IN PHOTOS: VSU Villaba Graduation Address of Regent Veloso

President Edgardo Tulin, Chancellor Jehan Libre, esteemed faculty and staff, proud parents, and the graduating class of 2023, good morning.

I have delivered many speeches in my life, and standing here in front of you today is especially meaningful for me because I know that you all have to overcome a lot of challenges and adversities to reach this milestone in your life.

In this quiet and bucolic town of Villaba, dreams may seem distant, and opportunities may seem limited. But let me tell you that you all have what it takes to succeed: the struggles you have faced have carved character and strength into your hearts, and you have the grit and perseverance to overcome any obstacle.

Like many of you, I also come from a humble family with modest means. I grew up and studied in Tacloban because my parents could not afford to send me to the more prestigious schools in Manila and Cebu. When I was a student, my father was a simple government employee, and my mother was a homemaker, after she retired early as a pharmacist in a private company. As the eldest of four, I had to rely on scholarships, in addition to being an iskolar ng bayan, to be able to go to school. In UP Tacloban, I was exposed to the realities of social inequality and how poverty can affect one’s sense of dignity and self-worth.


However, like many of my classmates, I used my personal circumstances to motivate me to work harder. After graduating from UP Tacloban and passing the CPA Board Exams, I pursued law because I knew that becoming a lawyer would allow me to help my family and contribute more to society.

At the UP College of Law, I would often find myself comparing my classmates, who were graduates of the best schools in Manila, to my classmates in UP Tacloban. While they may be more confident and articulate in English, we can equal them terms of hard work and resourcefulness. I noticed that graduates from the provinces have something that many of those who come from a more comfortable background don't have: resilience. I personally believe that grit and determination, that drive and hunger to succeed, is more important than any other talent or resource. That is why I see myself when I look at each and every one of you, and I see promise and potential.

I remember Ate Anna telling me that to be invited to join the top law firms in the country, you have to be one of 3 things: graduate at the top 10 of the batch, be an editor of the PLJ, or be a member of the Jessup moot court team. From the first semester until the year I graduated, I was consistently at the top of my batch. In my third year of law school, I became an editor of the PLJ. And, for two years, I was a member of the Jessup moot court team, which represented the Philippines in the international rounds in Washington DC. I was also active in the student council and was able to run a full marathon just before I graduated.


I've had the privilege of witnessing the life-changing impact of education and the transformative force of grit and perseverance. Let me share with you some of the essential lessons I've learned throughout my own journey, hoping they may resonate and serve as guiding lights for your path ahead. I also draw heavily from the wisdom of Stephen Covey whose books, the Seven Habits and the 8th Habit, resonated with me and helped me in my own journey.

First of all, realize that we all have gifts and we should not take these gifts for granted. When I say gifts, I am not referring to material resources. These gifts are:

(1) Our freedom to choose and our ability to direct our own lives. Unlike animals, we do not simply "react" - we can decide how we respond to our circumstances. We are not a product of our genes, of our past, or of how people treat us. We have the ability to reinvent our lives and elevate ourselves. We all have this freedom because we have free will. Acknowledge this gift and be excited about the possibility and potential that each and every one of you has. Do not complain about, and be a victim of, your circumstances. Rise above it.


(2) Our second gift is the fact that we live in a world governed by natural laws and principles. These principles transcend time, culture, and place. Like physical laws, principles such as justice, fairness, kindness, respect, honesty, integrity, service, and charity operate constantly and are self-evident. These principles control the consequences of our choices and actions. For example, you will not be trusted if you are not trustworthy. We need to distinguish principles from values, such as wealth, fame, and worldly success. Values are social norms, they are subjective, emotional, personal, and arguable. Their consequences are also unpredictable. We all have values, but the question is, are our values rooted on principles? While our values govern our behavior, the consequences of our behavior are governed by natural principles. Therefore, we should uphold our principles, not fleeting social norms and align our actions towards that.

