This article was originally published in the January 2003 edition of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University as my monthly column as editor.
I’m not used to sharing my personal sentiments to the open. This time, I shall make an exception.
Few were those destined for greatness. Too few, in fact, that the rest of us become shadows or lame silhouettes of futile attempts to make it to what everyone came to call the “top”: top of the class, topnotcher, top of the firm, top of the corporate ladder, you complete the rest. Whichever “top” it was always seemed better than anywhere below. It had become an epitome, a silent, yet known paradigm to complete the essence of one’s existence. You had to be somewhere or be someone above the ordinary. Even being anywhere that fell the slightest inch above anything or anyone became acceptable. As long as you had those whom you can look down from “above”. Sinful, yes, yet relieving.
I was raised ambitious. Then again, who wasn’t? I woke up to the overwhelming challenge of becoming someone, of becoming a “name”, a figure no less than extraordinary. It all began with stars, not those that blanket the dark, vast sky, not even those that shine in the spotlight, but those little stars drawn on the palm of your hand. Kindergarten. My sister came home with a palmful of them. I, on the other hand, constantly tried to master the art of drawing stars with my left hand, always in vain. (I was never ambidextrous.)
The stars became A’s, then of excellent’s and superb’s, until the challenge grew to be with honors.
Now, let’s backtrack some more. Remember when you were five and your teacher asked you what you wanted to be when you grow up? The answers were always: I want to be a doctor so I can cure the sick; or I want to be a teacher and help my students; or I want to be a nun and serve God. Now that you’ve grown “up”, what do you say when asked the same question? I want a five-digit salary, insurance, and pension. And you call that honor?
So, here’s the complete picture: We work our butts thin in grade school, torment and deprive ourselves of some of the youthful luxuries in high school, and turn down free concerts and spend U-break in the library come our college years. The reward? An eight by eleven thin roll of paper spelling out WITH HONORS. (At least in the some lotteries, you get to win a trip for two to Hong Kong!)
Life’s fate for us now seems to be determined by our course cards, our TORs, and the four-paged resume we still try to convince ourselves as genuine and “all true”. Why do you go to class when you would rather pretend to be sick? Why do you feel guilty of missing class even if you have unlimited cuts? Why can’t you settle for a 1.0 in RELS or INTROSO? We all have our petty excuses, oblivious to the fact that we are slowly consumed by a false notion of the measure of excellence. Excellence is equated with high grades, with 4.0’s, gold medals, and Proudly Lasallian pin ups. Who cared how you achieved these? You were already at the top and no one was stopping you. But somehow, in our hungry pursuit for success, we forget the inevitable. When you’re at the top, there’s no place to go but down.
At one point, you begin asking yourself, what does with honors mean exactly? Does it assure me of a good job, a decent pay, and a happy life? Does it serve as my one-way ticket to heaven too? Or would have my life been the same had I lived it as I would have wanted to? If God were to add an eleventh commandment, I strongly doubt it He’ll make something like, “Thou shall not fail Accounting”. Don’t get me wrong here. I spend my share of study hours on my desk too and even if it meant getting cozy with my calculator, I willfully refused untimely temptations. But not everything is about grades, course cards, Makati jobs, and salary premiums. Your honors do not measure the kind of person you are or the kind of life you deserve. It may get you the free car you’ve been coveting since freshman but the guarantee stops there. Who you are and what you will become will still lie on your very being. You are molded by your morals, principles, and values, not on the gold medals that hang by your living room.
I once came upon a film which starred Brendan Fraser and Joe Pesci, the title of which (as you may have already noticed), was With Honors. Talk about originality, huh? I hadn’t really given the movie much thought since I was then too young to appreciate good movies other than cartoons. I came to remember the movie when my co-editor and I debated over our column title. Our other editor in chief wanted to christen our column “Debit and Credit”. You can just imagine the war that it almost initiated! We didn’t want a name that highlighted our soon to be profession, we wanted something that somehow inspired and stirred us. As in the movie, Joe Pesci had said of Monti (Fraser), “…he will graduate life with honors”. And so, I say that honors is not only achieved in the classroom or during graduation, not even on the badges from the PMA. Honors is what you get for simply being a good friend, for being selfless and praying for others, for wasting your time lining up just to be registered for voting, for keeping your faith, and for the little things you didn’t think mattered but meant a lot to other people. These honors in life (though impossible to pawn) are worth more than the heaviest goddamn medal Recto can ever sell!