltered me.

So, imagine the catastrophe I felt when I was told that I would be shipped to boarding school in Canada for senior high school. Here I was, a 16-year-old kid who was sheltered all his life about to be whisked away thousands of miles away from home. The days leading up to my departure to Canada were truly frightening. I remember just biting the bullet, thinking this would be a great adventure. And a great adventure it was! When I arrived in Vancouver Island, I was one of among 200 students from almost 80 countries. My roommates were Serbian. My best friends were Bangkok and Beijing. I learned a lot academically but also made lifelong friends. My stay in Canada also opened many doors for further study abroad --- the United States, France and Greece and eventually my first teaching job in Japan.

Yet, the rewards I reaped came with a very heavy toll on my emotional well-being. I remember every day for one month when I arrived in Canada that I would cry in front of the mirror before going to class and do the same before going to bed. I longed for the comfort of being back home in the embrace of the familiar. Yet, and I am a firm believer in this, the most beautiful, meaningful transformations, magic, if you will, only happen when you step outside your comfort zone.

After today, you will be armed with, I hope, the resilient confidence that comes with a SISFU education --- something that only a privileged few can ever attain. With this confidence and everything else that you have learned --- be it technical knowledge, management appreciation for the humanities, or even the metaphysical --- curiosity about patterns of knowing and thinking, actively seek the unfamiliar and wade through it. Should you have more courage, plunge head on and navigate unchartered territories. Invest in your passions and if they may lead you to, as the great Whitney Houston said, a lonely place, find your strength in love. Extricate yourself from the negative and fill your being with those which uplift you and encourage you and love you and these will pull you through, And if in the end of that adventure you do not find that pot of gold, chin up, because at least you tried and you challenged yourself and did not remain in that limbo that is “what if?”

And if you do find that pot of gold or some permutation of it, bask in its radiance and enjoy because you deserve it. Something handed on a silver platter is less appetizing than something attained through hard work, discipline and courage.


But before you go searching for your pots of gold and rainbows, please allow me to posit what I think is important in living a full life: knowing and celebrating who you are and loving yourself for it.

Perhaps the most famous tourist in ancient Greece, Pausanias, in what remains of the celebrated text, Description of Greece, describes what he saw in the most acclaimed temple of that time, the Apollo Dephi. He said that as you enter the sacred temple were the most precise of prophecies are revealed by the gods, the ancient Greek text “GNOTHI SAUTON” is emblazoned on the temple’s pronoas, or entrance. It means, “KNOW THYSELF.” This is telling as the ancients seem to remind us that to learn something exterior to us, meaning, to look into ourselves and have a clear knowledge of who we are.
This exhortation is disturbing at face value because it compels us to look deep and reflect on what we stand for, our principles, our views on ethics, on morality, on the core of our identity. And afterwards, if we are successful in identifying them, the difficult part begins --- the acceptance of who we are and placing a premium on self-love. See, my take on the instructions of Apollo is that knowing oneself is just the beginning of a truly more important realization --- that when all is said and done, you accept yourself for who you are and you love yourself completely without compromise.

This process does not happen overnight, of course. As you unfurl your sails and as you meander through the seas beyond the SISFU campus, sail with confidence accepting who you are and loving yourself even on days when storm clouds gather. And what happens when you accept who you are and love yourself for it? Trust me on sense of joy for being who you are and accepting yourself, strengths, flaws and everything else in between.


At the conferment of the Phi Beta Kappa honors in my own college graduation in Vermont, I was very fortunate to be chosen by my peers to give the valedictory. At the time of my graduation, Middlebury College, my school, was hounded by bad press. There were some student protests in campus at the time of my graduation. I vaguely remember the content of my speech 14 years ago but what I do recall very clearly is that I spoke about how proud I was to be a Middlebury college student. I spoke about the merits of the school and the values it has taught me --- academic honesty, professionalism and responsibility to name a few. I remember telling my fellow graduates and their family to address whatever issue there was at school at that matter.

That speech became a harbinger of my philosophy in life --- maintaining optimism and hope in the face of challenges.

And challenges we do face in this nation. I know the class of 2019 is diverse and I would be remiss in my duties as a Foreign Service Officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs, if I did not talk about nation-building. Our news cycles are inundated by negative stories about our society. I am sure that you have also experienced some of the inefficiencies that hound Philippine society --- endemic corruption, traffic, the high cost of living, and more. Yet, also be reminded of what is so beautiful about the Philippines --- not only what is tangible such as the country’s celebrated natural beauty but more importantly, what is intangible --- the boundless resilient energy of the Filipino people despite it all.

bursts into the world stage as Asia’s rising economic superstar, let the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, Jr in his 1961 Inaugural Speech ring loud and clear: “ask not what your country can do for you --- ask what you can do for your country.”

As SISFU celebrates 20 years of excellence in transnational education, may all of you continue to participate in building this nation in whatever capacity you can and if you so wish, join the Department of Foreign Affairs and become a Foreign Service Officer and represent this country in the international arena. It is a rewarding and fruitful career where you get to travel the world, connect with people from different backgrounds and promote Philippine national interests around the world. I will leave some materials with management on how to become an FSO but please come say hello after the ceremonies today if you are interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy and the foreign service.


Finally, and if not, most importantly, as you graduate today, my friends, all of us here, your professors, deans, friends, family, guardians, relatives, look to you and congratulate you on your success for having made it. Be it a strong will and desire to graduate, a pragmatic view to the future to secure a good job and earn a keep, a passionate motivation to learn, or even just clawing through, day by day submitting requirements piece-meal, whatever your motivation is, you did it!

Yet, always remember on whose shoulders you have stood on in your journey thus far. I would like everyone in this hall to acknowledge those who have tirelessly worked behind the scenes, so to speak, to ensure that you are where you are right now --- about to graduate and take on the world. Thus, please take a moment and think now of your parents, your guardians, your grandparents, your brothers and sisters, your significant other, and whomever else it may be who have given you whatever kind of support just so that you would be able to be here this morning. Fill the room with thoughts of gratitude and let your thoughts reach them whether they be and let them feel your energy. Ladies and gentlemen, let us give them a round of applause.

Thank you very much for listening and I wish you nothing but fair winds in your journeys ahead.

Maraming salamat at mabuhay tayong lahat!

SISFU- Reach Higher

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