The holiday season might have breezed in and out for a lot of people, but it was far from uneventful for the students of the Sisters of Mary (SOM) residential schools whose graduation was held in December.
San Miguel Corp. (SMC) president Ramon S. Ang gave an inspirational talk that was short, straightforward and unpretentious, in a mishmash of English and Filipino, but backed by some serious action.
He presented a donation of P10 million to SOM who rely solely on donations to run their two campuses in Silang, Cavite, as well as their two campuses in Cebu. At all four locations, the children of, in the words of the nuns, “the poorest of the poor” are housed and educated at no cost to their parents.
The joint commencement exercises, the 24th graduation rites for SOM Girlstown and Boystown and the fourth for SOM Technical Education Institute Cavite, went smoothly as in previous years.
Rev. Giuseppe Pinto, DD, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, celebrated Mass before the 1,452 students were presented and confirmed for graduation by the Department of Education’s Dr. Yolanda V. Carpina and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s Luisita A. de la Cruz.
After awarding medals to the high school valedictorians, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay delivered the keynote address.
“Your commencement happens every December and I think no season is more fitting for new beginnings,” he said.
The poor circumstances of Jesus’ birth and life, he said, “frame your graduation and the start of new chapters in your lives.”
Binay paid tribute to SOM founder Fr. Al Schwartz, who “never ceased to work for the benefit of the poor and the spreading of the faith through the institutions he helped establish.”
The graduates, he added, have been charged to share Father Al’s gift. “For if there is one reason so many suffer unjustly, it is because the world is slow to let love and faith prompt its actions,” said Binay.
Audilyn Madrid, valedictorian of the Girlstown graduating class, was 7 years old when her father died. She remembered being teased by schoolmates who would see her selling peanuts, polvoron and vegetables in the market after school.
Upon acceptance into Girlstown, she said in her valedictory, her earnest dream became “to make a difference,” which inspired her to persevere to get to the top of her class. “This moment is really overwhelming,” she said of her speech on behalf of the 889 female graduates “whose ultimate dream is to help their families and their fellowmen.”
Sidney Christian S. Montas, the boys’ class valedictorian, was left to the care of his grandmother when his parents separated. They lived in a squatters’ area.
It was not easy to live without parents, he said in his speech, especially to live without having known them. People would ask him about his parents and he would have no answer, he said. “The absence of both parents and a source of living almost left me empty save for the hope that God would fill me someday.”
His only hope, he said, was to win a scholarship so his grandmother would not have to worry about his education. And now he was going out to the world at the top of the class.
Both Madrid and Montas finished high school in three and a half years (SOM classes are from Monday to Saturday) and, just like their classmates, spent half of their fourth year learning a technical skill to prepare them for the work world.
As Binay told the graduates, “You will show that your prayers and actions are never far apart from each other, and that the hope we inspire in others is coupled with the helping hand of a brother.”
In addition to the academic honors, awards were given to outstanding students of SOM Technical Education Center for skills ranging from bookkeeping and commercial cooking to technical drafting and automotive servicing to a finishing course for call center agents.
Among SOM’s benefactors and friends who graced the occasion were Manila Tytana Colleges president Dr. Sergio S. Cao, Stanford University physicist Angela Cheng, Mektec Phils president Masaaki Maegawa, former Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Antonio B. Nachura, Fil-Korean Foundation chair Hyun-Mo Park, Inquirer chair Marixi R. Prieto, Reichert and Co. CEO Deiter Reichert, Sunvar Development president Charlie Rufino, Var Corp. president Macario Rufino, Philippine Center for Advance Maritime Simulation and Training assistant GM Presentacion A. Santos and Terumo Phils president Maki Takisawa.
Also present were Spanish Ambassador Jorge Domecq, Korean Ambassador Hyuk Lee, Brazilian Ambassador George de Souza Fernandez, Swiss Ambassador Ivo Sieber and Panamanian Ambassador Roberto Carlos Vallarino.