‘The world needs more Artlets’


 Photo by Rainiel Angelyn Figueroa/THE FLAME

(Full text of the address of thanks by Franz Austin V. De Mesa, UST Faculty of Arts and Letters batch 2023 valedictorian, during the solemn investiture rites on June 5, 2023)

Rev. Fr. Rodel S. Cansancio, O.P., our presiding official and member of the Board of Trustees, University of Santo Tomas, Rev. Fr. George Phe-mang, O.P. SThL, our dear regent of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, Atty. Jacqueline Lopez-Kaw, DCL, our acting dean, Assoc. Professor Melanie Turingan, PhD, our assistant dean, our faculty secretary, Mr. Chito S. Maniago, representative of the Philets and Artlets Alumni Association, Inc., members of the Faculty Council, Department Chairs and Program Coordinators, dear professors and parents, and fellow graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, a pleasant day to all!

 It feels unreal to stand here in front of all of you, not only because every student dreams to give this speech, but also because knowing that after this, everything ends. It all stops. The word “valedictory” means farewell. It all boils down to these last few minutes, and then, it’s over. It’s unbelievable, because the last memory I have of everyone in UST, I was still 19. I was still a freshman. You’ve heard that same story again and again. We all share it. The pandemic robbed us of what we could have experienced, the memories we could have made with friends and classmates. Sayang. Ang daming sayang. Ang daming dapat na nangyari, and it wasn’t fair, what happened to us.

But I think that this batch is special because even though we were faced with apocalyptic odds, even though there was enough chaos and emotional turmoil for us to warrant surrender, what did we do? We stayed, we struggled, and we stuck through to the end. People often say we’re just pandemic graduatesang dali lang kasi ng online classes kaya maraming latin honors. So quick to discredit the blood, sweat, and tears we poured over these last four years, isolated from the rest of the world.

But let me tell you, that our experience has granted us a unique edge over others for we were able to adapt, to be independent and resourceful as students in a situation that has never happened before. Through sheer tenacity and critical thinking, we not only survived, but succeeded with flying colors. And now finally, we’re able to see each other again face-to-face. After those years of darkness and struggling, at least we can finally say, we’re back home in UST.

We couldn’t have done all this without the support and the care of everyone in the University. To all the administrators and support staff of AB, we have nothing but gratitude for all your efforts to ensure our physical and mental well-being. To our professors, salamat sa sakit ng ulo at sa paghihirap. Joke lang. Thank you for your guidance and support in everything we do. Thank you for shaping us to be the best students that we can be despite the limitations of online learning. To all the parents, thank you so much for letting your children pursue a noble profession in the humanities and social sciences. Thank you for raising them right, and for raising them to care. The world needs more Artlets who can bring, if not be the change that Philippine Society desperately requires. 

But most of all, to all the graduates, I want you to thank yourselves, because this is your day. We earned this. We deserve this, because it was us who endured for so long. Kaya ipagyabang mo na sa katabi mo, I survived. We survived. Ga-graduate na tayo. Ipagyabang mo na may latin honors ka, na scholar ka. Last minute nag-review pero perfect sa exam! May tres pero Dean’s Lister. Student athlete at ga-graduate! Student leader at ga-graduate! Working student at ga-graduate!

No one taught it to us, no one told us how to juggle all of it together. [Organizational] work, academics, thesis, internship, personal and social life. It is exhausting to be a Thomasian in the pandemic, yet we figured it out all on our own. We sacrificed, we multitasked, and we found solutions. These are skills that cannot be found in our grades but every employer will want to see. So flaunt them with vigor.  Shout it out to the world and be proud of those achievements. What a waste if we didn’t let others know.

That’s why I want to share the achievements of my block in 4-Creative Writing. A lot of us have latin honors, a lot of us were able to gain awards, get published, and be part of organizations and prestigious writing communities. 

Let us celebrate each other’s milestones, for it is not only our individual success but the success of the University, of the humanities and social sciences. Let us be loud and unapologetic for this is our identity. This is the spirit of Arts and Letters. Take pride in it!

 Our world today is so focused on scientific and technological advancements, that our idea of success has been dumbed down to consumerism: getting the next iPhone, a higher salary, a brand new car. It saddens me that people don’t hold the same respect for the humanities and social sciences, the very professions that built our nation, as they do with business, medicine, and engineering. Just as important is our culture, our laws, our artistic expression.

As graduates of Arts and Letters, we are the brave shapers of Philippine society and its future. We are at the heart of defending the marginalized, upholding our basic human rights, and informing people about the truth, the Truth, no matter how dangerous it may be. That is why forever and ever, the world will always need Artlets.

I want to end this speech on a high note. The word “valedictory” means farewell, and the simple truth is we are already faring well. When I hear the word valedictory, I don’t think of goodbye. Valedictory sounds like a combination of validation and victory. So that is what I wish to impart at the end of this. Before all is said and done, before landing that job or passing the Bar, I want you to know that you are validated. You are victorious. You are already enough. The world is at our feet, for we have endured and persevered for so, so long. Say it to the person next to you, you are validated, you are victorious. You are validated, you are victorious. And you are enough. 

I hope to see you all again back here on campus in the near future, whether you’re taking your Master’s, working, or simply visiting. Let’s try to make up for all those years we lost in the pandemic. We might not be students anymore, but we will always be Thomasians.

Always remember that the liberal arts will always have a place in this world. In every industry, we need a writer, we need HR, we need economists and legal managers, communicators and social consultants. How else could we live without the magic of literature, or the guidance of history and philosophy? We are what makes the world human. If not us, who else? Who else could be as passionate, as steadfast, and as audacious as an Artlet? 

In the words of the brilliant Italian writer Umberto Eco, “to survive, we must tell stories.” In our long and arduous journey as Thomasians, each of us survived through our own devices; each of us has passed through different storms that we navigated on our own. Each of us is one in a thousand, all with different stories to tell. So hold your head up high, look ahead with pride, and speak now with conviction. Tell us how you survived, tell us how you continued, and show us all the amazing things that will happen next. 

You are validated. You are victorious. You are enough. Thank you!

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