(3) Our third gift is our intelligence. As you know, we have four types of intelligence: mental intelligence or our ability to analyze, reason, visualize, and comprehend; physical intelligence our body's ability to perform; emotional intelligence or one's ability to be self-aware, to be sensitive of others, and to communicate with others; and spiritual intelligence or our drive for meaning and connection with the infinite and divine. Spiritual intelligence is central and fundamental because it helps us discern true principles that are part of our conscience. It is our internal moral compass that guides and directs our other intelligences.


We all have these intelligences, in varying degrees, but the challenge is for us to continuously develop these intelligences over time. Stephen Covey suggests the following exercises that could help you: for the body, assume that you have had a heart attack, now live accordingly. For the mind, assume that the half-life of your profession is 2 years, now prepare accordingly. For the heart, assume that everything you say about a person, he can overhear, now speak accordingly. For the spirit, assume that you have a one-on-one visit with God every quarter, now live accordingly.

The second lesson that I want to share with you is to find and express your own voice – your calling, your unique and personal contribution to the world. For this we need to have vision, discipline, passion, and conscience. These are the highest manifestations of our intelligence. For the mind, vision; for the body, discipline; for the emotion, passion; and for the spiritual, conscience. These are also the most important things that we learn from formal education.


Vision is seeing with the mind's eye what is possible in our lives, in other people, in our projects, in causes, and in our communities. Most of us don't envision or realize our own potential. All things are created twice: first, a mental creation; second, a physical creation. Einstein said that "imagination is more important than knowledge." Memory is past, and finite, while our vision is future, and infinite.

Discipline is paying the price to bring our vision into reality. You can achieve discipline if you are committed to your vision. It is the part that deals with the hard and brutal reality. Happiness is sometimes defined as the ability to subordinate what you want now for what you want eventually. We must learn how to subordinate today's pleasure for a greater longer term good. We often hear about people saying that we need to live in the moment, and not be a slave to our duty. However, the reality is, only the disciplined are truly free. The opposite of discipline is indulgence. The undisciplined are slaves to their moods, appetites, and passions.

Passion is the fire, desire, and strength of conviction, and the drive that sustains the discipline to achieve our vision. It is manifested as optimism, excitement, enthusiasm, and determination. I believe that passion is rooted in the power of our choice rather than circumstance. We can choose to be passionate. However, the key to creating passion is to find your unique talents, your special role and purpose in the world.


Conscience is the inward moral sense of what is right and what is wrong. It is the drive towards meaning and contribution. It tells us why we do things. The opposite of conscience is ego, which focuses only on one's own survival, pleasure, and enhancement, and is selfishly ambitious. Conscience elevates to a larger sense of the community and the greater good. It sees life in terms of service and contribution.
Conscience is central and fundamental because it teaches us to sacrifice, to subordinate one's self to a higher purpose, cause, or principle. Conscience also teaches us that the ends and the means are inseparable.

Consider the 7 things that Gandhi said, will destroy us:

“Wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; and politics without principle.”

Without conscience, the ends that we try to achieve regardless of the means, will become meaningless.

Finally, conscience produces integrity and peace of mind. Conscience teaches us to be both kind and courageous: kind because we show respect for other people, courageous because we can express our convictions without personal threat. We achieve peace of mind because we do not allow ego to manipulate personal relationships.


In closing, I recognize that many of you feel uncertain and anxious about the future, and rightly so. Your graduation is just the first step, as you leave the confines of this campus and enter the wider world. As a practical first step to move forward, I challenge you to ask yourselves these questions raised by Stephen Covey in his book, the 8th Habit: (i) what need do I sense in my family, in my community, in the world? (ii) what talents do I have that can meet this need? (iii) will meeting this need with my talents tap into my passion? and (iv) does my conscience inspire me to take action, and become involved?

In conclusion, as you step out into the world, armed with your education and principles, and eager to make an impact on the world, remember that you hold the power to write the narrative of your lives and the lives of those around you. Your potential is limitless, and your journey has only just begun. Many of you here will eventually become leaders, captains of industry, and prime movers of this country, and you will look back to this day and say, yes, Atty. Veloso was right!


Congratulations on this extraordinary achievement, and may your future be filled with purpose, fulfillment, and boundless success!

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