Valedictory address of Reine Luise W Cabreira, Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology, cum laude, Class of 2016 and Outstanding Graduate Awardee of the College of Arts and Sciences of Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, delivered during the 77th Academic Convocation on March 16 at the XU Gymnasium.

To our esteemed University President, Fr Roberto C Yap; to today’s honorees, Reverend Fr Edwin M Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP-NASSA, the Hon Romeo P Tiongco, Mayor of the Municipality of Damulog, Bukidnon and Mr Frank G Rivera; to the Most Reverend Archbishop Antonio Ledesma SJ, Doctor of Divinity, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro; to the administrators, faculty and staff of our prestigious university, to our much beloved parents and guests, and to you, my fellow graduates, good morning!

My fellow graduates, the world you and I are about to enter is full of opportunities. It is one where we have access to more information and resources than any generation before us, and one where ASEAN Integration is projected to create accelerated development for our country through the free movement of labor, goods and investment. It is people like us, highly educated, competent, competitive young professionals, who stand to benefit the most. But before we enter that world, hopeful and proud of making it this far, it’s worth remembering how we got here.

I cannot speak for you, but I can tell you the ugly truth about myself. I am not here because I am the brightest, the most hardworking, or even the kindest among you. Ultimately, I am here because I am lucky — lucky to have been born into a family that could afford to educate me, lucky to live somewhere where war or discrimination did not have the chance to tear my future away, lucky to have people who loved and supported me without fail.

How can I ever repay that kind of fortune? Another ugly truth is that I can’t. All I can do is recognize that with all of my privilege comes a duty to fight for those who were not so lucky: to become, as my Xavier education has urged me again and again, a woman for others. And to me, that means pushing for equitable, sustainable economic development.

In my own capacity as a student of Marine Biology, that means using my skills and knowledge to forward sustainable aquaculture, responsible natural resource management, and a solid legal framework for environmental conservation, both for future generations and for the poor of today, who are disproportionately affected by environmental disasters, like the fisher-folk in our own city whose livelihoods are compromised by fish kills, and those who endure constant flooding and live in fear of another Sendong.

As an ordinary person, it means making informed choices and holding our political leaders and institutions accountable so that whatever wealth we gain isn’t lost to corruption; it means demanding progressive economic policies and adequate physical and social infrastructure so that the potential of growth is maximized.

Development must belong to all, regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, creed or class. It must empower us to grow not only economically, but also in our respect and appreciation for each other in our diversity and our overarching common identity.

ASEAN Integration or not, we cannot say we have truly developed until women have reproductive healthcare and workplace equity; until our indigenous brothers and sisters are secure against violence and the abuse of their lands; until our labor force has living wage; until we provide an education for those who will continue the fight after us.

Our Xavier education has given us the capacity to be the voice and hands for others. But more importantly, it has given us the hearts to serve, and it is the dedication to this service that will define our place in this world. Just as the peoples of ASEAN have united in their rich diversity of cultures and backgrounds in pursuit of development, so too must we unite our efforts and our varied and unique abilities towards the common goal of a better tomorrow for all.

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